Until last year, the NFL was technically a non-profit organization. Let’s take just a minute to remember just how absolutely nutty that was! The NFL—in which the head office alone earned a revenue of $326 million, not including TV deals, ticket sales, merchandise, or all of the other things that people actually spend money on—qualified as a 501(c)(6) trade organization and was granted tax-exempt status because it existed, as per some weird language in federal law, in order to promote its sport.
The NFL dropped its tax-exempt status last year in a move that allowed them to pay roughly the same amount in taxes, but let them keep information like executive salaries private. Still, harkening back to the good ol’ days when the league was considered something of a public trust, the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee—cleverly named to reflect that fact that the city will host Super Bowl 51 next February—is seeking 10,000 local citizens who wish to donate their time and energy to the event as volunteers.
An assortment of any ol’ Houston randos is not what they’re looking for, though. The criteria to offer one’s services to the Super Bowl is rather strict. Under “personality,” the guide demands that potential volunteers be:
• A team player (reliable, supportive, flexible)
• Open (welcoming, friendly, empathetic)
• Represent integrity (take responsibility to deliver, proactive)
• Respectful (inclusive, collaborative)
• Strive for excellence (inspiring, passionate, enthusiastic)
Reliable, supportive, flexible, welcoming, friendly, empathetic, responsible, proactive, inclusive, collaborative, inspiring, passionate, enthusiastic people make for a good group of people to have on call, for sure. And those volunteers will have to attend three separate training sessions, as well as serve a minimum of 18 to 24 hours during the week of the Super Bowl.
It’s unclear at the moment what the volunteers will be doing specifically. There’s a seven-part FAQ on the volunteer recruitment website that explains that the volunteer positions will be “throughout the Houston area,” and that those who wish to offer their services to the Super Bowl can request specific shifts, but that they can’t guarantee that they’ll meet those requests.
One thing that volunteers won’t be able to request, though, are tickets to the game—or even the chance to be inside the stadium at any point during game day. The FAQ goes out of its way to stress, repeatedly, that this is a one-way exchange: Volunteers offer their time, services, and bullet-pointed list of talents to the Super Bowl, but the Super Bowl—the marquee event in a broadcast package that sells for nearly $5 billion a year—does not reciprocate with cash or tickets. (Volunteers do receive “an official Houston Super Bowl Host Committee volunteer uniform that is yours to wear for every shift and to keep after the events.” Wow!)
Still, the other answers on the FAQ help explain who, exactly, they might be hoping to reach. For example, here’s something they felt the need to explain to prospective volunteers:
• I don’t have my own email address, how can I apply?
There are a number of free email services available with storage, a fast and productive web interface, and can be accessed in desktop as well as mobile email programs. Examples include outlook.com, Gmail, iCloud Mail, Yahoo! Mail, AIM Mail.
If your grandpa wants to get a fancy, free uniform, in other words, that’s great! Walk him through how to sign up for Hotmail, first, though. He’ll need that email address to go through the four-stage process of volunteering: step one is the recruitment phase (“combine and draft,” they call it—just like the players who volunteer their services to the NFL each year!), while step two is the interview (“making the roster”—see, you’re on the team!). Step three is “training camp,” or a series of mandatory sessions in which volunteers are trained on how to best represent the city of Houston for free. Finally, step four is the big show itself, where that sweet, sweet free uniform is distributed.
Snark aside, it’s both understandable why a person might want to volunteer to help with the Super Bowl—it’s the friggin’ Super Bowl! What a neat thing to be a part of!—but it’s also obvious that this is a rip-off. Extremely profitable entities shouldn’t be recruiting volunteers to do work that they should be paying people for—that’s not just good advice, it’s labor law. Organizations from the NFL to Super Bowl Host Committees to SXSW skirt minimum wage requirements all the time, of course. (This year’s Super Bowl changed its position and agreed to pay a small portion of its volunteers, who were providing manual labor to set up the halftime show, after a news report from ABC.) Still, the idea of volunteering to make even more money for an already extremely profitable organization is a bit more palatable when those who are helping out can actually go to the event. It might not be entirely legal that SXSW volunteers are rewarded with badges, access to screenings/showcases/panels, and maybe the chance to pick Ryan Gosling up at the airport, for example, but you can certainly see the reciprocal nature of the relationship. The 10,000 Houstonians who are going to be doing Lord knows what over the 10-day period that surrounds Super Bowl 51, meanwhile, appear to be getting a uniform.
Still, they’ll probably get away with it—and they’ll probably find the recruits they need too. In San Francisco, where the host committee sought 5,000 volunteers (everything is bigger in Texas), they managed to wrangle two-thirds of the people they needed in just a week. But when people question whether the Super Bowl is really the economic boon to a local economy it’s made out to be, the fact that 10,000 temporary jobs that could get money circulating in the area are instead filled with arm-waving volunteers is probably part of your answer.