Musicians say The World Games is shorting their payment for performances during the opening and closing ceremonies.


Drones fly above Protective Stadium during the opening ceremony of The World Games 2022 on Thursday, July 7, 2022

Kathy Lang, The World Games 2022

In July, Kathleen Costello along with dozens of other musicians performed on a stage at Protective Stadium in downtown Birmingham to welcome athletes from across the globe to The World Games. Playing as part of the opening ceremony was a unique opportunity for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s principal clarinetist. But it has turned into a financial headache as Costello has yet to be paid in full for her performance.

Costello is not alone. WBHM has spoken with a number of individuals and organizations who are concerned they will not get paid for the work they did for The World Games after event organizers announced a $15 million dollar deficit. 

Most of those vendors declined to be interviewed. Some said they wanted to give The World Games more time to make the payments, while others were concerned that speaking out could jeopardize their good standing with the people who wrote the checks or affect current efforts to raise funds to cover the event’s deficit. 

Costello, however, did reach out to us regarding her payment from The World Games. She contracted as a freelancer to perform during The World Games’ opening and closing ceremonies. She said her payment was not only several weeks late, it was also $1,900 short — about one-third of the amount that was stipulated in her contract. 

Changes, after the fact

Along with the other 60-plus musicians who played in The World Games’ orchestra, Costello’s contract was negotiated through the American Federation of Musicians. As she explains it — an account that was corroborated by the AFM’s Birmingham area local President Adam Pandolfi — the contract was a standard agreement for such a production and was presented to The World Games Birmingham Organizing Committee months prior to the event. 

According to Costello and Pandolfi, the contract was signed by the BOC prior to the opening ceremonies. However, after the conclusion of The World Games, the BOC decided not to honor certain fees stipulated in the contract that would, in turn, significantly reduce the payment to every musician covered by the agreement. (There are other clauses in the contract being disputed, but they affect only a small number of musicians.) 

Pandolfi notes that the union is still trying to determine what fees, as stipulated in the contract, have not been paid. 

“We know that those musicians who have received checks were shorted by a significant amount,” Pandolfi said. “We’re just not sure what the BOC is not paying for.”

In an email exchange between Josh Bryant, The World Games chief financial officer, and an AFM representative, Bryant says “the BOC has removed the local fee and the foreign use fee as neither of these fees are valid for this event, the BOC (a certified 501c3 non-profit) has no rights to commercialize the broadcasting.” 

A foreign use fee is basically a payment to vendors, in this case musicians, for the broadcast and streaming of the performance in foreign markets. 

The local fee—or what Pandolfi says is the local live engagement fee — is “the baseline fee for any concert”

In other words, if the BOC were refusing to pay that, they would effectively be refusing to pay the majority of the money due to the musicians. That’s one reason the AFM is having difficulty understanding the disagreement. 

“The national AFM is taking the lead and trying to figure out who was paid for what,” Pandolfi said. “We’re trying to figure out which portions of the contract were paid.” 

Deficit related?

Pandolfi and Costello have not seen any indication that the refusal to pay the full amount of what the AFM says was agreed to in the original contract has anything to do with The World Games’ deficit. 

“To my knowledge, they haven’t cited that as the particular reason,” Costello said. 

She questions whether the BOC is disputing clauses in the contract so they don’t have to pay that amount regardless of whether The World Games covers its shortfall. 

A question about what they are due

While members of the BOC have not responded to multiple requests for comment, Henry Panion offered his view on the disagreement. Panion, a music professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was The World Games artistic director of the opening and closing ceremonies. 

He said the musicians represented by the AFM “deserve every dime they are due.” But, he added, “there is a question about what they are due.” 

Panion worries the dispute with musicians and the event’s deficit could “diminish the result of The World Games.” Still he calls his work for The World Games “a joy.”

“This was one of the most daunting projects I’ve ever done in my life. And I would do it again,” Panion said. 

Costello was also honored to be included in The World Games and said it was an amazing opportunity for Birmingham. 

However, she hopes the people who worked during the event and are still owed money could be made whole. “I do think that this story is not over, and I would just hope that we could end the story on a positive note,” Costello said. 


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