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The Football Club Internships Survey 2022: Are Unpaid Internships Ever OK?

The Football Club Internships Survey 2022: Are Unpaid Internships Ever OK?

A decent chunk of the jobs we advertise on our site are internships. Designed to provide predominantly young people with work experience and opportunities for skills development, internships are commonplace within the football industry. However, it’s often been argued they also offer clubs the chance to cut back on costs and potentially encourage unfair working conditions.

Unpaid internships in particular have become a hot topic. While some people see these types of placement as a necessary means of gaining experience and kicking off a career, others view unpaid internships as inherently unethical. Previously, when we've posted job advertisements for unpaid internships at professional clubs, numerous people have responded negatively on social media, strongly criticising the clubs in question.

However, as anyone who's well-acquainted with Twitter will know, it's not always the best place for nuanced conversations. That's why earlier this year, we launched our Football Club Internship Survey. This survey was designed for 2 main focus groups: 

  1. People currently in internships with football clubs or those who have been during the last 10 years

  2. People who were interested in completing an internship in the near future. 

The main purpose of the survey was to find out how many of these people were paid, the hours they worked and length of internship, whether they would recommend their experience, and if there are any factors that make it reasonable for clubs to offer unpaid internships. By asking people who are directly involved in the internship process, we hoped to make a fair assessment about people's thoughts on work experience within the football industry. Given both the amount of demand for football internships and the amount of pressure on clubs to pay these staff members a fair rate, we believe doing this is important.

It's worth noting now that the data collected from our survey revolves around individual experiences, and that it's difficult to draw hard and fast conclusions based purely on our results. That being said, we did have over 300 people complete the survey in a range of different countries around the world, and some interesting patterns emerged. Read on for a full report of our 2022 Football Club Internships Survey.


What was the average age of respondents?

In total, 304 people completed our survey on internships within football. Of those, 214 were either currently involved in a club internship or had previously been within a placement, while the other 88 fell into the "No but I would like to in the near future" column.

The vast majority of survey respondents were in their 20s, which isn't surprising given that internships are viewed primarily as an early career stepping stone. 194 of our respondents were aged between 20-25, a proportion of 63.8%, with the most common ages being 22 (46 people) and 21 (43 people). A further 65 respondents were aged between 26-30, meaning that in total, 85.5% of our survey respondents were in their 20s. Only 4 people aged 15-18 responded, all of whom were hoping to complete an internship in the future, rather than already having done one. 


Which countries were they based in?

As a UK-based organisation, it wasn't surprising that most people who filled in our survey were both based in and from the United Kingdom. 161 respondents (53%) were from the United Kingdom, by far the most common country of origin. Next up was India, where 21 respondents (7%) were from, then the United States, where 15 (5%) respondents were from. A wide variety of European countries were also included in the results, with 14 interns of prospective interns hailing from Italy, 10 from Germany, and 8 from the Netherlands. 

We also asked where each internship was completed. 128 of the survey respondents completed England-based internships, while 13 were based in Scotland. The next most popular country was Germany, where 8 people completed internships, with 6 in the Netherlands and the USA respectively. A number of other nations were also included, including Australia, Canada, Portugal, South Africa and Turkey.


How common is it for internships to be paid?

Before we start exploring the data in regard to whether or not interns were paid, it's important to mention that not every respondent included information about whether or not they were paid for their internship. While we don't have a completely full set of data, we did have 215 people include details about whether or not they were paid, and what sort of rate they were on.

Of those 215 respondents who included payment details, 59 people were on a paid internship placement, while 156 people were not paid for their internship. That's a proportion of 27% paid and 73% unpaid. 

A number of factors affected whether or not interns were paid for their work, including the hours they worked, the length of their contract, what level their club was at, and more. Let's explore the impact of each of those factors on pay, according to our results.


How many hours does a typical football club intern work?

We asked our interns two key questions: 'How many hours per week were you required to work?' and 'How many hours did you actually work per week (on average)?'. 

36 people reported being required to work 0-10 hours per week, but interestingly, almost half of those respondents ended up working closer to 10-20 hours per week. 53 people were required to work 10-20 hours per week, and the majority of them stuck to those hours. 14 people in that group worked more like 20-30 hours, with 1 respondent usually working 30-40 hours per week, and 1 other tending to do less than their contracted hours.

43 people were contracted 20-30 hours work per week, but only 17 of those stuck roughly to that framework. 12 people tended to work 30-40 hours, while 5 people worked 40-50 hours, and 5 worked 50+ hours. 

70 people were contracted to work 30-40 hours per week, making this the largest group of respondents. Of those people, 5 worked 20-30 hours, 36 stuck to their hours, while 29 people worked more than the time they were contracted for.

There were 12 people contracted 40-50 hours, and just over half of them stuck roughly to those hours, with 4 working 50-60 hours and 1 respondent working 60+ hours. Just 1 respondent was contracted 60+ hours, and while they received benefits such as accommodation and food, they weren't paid for the internship itself.

One theme that emerges here is that regardless of the requirements stated in their contract, it's extremely common for interns to work beyond their scheduled hours. Within the 3 most common hourly structures, workers frequently notched up more than their contracted hours; 26% of interns on 10-20 hours worked over that amount, 51% of those on 20-30 hour contracts worked more than that, and 41% of those on 30-40 hour contracts outworked that quota. The hard work that's being put in here makes our next question even more important — are interns given fair remuneration in relation to the number of hours they are working?


Pay Satisfaction

To determine levels of satisfaction with pay rates, we asked our interns this question: 'Agree or Disagree - I feel that the pay I received during my internship was sufficient in relation to the hours I worked.' A sliding scale from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) was provided. The results were pretty striking.

120 people answered this question with Option 5, 'Strongly disagree'. 'Option 2' ('Disagree') was selected by 42 people, while the neutral 'Option 3' was selected by 23. 'Option 4' ('Agree') was chosen by 18 people, while just 12 people believed that 'Option 5', 'Strongly Agree' seemed like the right answer.

This shows us that the majority of interns surveyed believed that they weren't being paid fairly in relation to the hours they worked. In fact, of the 215 respondents who answered this particular question, 75.4% either disagreed or strongly disagreed, with 55.8% of respondents selecting the latter option. The fact that just 12 people wholeheartedly agreed that they were paid sufficiently (a proportion of 5.6%) is a good indication of how happy respondents were with the rates they had been given. One respondent said, "it doesn't have to be the same level as the others, just a minimum wage is enough," and the anecdotal response to our survey did suggest that most interns and prospective interns aren't expecting high wages, just something that allows them to survive during their placement period.

How did results change depending on the level of pay? Let's dig into the specific rates interns were being offered.

Approximately what level of pay (GBP) did interns receive per month?

As mentioned previously, 59 of our respondents were paid for their placement, a proportion of 27%. Rates within this group varied massively though, with some interns receiving less than £100 per month, while others earned more than £2000 p/m. Below, we've detailed in simple terms how common each level of payment was amongst survey respondents. Included in brackets are details of the length of contract each person within that group was signed up to, written as a percentage of that group.


  • £0-100 p/m: 4 people (50% on 6-9 months, 25% on 9-12 months, 25% on 24+ months)

  • £100-250 p/m: 10 people (40% on 6-9 months, 20% on 1-3 months, 20% on 9-12 months, 20% 18-24 months)

  • £250-500 p/m: 18 people (61% on 9-12 months, 17% on 24+ months, 11% on 3-6 months, 5.5% on 1-3 months, 5.5% on 6-9 months,)

  • £500-750 p/m: 7 people (43% on 3-6 months, 43% on 9-12 months, 14% on 12-18 months)

  • £750-1000 p/m: 7 people (72% on 9-12 months, 14% on 3-6 months, 14% on 6-9 months)

  • £1000-1250 p/m: 5 people (40% on 1-3 months, 20% on 9-12 months, 20% on 24+ months, 20% on less than 1m) 

  • £1250-1500 p/m: 4 people (50% on 9-12 months, 25% on 3-6 months, 25% on 12-18 months)

  • £1500-1750 p/m: 6 people (50% on 9-12 months, 16.6% on 3-6 months, 16.6% on 12-18 months, 16.6% on 24+ months)

  • £1750-2000 p/m: N/A

  • £2500-3000 p/m: 1 person, on a 9-12 month contract

  • £3000+ p/m: 1person, on a 9-12 month contract

Perhaps the main thing that sticks out from that list of figures is that on the whole, payment levels are relatively low. As one of our respondents said, "internships are often the only opportunity to take your first step into elite football and so the pressure to accept whatever terms offered is great for those new to the industry." This often leads to pretty meagre wages; the two most common payment levels are £100-250 p/m and £250-500 p/m, with 28 of the 59 respondents (47.5%) falling within this category. In order to truly make sense of these numbers, we should compare the impact of factors like the league a club play in, the length of an internship contract, and the amount of hours worked. Let's dig into the first of those points.


How does a club's league status affect internship pay?

First up, it's worth noting that both the respondents who reported earning £2500+ p/m were placed at a club in the National League, England's fifth tier. However, these two respondents could broadly be seen as outliers, earning far more than the average across our survey results. 

Besides those outliers, we can say that most of the people earning £750 per month or more (not exactly a living wage but certainly the top category in terms of internships at football clubs) were interns in the highest league in their country. Of the 20 people earning £750+, 14 were based in the top tier of their country's league system, most of whom were at Premier League clubs (this is a proportion of 70%). The 4 others (aside from the 2 National League interns) were based at EFL Championship clubs. From this, we can probably surmise that the higher-level English clubs appear to have more scope to pay their interns decent monthly wages, which is most likely a reflection of their higher budgets in comparison with lower league clubs. That being said, it's not like EFL clubs aren't paying big money to their playing staff. As put by one survey respondent, "It's scandalous that clubs that pay players 20,000 a week on average can't pay an intern/student living wage."


What was the correlation between monthly payment and length of internship contract? 

The most common (mode) monthly wage for people on contracts of up to 3 months was £1000-1250. The mode wage for people on 3-6 month contracts was £500-750 per month. The mode monthly wage for people on 6-9 month internship placements was £100-250. For 9-12 month placements, the most common variety, £250-500 was the mode wage, with 11 out of 28 people in this group answering that this was their pay. Only 2 people on 12-18 month placements confirmed how much their monthly pay was; one person received £500-750, while the other received £1250-1500. A similarly low sample count is available for those on 24+ month placements (noone on 18-24 month contracts confirmed this data); however, 3 of the 4 people within this group were being paid £250-500 per month. 

From this information, we can roughly surmise that the longer an internship placement was, the less likely it was for the club involved to pay a high wage. For example, the mode wage for people on contracts up to 3 months in length was £1000-1250, easily the highest-paid group. Elongate that contract to 3-6 months, and the most common pay rate was £500-750 per month. Given that the most common placement length amongst our respondents was 9-12 months, we could view the mode wage for this group, £250-500, as a typical rate that interns at football clubs can expect to earn.


How is monthly pay affected by hours worked?

When it comes to correlating the relationship between hours worked and pay accrued, our sample size is unfortunately relatively small. This is primarily due to the fact that a large majority of people were not paid for their work. For example, of the 36 people who were contracted 0-10 hours per week, only 6 were paid. 2 of these were paid £0-100 per month, the other 4 getting £100-250. Given the small amount of hours worked, it's not surprising that pay here is on the low end of the spectrum. Again, of the 52 people contracted 10-20 hours, only 7 included monthly payment details. 1 person was on £0-100, 2 were on £100-250, 1 was on £250-500, 2 were on £500-750, and 1 was being paid £750-1000.

When we move up to people working 20-30 hours per month, however, we do see an increase in terms of payment. In this group of 43 respondents, 14 were paid (a proportion of 32.6%). The most common rates were £250-500 (4 people) and £750-1000 (4 people), and there was also a large degree of variation here, with 1 intern earning £0-100 per month, while 3 others were on £1000+.

We saw a further increase in pay amongst those who were contracted 30-40 hours. Out of these 70 respondents, 26 people were on a paid placement, a proportion of 37.1%. 2 of these respondents earned £100-250 per month, while 9 were on £250-500, the most common wage within this hours group. 5 people earned £500-750, 2 were on £750-1000, and 3 were on £1000-1250. This group also included some higher earners, with 4 people being paid £1250-1750 per month during their internship placement.

It was rare for interns to be contracted more than 40 hours per week, but for those who were, we actually saw a drop off in terms of what they were earning in comparison with the 30-40 hours per week category. While they were statistically more likely to get paid for their work (with 6 out of the 13 interns in this group receiving payment, a proportion of 46.2%), monthly rates were generally lower. For example, while 2 interns were paid upwards of £1500 per month during their placement, the other 4 who fell into this group were on just £250-500 per month. That leaves 66.7% of people working 40+ hours earning £500 per month or less, while only 42.3% of people working 30-40 hours per month earned £500 or less.

One thing we can say for sure from this data is that the more hours interns were contracted, the more likely they were to receive a monthly wage. Only 16.7% of people working 0-10 hours per week were paid, and 13.5% of people working 10-20 hours. For those working 20-30 hours, this jumped up to 32.6%, while 37.1% of interns doing 30-40 hours were paid during their placement. The percentage of interns being paid then leaps to 46.2% for people contracted 40+ hours per week. Clearly, there's a correlation here, in that the more hours you are required to work each week, the more likely it is you will be paid for that work.


Allowances and Benefits

One other area to consider is the provision of allowances and benefits for interns. Of the 59 survey respondents who were paid for their internship, 27 also received additional allowances or benefits. This means that out of the 304 respondents to the survey, just 27 people received both payment and allowances/benefits, a proportion of 8.8%. Typical perks included transportation costs, free tickets, free food and drink, accommodation, and in some cases, funding for Masters's study. Travel expenses were the most common, with 24 respondents benefiting from this type of allowance. There were 32 people who were paid for their internship but did not receive any extra benefits.

Of those who were not paid for their internship, 108 also did not receive allowances or benefits. Meanwhile, 48 respondents reported not being paid for their internship, but receiving some benefits or allowances.


Should all interns be paid?

We've established that 73% of interns who provided details about their payment were on an unpaid placement. We've also found out that 75.4% of survey respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement 'I feel that the pay I received during my internship was sufficient in relation to the hours I worked'. However, despite this information, not all of the people who answered our call were convinced that all internships should be paid.

Amongst the 156 people surveyed who had been on an unpaid placement, there were 84 people who chose option 5, "Strongly agree" when asked the question "I believe all internships should be paid" (a proportion of 54%). 30 people answered option 4, "Agree", while 29 people went for the middle choice, Option 3, 6 people chose Option 2, and just 5 answered with Option 1, "Strongly disagree".

When it comes to the results of the 59 respondents who were paid for their internship, the consensus was overwhelming on universal payment. 44 respondents strongly agreed that all internships should be paid. 8 respondents answered with Option 4, while 5 people answered with Option 3. No one selected Option 2, while just 2 people answered with Option 1, "Strongly disagree". That leaves us with 74.5% of people strongly agreeing with the statement "I believe that all internships should be paid", and almost 90% either agreeing or strongly agreeing.

What can we learn from these results? First of all, whether interns were paid for their work or not, a majority of respondents strongly agreed that all internships should be paid. This view was strongest amongst people who had undergone a paid internship themselves, with 74.5% of paid interns choosing "Strongly agree", while 53.9% of unpaid interns strongly agreed with this statement. Ultimately, it makes sense that those who saw the benefits of being paid during their placement were more inclined to believe that this kind of fair remuneration should be available to everyone.


What should be the deciding factor in whether internships are paid?

Our survey showed that the majority of people who have had an internship placement at a football club believe that all internships should be paid. But plenty of people answered that they didn't fully agree with that statement. One respondent said that "Internships are a two way thing, clubs provide learning and experience to people in exchange for work", and for some people, this exchange is fair enough, without payment being involved. But for those who think unpaid internships are appropriate in certain situations, what should be the deciding factor in whether (or how much) an intern should be paid?

We gave respondents a few options to pick from, and they were able to choose multiple answers. One option we gave was "There is no excuse for not paying an intern!", and of the 304 respondents, 116 people chose this option, a large chunk at 38%.

However, some respondents who agreed with the statement "There is no excuse for not paying an intern!" also selected other factors that should help determine payment for interns. While this may seem contradictory, it's likely that those people who included other factors alongside the statement "There is no excuse for not paying an intern" were speculating on the factors that should influence how much someone is paid rather than whether they're paid at all.

97 people selected 'Club revenue' as an answer to the same question, while the category of 'League/level the club is at', which is generally quite closely related to the matter of revenue, had 116 people select it.

190 people selected the option 'Hours/time worked', making it the most popular answer. Given the variations that can occur regarding lengths of internships, this is understandable, and as we saw earlier, in reality, weekly hours do have a strong bearing on the earnings of internships at football clubs. 51 people cited 'Location' as a key factor in determining whether (or how much) interns at football clubs should be paid. Finally, 86 people selected the option 'It should depend on the circumstances of the intern'.


What should the maximum length of an unpaid internship be?

We've touched briefly on how contract lengths affected payment within our survey results, but it's worth digging into this a little more. 

According to our survey, a typical internship lasted around 9-12 months. This was the most common internship length, with 89 respondents falling into this employmentt period category. The second most common internship length was 3-6 months, with 35 people falling into this category, while 29 people had a 6-9 month internship.

24 people completed internships lasting 12-18 months, while 9 people completed 18-24 month internships, and 10 people sat right at the top end of the spectrum with internships of 24+ months.

Let's break down the relationships between payment and internship length some more. Unsurprisingly, the group whose internships lasted the longest were more likely to receive remuneration, with 6 of the 10 24+ month internships being paid, while 5 of the 10 included some form of benefit. This ratio of 60% drops significantly for 18-24 month internships, where only 2 of the 9 respondents received payment, a proportion of 22%. These 2 respondents were also the only 2 in the group to receive other allowances.

Moving on to the 12-18 month internships, 22 of the 24 respondents were on an unpaid internship, with just 2 completing paid internships, a proportion of just 8.3%. With the most popular length of placement, 9-12 months, we see an increase on that. Out of 89 respondents, 28 people in this group were paid (31%), compared with 61 people who weren't (69%). 54 didn't get allowances, while 35 did.

Those who were involved in 6-9 month long placements were less likely than the 9-12 month group to receive payment for their work. Out of 29 respondents, 21 were not paid, while 8 were, a proportion of 28% paid interns vs. 72% unpaid interns). 

The 3-6 month group was more weighted towards unpaid interns, with 7 receiving payment (20%) compared to 28 (80%) that didn't. Receipt of allowances or benefits was a little more likely, with 14 of 35 respondents getting some perks. Finally, within the 1-3 month category, 4 respondents were paid, while 10 weren't, a proportion of 71% unpaid vs 29% paid.

Don't worry if that just seems like a load of confusing numbers. It's hard to draw strong conclusions here, as there is no obvious pattern. However, what we can say for sure is that the people on 24+ month placements were the most likely to be paid for their internships, with 60% of them receiving payment. Here are those figures set out in a slightly more simple way:

  • 24+ months: 60% paid
  • 18-24 months: 22% paid
  • 12-18 months: 8.3% paid
  • 9-12 months: 31% paid
  • 6-9 months: 28% paid
  • 3-6 months: 20% paid
  • 1-3 months: 29% paid


How open were respondents to accepting unpaid internships?

Pay satisfaction was pretty low amongst most people who completed our survey. And that's what makes this next set of data really interesting.

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of respondents believed that all internships should be paid (particularly those who have experienced paid internships firsthand), many people responded by saying that they would be prepared to accept an unpaid internship.

When asked 'Would you accept an unpaid internship?', 35 people said an outright no. Of those, 16 had been on unpaid internships, while 16 had been on paid internships (3 didn't include payment information).

On the other hand, 34 people responded to this question with an outright yes. 21 of those people answered that they hadn't been paid for their internship placement, while only 1 of these people had been paid. Clearly, then, there's a connection here; those who have done or are doing an unpaid internship seem more inclined to accept an unpaid internship, whereas those who have completed paid intern work are less likely to go back to having an unpaid placement.

Lots of other people answered with a conditional 'Yes', as opposed to answering 'Yes' outright. For example, 87 people agreed with the statement 'Yes, but only if a basic living allowance was given'. Other caveats included 'Yes but only with a certain club' (33 people chose this option), 'Yes but only with a certain level of club' (82 people), 'Yes but only if guaranteed a job afterwards' (which 131 people agreed with), 'Yes but only for a certain period of time' (96 people). It's important to note that respondents could choose multiple options for this question.

All in all, that leaves 35 people unwilling to accept an unpaid internship, while 268 were willing to accept one in certain conditions. That's 88% willing to accept an unpaid internship if certain working conditions or additional allowances are met, compared to just 12% that aren't. And when it comes to the issue of football clubs transitioning from delivering unpaid placements to more consistently offering paid internship work, herein lies the problem.

Essentially, it appears as though competition for employment at football clubs is so high that people are willing to sacrifice wages in return for experience, even in situations where they believe that it is ethically wrong or if it puts them in a financially vulnerable position. 

Interns are in an incredibly tough position, because there are enough of them willing to work for free that there's little incentive for football clubs to pay interns properly. It's important not to place the blame with those who accept unpaid internships, although many of them are aware of the contradictions; "I think unpaid internships are unfair but I still answered that I would take one because I could afford it and the potential benefit is huge," said one respondent. "I know I am somewhat hypocritical in abusing my privilege, but I think the solution should lie with the clubs." So where do we go from here?


In Conclusion. . .

Our survey has delivered some fascinating insight into the experiences of interns in the world of football. The frustration amongst young people looking to kickstart their careers in football is palpable; the demand for internships at clubs is huge, and some may argue it's currently being exploited by those clubs as a way to use cheap or free labour to get important work done.

Let's quickly recap a few key stats that give a good indication of sentiment amongst interns and prospective interns in football.

- 75.4% either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement 'I feel that the pay I received during my internship was sufficient in relation to the hours I worked'

- Roughly speaking, the longer an internship placement was, the less likely it was for the club involved to pay a high wage

- The most common rate of pay was £250-500 per month

- The most common internship length was 9-12 months. 31% of people on 9-12 month contracts were paid, with the most common pay level in this group being £250-500

- 70% of the people earning £750+ per month were at a top tier club

- The more hours interns were contracted, the more likely they were to be paid. 37.1% of interns doing 30-40 hours per week were paid during their placement, compared to 13.5% of those on 10-20 hours

- Out of the survey's 304 respondents, just 27 people received both payment and allowances/benefits, a proportion of 8.8%

- 74.5% of people strongly agreed with the statement "I believe that all internships should be paid", and almost 90% either agreed or strongly agreed

- People who had undergone a paid internship themselves were more likely to say that all internships should be paid

- 88% of people surveyed were willing to accept an unpaid internship if certain working conditions or additional allowances were met, compared to just 12% that weren't

- Those who have done or are doing an unpaid internship are more inclined to accept an unpaid internship, while those who have completed paid intern work are less likely to accept one

"I don't understand how clubs expect students to live, work, do an internship and study." said one respondent. However, for others, unpaid internships are simply a "harsh reality of working your way up the football pyramid." It's clearly a complex issue, and there are lots of different sides to consider. One interesting point which was brought up by multiple survey respondents is the importance of how interns are labelled.

While certain people think that clubs should "Treat [interns] as you would to your regular staff", others suggest that this does more harm than good, with one intern saying "clubs treat interns as full time staff members, put little effort into actually training interns and just want the work done on time". Ultimately, how interns are viewed by the organisations they work in is important. Another respondent told us "If introduced as an intern, the players will not respect you as much as if you were introduced as an assistant. Players shouldn't know whether or not you are an intern."

We should also consider the issue of accessibility and making football more diverse. "Clubs play on the glamour of working in football, which ultimately increases competitiveness for places and drives down standards for salaries," said one respondent. "This is a real problem for diversity, which is always overlooked, as many cannot afford to do unpaid internships". If football is serious about making the industry a more inclusive and accessible sphere in which anyone can work, this is a key issue that needs to be addressed.

Clearly then, there's work to be done. While internships offer great learning experiences and exposure, it's evident that for most people who have completed or are interested in completing internships at football club, this just simply isn't enough. Add into the equation the vast sums of money clubs are splashing on playing staff, and it becomes a bit unsavoury. Ultimately, football needs to do better.