Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lockout Life

The NFL lockout has been garnering news since owners opted out of the past CBA in March of 2010, and it has dominated headlines since. Now, the NBA and its owners have decided to join the fray. And if you thought that the NFLPA and the owners had a lot of ground to make up, the NBPA and the owners have 10 times more. Why has the lockout suddenly become the preferred choice of labor movement, and why will the NBA's be so bad?

As with all leagues, there is a major gap between small and large market teams. But in the NBA, the chasm is about as wide as the Grand Canyon. Large Market teams like Chicago, New York, the 2 LA teams, and now Miami, can make as much money as they want because of ticket sales and TV deals, and then promptly spend that on payroll. The small market teams like Milwaukee, Sacramento, Memphis or Minnesota can't afford that, and you see what happens. The first battle to be fought will likely be between the 2 groups of owners; those who want a drastic change, and those who don't. And it doesn't help that the players aren't budging on anything.

Unlike the NFL where the major issue is dividing up revenue, the NBA's major issue is the hard salary cap, which the NBPA detests. The owners want parity, but as much as fans of the teams that never win want it, the big time owners don't. The NBA was at its height in popularity when there was no parity, but the league was smaller at that point. How the sides can compromise when there is a schism in the owners camp and the players aren't budging makes everything look worse. And then you see the league's economic state.

The league maintains that 22 of 30 teams lose money every year. And when you crunch the numbers, that isn't too far off. Would revenue sharing help? Sure, but would the NBA take the plunge? Doubtful.  But how could this be when the league has had record TV ratings and it has never seemed that the league was as popular as it is now? Combine a recession with a bad business model, and here you are.

How David Stern allows this to happen after his league had already had a season halved by a lockout at a popularity height is beyond me, and beyond many league fans and observers. This one seems destined to be worse. There are so many battles to fight, so few seem like they can be won. The owners that owned an NHL team during the lost season in 2004-05 feel that a season can be lost to get what you want, and the NHL needed an amazing Olympic tournament in 2010 to bring themselves out of the doldrums. Can the NBA afford to wait that long?

While the NFL lockout looks to be ending soon, the NBA lockout has no end in sight. Ric Bucher said that the best case scenario is a 50 game season, but if things don't change soon, we may have no season at all. And David Stern and his owners have no one but themselves to blame.

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