Pro sports in America is a unique business. The owners and players formed a partnership with each other to save the NBA in the early 1980s, when the league was on the verge of insolvency. Their partnership resulted in a new drug-testing policy and the invention of the salary cap, both firsts for the major American leagues.
Partnership is a good thing for pro sports: There would be no NBA lockout if a sense of partnership existed today. All of the leagues need that spirit of working together because the players are the product. The NBA players now believe strongly that the owners are treating them like employees rather than partners; the owners believe just as strongly that the players need to help provide the franchises with access to profitability, for the health of owners and players alike.
The difficult part of this is that each side -- owners as well as players -- believes it is making a stand for reasons of principle as well as for the good of the sport, and that's on top of the financial gain each is seeking. Add money to principle and you wind up with a situation in which both sides are blinded to the larger damage they're doing.
Thanks very much to both of you. You've touched on one of the biggest dangers for the NBA -- that a number of fans may not be there to greet the league when it returns.
You're referring to another concern for the league -- the issue of fans who make financial sacrifices to support the NBA. In the months ahead, will fans like you realize that you prefer to keep the money in your pocket rather than spend it on basketball? Because of this lockout, the NBA is both raising that question and forcing you to answer it. The league may not like your answer.
There are a couple of complications here. For starters, the players don't believe the owners are losing as much money as they claim. Second, the owners are trying to make the case -- in agreement with your point of view -- that they should be enabled to make a profit, rather than simply being happy to break even. At the heart of the disagreement is a feeling from the union that the owners have mismanaged their franchises and now, instead of holding themselves accountable to be more responsible in their decision-making, they want to grab money back from the players.
There is some truth in each side's view. The players are right to criticize a lot of teams for mismanagement, and of course the owners have every right to seek profitability.
Thanks, Andrea. I don't think I was trying to dupe anyone. Actually, I was referring to the potential of lawsuits against the NBA by the cities of Memphis and Orlando, who have been investigating whether to try to recoup arena monies that will be lost during the lockout.
I don't know about the NBA's being a niche sport. It isn't nearly as popular as the NFL with U.S. fans, but the NBA generates $4 billion per year and it has a global following, giving it arguably the strongest long-term future among the U.S. sports leagues. Do you think the NFL or Major League Baseball has a realistic chance of growing its business in China or India?
I do agree that apathy is the biggest threat of all. In fact,
You are on the right track, Rob. They've been discussing shortened exceptions to limit the impact of the inevitable mistakes in judgment. But the exceptions serve as a fringe issue compared to concerns on both sides for revenue splits and soft-vs.-hard cap systems.
That's an interesting point. I don't know what accounts for the indifference to the World Series. But in some ways the NBA has been an anomaly to the ideal of parity. I've written about this before, that the NBA is most popular nationally when it's led by a few "super" teams like the Lakers, Celtics or Bulls, featuring star power and deep rosters.
There is a lot of talk about the players fighting to retain a soft cap, but what it really comes down to is their goal of keeping guaranteed contracts. They believe a hard cap will be the death of those guarantees for most players. That is the "blood issue" as defined by Hunter.
I couldn't agree more. The times are changing. The NBA and other leagues have enjoyed exponential growth for almost four decades, and now they may need to enact a different approach because they've created a sophisticated and increasingly skeptical audience.