The NBA, where a stupid lockout happens

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By Michael DiFabrizio, Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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    The never-ending saga that is the NBA lockout began another dark chapter yesterday, with the players deciding to disband their union in order to sue the league. The 2011-12 season, which was supposed to start two weeks ago, could very well be doomed.

    Honestly, it’s such a messy, sad and embarrassing tale.

    Instead of discussing the Lakers versus the Heat, we’re discussing the millionaires versus the billionaires.

    Last summer was all about ‘The Decision’. Now we’re being treated to ‘The Indecision’.

    It’d be funny if it weren’t so horrible for so many people. Millions of fans are being deprived of watching the sport they love. Those who rely on there being NBA games for their income, like arena workers and nearby businesses, are wondering how they’re going to get by.

    Meanwhile, a huge number of fans are turning away and losing interest. They’re taking their viewing talents to the NFL and NHL and, hopefully in Australia, the NBL.

    And all this on the back of the incredible playoffs last season. All this when the league was picking up so much momentum. All this when, frankly, things just didn’t need to be this difficult or this messy.

    It’s at this point where commentators generally go into why either the owners or the players – depending on their viewpoint – are to blame. It’s easier when there’s someone to blame, after all.

    But from an outsider’s point of view – I’m the first to admit my knowledge of the each side’s position doesn’t run that deep – it seems like both parties do say a lot of sensible things.

    Owners: “Small market teams need to be able to compete with the big boys.” Yeah, that sounds fair.

    Players: “We should have the right to play where we want without being restricted.” Yeah, that sounds fair too.

    Owners: “We want to do a 50-50 split of revenue.” Well gee, you can’t get fairer than 50-50.

    Players: “In our last deal we had 57 per cent. We’ve already come down significantly from that.” Well gee, the players are being asked to give up a lot.

    Owners: “The average salary will go from around $5.5 million to eventually between $7-8 million under our offer.” Um wait, are the players really giving up that much?

    Players: “Forget the money. You still haven’t fixed the system issues we asked you to fix.” Yeah, whatever did happen to that?

    And on and on it goes.

    Both sides are right, both sides are wrong. Both are at times indefensible, both have at times managed to look like the good guys.

    So this has moved beyond picking sides. This has moved to finding a solution for the sake of finding a solution – and when you look at it from that perspective, it’s puzzling why games needed to be cancelled at all.

    Maybe this is too simple a comparison, but the AFL and AFL Players Association have also been locking horns recently over a new collective bargaining agreement. By the end of the 2011 season, it was clear the two sides were too far apart and there was no way a deal could be done soon without someone caving majorly.

    So what did they do? Well, here’s what they didn’t do: let it drag on until games were cancelled.

    Both sides agreed to an interim one-year deal for next season that covered only player payments and list structures. The so-called “system issues” still had to be worked out, but the important thing for the game was that no 2012 regular season games will be missed because of the pay dispute.

    The NBA could’ve done this. A similar idea was discussed in a recent Bill Simmons column. Given both sides will reportedly lose hundreds of millions because of missed games, you’d think an interim one- or two-year deal would have been in everyone’s best interest.

    Instead, we’re left facing the NBA’s “nuclear winter”, as commissioner David Stern described it yesterday.

    I don’t pretend to have the answers as far as what a new deal should like look. I can’t tell you what the players should give up and what the owners should offer. I can’t confirm whether what the players did yesterday was as short-sighted as Stern made out.

    But as a fan, I can’t help but feel there was a better way.

    Surely it didn’t have to turn out like this.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • Columnist

      November 16th 2011 @ 9:17am
      Elisha Pearce said | November 16th 2011 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      I have followed the NBA news fairly closely. I’m already starting to miss having a few choice NBA matches to watch on Fox each week!

      The amazing thing about the lockout is that both sides seem like they meet – at best – about once per week or so. Yes, those meetings quite often go for upwards of 12 hours. But once a week!? Very strange. I suppose thats what happens when millionaires and billionaires are trying to negotiate – they all must have other important things to attend to.

      The players union basically had filed a pre-emptive law suit somewhere in mid year that allowed them to make this decision now. They knew it was going to get to this point then. Why didn’t they just take this step earlier on I can’t understand.
      The owners were always going to hold out on the players, since about 2007 the statements by commish Stern have been leading that way and everyone had to be dumb not to realise that fairly wide ranging systemic changes were going to take place before there was going to be a deal. So why no urgency until now? Probably too many lawyers involved I’d say. And 2, not enough of these people have real connections with people who can bring calming influence from the outside.

      • Columnist

        November 16th 2011 @ 11:13am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | November 16th 2011 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        EP, you’re right, the lack of urgency until now (or until recently) is another reason both sides have let down fans.

    • November 16th 2011 @ 10:19am
      B.A Sports said | November 16th 2011 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      like you say the problem is the people in the negotiating room are the owners (who are all making money with other business ventures) and the top end players (who have enough money to sit out a year). It is the venue workers, the fringe and roll players who are going to be hurt.

    • Roar Guru

      November 16th 2011 @ 10:27am
      Cam Larkin said | November 16th 2011 @ 10:27am | ! Report

    • November 16th 2011 @ 11:28am
      Johnno said | November 16th 2011 @ 11:28am | ! Report

      The NBA players better be careful here, and have got to greedy i think. If the league is failing investors and sponsors (and obviously no tv ratings), may pull out in larger numbers and that will slash player wages even more. These players need to learn a lesson in economics, money does not grow on trees and magically appear it is either there or not. These NBA players should be happy with what they goot they still on a good deal , they should settle and start playing again or there wages may be cut more.

    • November 16th 2011 @ 12:04pm
      Walt said | November 16th 2011 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

      NBA players are overpaid and underwhelming.

      The sport is on the decline not only in America but world-wide. Less and less middle-class white spectators (they are the ticket buyers of the NBA) are impressed with the inconsistency of teams, the juvenile actions of the players who no longer go through the finishing school of basketball and life which is University and the tattooed, bling gangster image the NBA has cultivated. When white middle-class people start jumping off, so do the big corporate sponsors. Thats American economics, love it or hate it.

      Most of the NBAs clubs dont make money and the NBA spent $200 million in 2009 to bail out more than a dozen. No wonder owners are not willing to pay their players to buy $20000 Rolex watches, Gulfstreams or engagement rings for Kim Kardashian. The owners are rich for a reason and they dont like their money being wasted or their image being tarnished.

      The game is going the way of the local NBL and the players need to take a pay cut in order to make it strong again.

      • November 16th 2011 @ 12:28pm
        Johnno said | November 16th 2011 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

        Walt good points you make. Players ar epaid a lot and better get careful not to get too confident and greedy. NBA regular season and play off tv ratings have gone down. Last years NBA grand final series rated well Dallas V Miami, but part form that it has gone down hill. NBA too me biggest problem was the end of the jordan era, he was massive for basketball, and no one Kobe or Le bron, have nee able to replace him s the face of basekkeball and generate the same marketing ability.
        and NBA in 80’s and 90’s had so many colourful personalities and real stars not just MJ, and tonnes of perosnal rivalries. SO many characters in the NBA in the 80’s and 90’s.
        MJ, Pippen,roman,Majic, Larry Bird, Shaq,.hakkem,ewing,barkley, dave robinson, malone,stockton, we could go on and on, and there were so many rivalries to,a nd colourful teams.
        eg bad boys detroit psitons, showtime, LA Lakers, the bulls, celtics, the knocks. And we could go on and on.

        NBA has become sterile, no more characters, all the teams feel the same, less rivalries, and also the NBA in the 80’s and 90’s the players had a real often hated towards one another and a real passion for the sport, and great rivalries.
        MJ and Isiah Thomas hated each other
        Bird and Majic good maed but fierce rivals on court
        Majoc V MJ fierce rivals.
        But the point is there was a real hated, passion, rivalries and will to win by all the players and a love of basketball. now it feels sterile and players only playing for the big money rather than the ,ove of basketball which used to be so evident,.

        ANd all teams like i said before Walt had there own identity and real passion and distinction. Every stadium felt different, now they fele all the same. The old bosotn garden could not feel any dome extremely different than madison square garden or the staples centre in LA or in Detorit. Now all stadiums feel the same.

        I think they should cut the regular season 82 games is to long and does not sustain public interest or iinerest form players as players can afford to lose matches. Also playoff series is to long 4 rounds of best of 7 up to. That means a players can play up to 28 games to decide the title winner. Make the play offs best of 3 and maybe the grand final best of 5.

        ANd bring back hand checking, and cut down or ban time outs, except maybe 1 tv time out per half so the networks can make some money. Time outs are killing the NBA to.
        So many stoppages in time outs , plus the quarter time and half time. AFL only has quarter time and half time. You do not need endless time outs in basketball. Ice hockey only has 1 time out per half , i think or even just 1 time out each team per match a lot less.

      • Roar Guru

        November 16th 2011 @ 2:12pm
        B-Rock said | November 16th 2011 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

        I would have to disagree on your view that the NBA is in decline Walt, at least prior to the lockout (who knows what brand damage this has done)

        Attendance is only one measure of popularity, and an increasingly marginal one at that. The modern NBA fan is not as white and middle class as it was 10-15yrs ago. League Pass has revolutionised being an NBA fan, it is much more affordable and comfortable to pay a reasonable annual fee to have a daily menu of games direct to your widescreen TV than to actually attend games. The NBA has been on the front foot in terms of investment in technology over the past 5-10 yrs and is now way ahead of other sports.

        The NBA is right up there with EPL as the most popular leagues across any sport globally – Basketball is now one of the most popular sports in China and has been right behind football in most of western and eastern Europe for many years.

        The NBL is a world away from the NBA and is largely driven by mismanagement over the long term in Australia. Its a bit of a stretch to use this as a bellwether for the NBA. Most NBA clubs do make money, they have exagerated their losses for the purposes of the lockout.

        IMO not every team should make money, they are competing for fans within basketball and across other sports. there will be winners and losers. The ultra-capitalist US should understand this more than any other country. Should a team in New Orleans or Minnesotta be profitable all the time? of course not. These are small markets which cant possibly compete with NY/LA/Chicago/Miami.

        • November 16th 2011 @ 4:24pm
          Walt said | November 16th 2011 @ 4:24pm | ! Report

          You are correct regarding the growing importance of online and direct-streaming technologies. However, the fact that broadcast TV in the United States has nearly no games due to lack of demand speaks volumes. A lot of fans dont care that there is a lockout either.

          About 3/4 of the teams have no chance of winning the title and they arent worried about seeing their team go through another .500 season and losing in the first round of the playoffs – if indeed they make it.

          The NBA is a broken product and the fans, the owners and management realise this. Whether you believe the teams are really losing money is one thing, but the NBA certainly lent $200 million to struggling teams in 2009 and the league posted a loss of $370 million, and next the league lost $340 million. This is where my comparison to the NBL comes in. The teams and the leagues lost lots of money, the product becomes generic and now the heroes of the sport are looking like the bad guys – that aint good for the NBA.

          Besides, the casual NBA follower (like me, who is very important for the league) doesnt care about the NBA until after March Madness. There are still 4 months before I will notice there is no NBA this time around…

          • Roar Guru

            November 16th 2011 @ 6:38pm
            B-Rock said | November 16th 2011 @ 6:38pm | ! Report

            I think you will find that ESPN and TNT had the highest ratings in last years playoffs and finals since Jordans retirement – the problem is the length of the season and resulting number of meaningless games in november, december and january, not the quality of the actual product itself. Broadcast TV still has 2-3 national games per week in the US plus a host of games on regional networks. Not sure how profitable they are through the season but cant be that bad if they are paying mega-$$$ for the rights on a multi-year basis.

            Im not sure where the idea of owning a sport franchise is the key to profitablility came about – they are a license to lose money in any country and any sport. Owners are typically entrepeneurs who want to show off and build connections for their broader business empires or for social reasons. Also, how many owners leverage up to buy these franchises at the exact wrong time of the cycle? Too many examples of all of this to go through here but surely NBA owners dont have a right to make guaranteed profits? Saying that, some balance on BRI needs to be found (50-50 sounds right to me) to give them a fighting chance to be profitable outside of the top 10 markets. Once again though Walt, the NBA is a long way from what we are seeing in the NBL. Cant even compare the two in my view.

            I dont think its a bad thing that only 7-8 teams can win the title – I want to see loaded teams not one superstar per team and a really diluted but even competition. Miami brought more interest to the league than anything else last season. The NBA has always had exceptional teams and also rans, particularly during its “golden eras” (Boston/LA in 50s/60s, Boston/Detroit/Chicago/LA in 80’s/90’s, LA/Miami/Dallas/Chicago/etc currently)

            I agree that NBA fans are just going to focus on college basketball this season – there are a number of loaded teams which will put on the best college season in 10yrs IMO. Unfortunately for the NBL I dont think you will get a benefit from fans switching to domestic ball – it actually benefits from a strong NBA, it doesnt compete with it.

    • November 16th 2011 @ 12:04pm
      Ian Whitchurch said | November 16th 2011 @ 12:04pm | ! Report

      In Johnno’s universe, the players went on strike.

      In the real universe, the league is profitable, and the problem is revenue sharing between big market and small market owners.

      The players will win their antitrust case, by the way – remember to split the legal issues explored when the NFL went through this into whether the owners can be forced to end the lockout (legally difficult), and whether antitrust issues exist (why, yes, a cartel formed to limit wages paid to employees and determine which employee can be employed by whom does have Sherman Act issues).

      • November 16th 2011 @ 12:16pm
        Johnno said | November 16th 2011 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        Ian good point , i have a hunch you have worked at some stage of you life either in the corporate world, or in a job to do with economics or statistics at least in some part of your career.
        Coz you seem too have many times over and over again seem to have some knowledge of economics and finance, business and finance and revenue models. Also statistics too. i admit i have never worked in the corporate world , or in any job ot do with accounting or economics ., or statistics.
        So do the smaller teams in other word’s the smaller market owners Ian do they support the players strike then.
        And limiting wage issues brings in points like minimum wage, and salary cap’s doesn’t it then Ian. But maybe I don’t know what im talking about anyway to be honest becoz i have no contructive experience or knowledge of finance or economics, or business financial models, to make any constructive analysis.

        • November 16th 2011 @ 1:09pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | November 16th 2011 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

          The NBA owners are trying really, really hard to present a unified front – ‘youre barking at the wrong owner’ on twitter saw the NBA fine Mickey Arison, owner of the Miami Heat $500 000.

          This is a pretty decent summary.

          As far as we can tell, the big market teams are OK with the current system, but small market teams want to cut payroll. In reality, a well managed small market team – San Antonio for example – can do pretty well for itself.

          • Columnist

            November 16th 2011 @ 1:17pm
            Elisha Pearce said | November 16th 2011 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

            Youre right Ian. The small market team owners are the ones holding things up right now.
            As the author of this article does, I read a fair bit of Bill Simmons and his argument for contraction plus a new team in Chogago seems fairly good. The NBA is great in big markets but not so much in small. possibly a little more revenue sharing needs to be worked out with the owners too. But the players should probably get paid “what they’re worth”. Thats hard to define sometimes, but the way the owners are trying to do it is by writing rules that prevent their own GMs from making dumb contract choices that they regret later on. not really the players fault that part.
            Going down from 57% to 50% (near NFL level split for instance) probably should have been enough for the owners to get real on sorting the other issues out, but they haven’t even managed to do that amongst themselves.

            • November 16th 2011 @ 4:45pm
              Ian Whitchurch said | November 16th 2011 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

              Basically, the owners want their employees to pay for their various mistakes, and will lie, mislead, and break as many laws as they need to do so, while all the time various whiners think that their employees should just shut up and take the pay cuts.

              Its very American.

          • November 16th 2011 @ 2:55pm
            Johnno said | November 16th 2011 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

            It’s funny Micheal Jordan has been really seen s a figure Ian in this whole saga , who has been seen as anti player, and has stayed firm with the owners. He is form a mid size or even small team, the Charlotte Bobcats.

          • Columnist

            November 16th 2011 @ 5:37pm
            Michael DiFabrizio said | November 16th 2011 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

            On small market teams, it’s a little too simplistic to point to San Antonio and say anyone can do that. I support a small market team so maybe there’s an element of bias here, but I posted this on Twitter the other day: A bigger market = more revenue = more money to get better facilities, coaches, staff, scouting, etc. So why should the system ensure they get the best players too?

            Yes, the Spurs have done very well, but it’s not just because they are well-managed. For a small market team to be succesful, as in Laker-esque successful, the fact is they need to get very lucky in the draft/lottery. (And even then there’s no guarantees, see Chris Paul at New Orleans.) For big market teams, it’s less crucial for things to go their way in these areas because they have the ability to go out and buy the best talent. For small market teams, luck is absolutely essential in the current NBA.

            • November 16th 2011 @ 6:12pm
              Ian Whitchurch said | November 16th 2011 @ 6:12pm | ! Report

              Then institute revenue sharing, as per the NFL, so small market teams dont get hosed.

              Oh. Wait. That would mean siding with the players union against other owners, and Class Solidarity Forever !

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