The NBA Lockout: More Complicated Than it Seems

| July 1, 2011 | 0 Comments


At first glance it’s pretty easy to understand why NBA owners resorted to a lockout.  It’s about finding a way for team owners to protect themselves from their own actions.   The lockout is also a way to close the ever-widening financial gap between large and small market teams, a gap that could destroy the gains the league has made in TV ratings, public perception and quality of play.   But the truth is this lockout is much more complicated than one might think, and is not one that very easily can be blamed on well-paid players or their union.

Are players at fault for demanding multi-million dollar salaries?   I don’t blame them, especially since these now angry and hypocritical owners so easily paid up.   I ask you: if someone were willing to pay you millions per year to do your job, would you take the money?  Of course you would.

But because of this reckless extravagance, too many NBA teams are losing money.  Unlike the NFL, most NBA owners have balance sheets deep in the red.   There are a number of reasons for this.

Television revenue is not spread equally among teams in the NBA as it is in the NFL.  There needs to be a fix for that. The way things are set up now, big market teams are able to extract more from their local TV deals than smaller market teams, which provides the big guys with a significant advantage when trying to lure high profile free agents and key role players.

There is also a market size disparity in some cases when trying to get corporations to pay for glitzy luxury suites, which is another way that large market teams make extra money to spend and profit from.

Labor negotiations are often difficult to explain to those who’ve never experienced the process.  It can be messy, complex and brutal.  But the edge here goes to the owners.  Unions of all kinds these days are having a hard time gaining public sympathy, which means very few people will be concerned that the world’s highest paid union members, will go without a paycheck for a while.

The fact is there is a real chance there will be no professional basketball next season.  The lockout could last that long.  Seven years ago, the National Hockey League shut down for an entire season to change the way it did business.  Several NHL owners also own NBA teams.  They might be willing to do the same thing with their basketball franchises.

Owners are serious about changing the business model of the NBA and making it possible for most if not all teams to finally make a profit.  But players are equally adamant that they not give back too much to owners who they say gladly signed their contracts.

Of course this labor dispute could seriously damage the remarkable progress the NBA has made.  Right now the NBA is as popular as it was during the Michael Jordan era, which was a rich and bountiful time for professional hoops.

But now as players, and big and small market owners, take sides, the real strength of the NBA will be put to the test.  The only good thing about this is that there are four months to go before the new season starts, which means time is on the side of an agreement being made – for now.

You can follow David Burnett at his personal blog by clicking here

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Hip Hop Historian and accomplished photo journalist

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