Basketball on strike
NBA players join their NFL counterparts on the sidelines
Jul 7th 2011 | WASHINGTON, DC | from the print edition
WHEN the clock struck midnight on June 30th the number of jobless men in America increased by 450. Few, though, will pity these idle labourers. The average among them earned around $5m last year.
Their employers had long thought that too much. So the owners of the National Basketball Association (NBA) locked out their players after the two sides failed to reach a new collective-bargaining agreement. With the National Football League (NFL) in a similar state of abeyance, sports fans are becoming well-versed in American labour law.
As with the NFL, the NBA lockout comes at an inopportune time. The decision was taken just 18 days after an exciting championship that saw the league’s most captivating (and skilled) villain, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, outplayed by a likeable legend, Dirk Nowitzki of the victorious Dallas Mavericks. That capped a season in which sales of tickets and merchandise, as well as TV ratings, were up.
“We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of our fans for our game. It just wasn’t a profitable one for the owners,” says David Stern, the league’s longtime commissioner. He claims that 22 of the NBA’s 30 teams are losing money.
As a result, team owners want fundamental changes to the economic structure of the league. For starters, that means replacing the current soft cap on players’ salaries with a hard one that will do more to limit the contracts doled out by the wealthier clubs. They also want to see the league’s revenues, which amounted to $3.8 billion last season according to Forbes, split up in a way that is much more favourable to them and less favourable to the players.
The players, in turn, accuse the owners of poor teamwork. They say that more revenue-sharing between the league’s haves and have-nots could resolve the teams’ exaggerated financial troubles. Much depends on whose numbers you believe.
In the end the players will probably have to make at least modest concessions on their contracts and salaries, but they have thus far rejected the owners’ demanding proposals. About the only thing the two sides currently agree on is how far apart they are, raising fears that the next season may be cancelled altogether.
The NFL, on the other hand, looks to be moving closer to a deal that would end its four-month work stoppage. But that ought not to raise the hopes of NBA fans much. No NFL team appears to be losing money and the league’s basic economic framework is not in dispute. The incentives facing each sport are also quite different. With pre-season games only a month away, further squabbling could cost the NFL as much as $200m for each missed week of practice. Compare that with the NBA, where some owners may actually prefer to forgo another unprofitable season if it results in a better deal.