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Shaun Powell

Answering the latest labor questions as lockout continues


Posted Oct 13 2011 11:32AM

Two weeks of the season, gone. More to follow, unless reasonable heads prevail, and soon. These are not easy times to be an NBA owner, player or fan. Especially a fan, who must sit idle while two sides hash it out over money at the labor negotiation table.

Obviously, there are questions, and answers, and we are here to provide both as we anxiously await the next round of talks that will produce either a solution ... or something a lot less satisfying.

Q: Who's winning?

A: Well, nobody, at the moment. The owners are playing with fire by putting the NBA out of business and losing a precious spot in the sports calendar. The players, meanwhile, might not see a better deal than what was already on the table and could reluctantly take a lesser deal while the lost paychecks add up. Bottom line is the owners and players are on separate planets from a labor standpoint, but in the same boat in terms of the sport itself. And that boat just sprung a leak.

Q: Well then, who's losing?

A: That's easy -- the thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend on NBA games. David Stern was quick to apologize to the ticket-takers, concession-stand workers, ushers, etc., who are the unintended targets of the lockout. They're the ones who must scramble to recover lost wages, not the billionaire owners or millionaire players. Even those players who were drafted last July and haven't signed a contract yet are probably getting by comfortably on loans from their agents. The missing paychecks are unlikely to put a serious dent in the lifestyles of the typical player unless the lockout extends to late winter. And even then, the mega-rich All-Star types won't miss a meal.

Q: Can the players get what they want in this labor deal?

A: Yes, but only to a very limited extent. Said it before, will say it again: The owners will push and get most if not all of their demands in the end. Their pockets are deeper and therefore their resolve is stronger. They have day jobs; the players don't. When all's said and done, the owners at the very least will get a 50-50 split or better of the basketball revenue. Because they can.

Q: Why do the owners have the hammer in these negotiations?

A: Simple -- they have the gold. And he who has the gold, rules (that's the Golden Rule). But also remember, and this is the key, the players don't have a comparable alternative. Where else can they make this kind of money? Not in Europe, not in China, not on the moon, and the owners know this. Even if the dollars were close enough overseas, the players would lose big in terms of exposure. Few fans in America would follow them religiously even if the games were telecast or webcast (and imagine what the fees might be, which would further turn off the American fan in this economy). As a result, the ripple would affect the endorsement clout of the players. The players need the NBA. The owners know the players lack a healthy alternative and therefore the owners can hold out as long as necessary to win the key points of the deal.

Q: Are the owners simply trying to protect themselves from a bad economy in the future?

A: For sure. But there are probably a few who also want to recover some the losses they took in the last few years. If they create a new business model, or at least empower themselves with a bigger percentage of the profits, then this is possible.

Q: Who will the public side with?

A: Whatever side Joe Fan took before the negotiations is the side he'll continue to take. That rarely if ever changes. Sort of like a Democrat going Republican. Some fans are disagreeing with the players, saying the $6 million backup center should be grateful. Strangely, nobody complains when Adam Sandler makes a bad movie and still gets $10 million, but whatever. Some will disagree with the owners, saying ownership put the NBA in this mess by giving outrageous contracts to underperforming players. But in a competitive marketplace where everyone wants to win, mistakes happen, and those mistakes can't be erased when contracts are guaranteed. Besides, the owners were being quite generous by giving 57 percent of the revenue to the workforce, which sounds like a boss who'd be great to work for, if you can find one like that in corporate America. Bottom line: The players had it very good during a good economy, and now the owners want a bigger slice of the pie in a bad economy. And the average fan has a hard time relating to either side.

Q: Will the NBA ever be the same again?

A: Nobody knows yet. We're not sure what damage, if any, has been done. Or if further cancellations will alienate the faithful customers for an extended period. We do know, in these labor fights, there's a short-term-pain, long-term-gain aspect to them. Owners and players are willing to take an initial hit, in terms of public relations and money, in order to come out ahead over the next several years. Whatever happens, all you can hope for, as a basketball fan, is the NBA does change -- for the better.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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