NBA commissioner also touches on the ongoing 'constructive' CBA talks and the grind of an 82-game schedule
POSTED: Apr 15, 2016 5:41 PM ET
NEW YORK — Michael Jordan, in one of the more famous quotes attributed to him at the height of his basketball and commercial success, defended his detachment from political issues with the simple comment "Republicans buy sneakers, too."
That was then. This is now, when the line between commerce and political causes seems blurred like never before. That's why NBA commissioner Adam Silver engaged Friday afternoon more fully, and at considerable length, with a hot topic in North Carolina that has the league's 2017 All-Star Game set to be played in Charlotte getting the jump ball treatment from the most strident voices in the debate.
The biggest actual news coming out of this week's Board of Governors meetings was the approval of a three-year "pilot program" to sell advertising space on NBA game jerseys. Beginning in 2017-18, teams will be able to contract with corporate sponsors to wear their logos (approximately 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches) on the upper left shoulder of their shirts.
The revenue is expected to exceed $100 million annually, varying by teams' market size and interested partners. The money would be considered part of basketball-related income (BRI) and thus would be split between the owners and the players according to the percentage in the prevailing collective bargaining agreement. Silver did not offer specifics of the trial program but it's likely each team would contribute a portion of its income from the jersey ads to league revenue-sharing to adjust for market differences.
"This is a bit of an experiment," Silver said. "As always, I'm sure there will be unintended consequences here. We don't know how exactly it'll impact the larger marketplace, and we don't know how much money it'll generate, and so we want an opportunity to look at all of that information once they begin selling."
Silver said the owners hope the corporate logos "amplify" the relationship between teams and sponsors. He also noted that, as fewer viewers watch live television outside of sports and watch fewer, period, the chance to reach consumers with in-game advertising could make this an increasingly lucrative, but for now unpredictable, revenue stream.
Most of Silver's time during his media appearance, however, was spent on the North Carolina/2017 All-Star Game issue.
The best role for the league to play here is through constructive engagement for change.
– Commissioner Adam Silver on 2017 All-Star Game in North Carolina
Opponents of the state's new "HB2" law pertaining to gender-specific restroom and locker-room access in public buildings have called for the NBA to move the showcase weekend next February in protest. A half-dozen U.S. senators drafted a letter to Silver urging that decision and others have spoken in support of that stance, including TNT broadcaster and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and Detroit coach/president Stan Van Gundy.
Certain entertainers, including rock icon Bruce Springsteen, have cancelled performances in the state. Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory responded this week by filing an executive order extending further protections to state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Silver, meeting with reporters after the owners' spring session (including several outlets not routinely there to cover basketball matters), offered a nuanced response on the multi-faceted issue that might not immediately satisfy the most strident voices in the debate.
"The law as it now stands in North Carolina is problematic for the league," Silver said. "There was no discussion of moving the All-Star Game. But what the view in the room was, was that we should be working toward change in North Carolina."
The issue is a complicated one for the NBA compared to a Springsteen concert, for example, because the league has a franchise in Charlotte operating as an ongoing business. This is no one-off controversy, Silver noted.
"While we want to make sure we operate in a non-discriminatory environment, we also have to be respectful of the people in North Carolina," the commissioner said. "It would be easy in a way to grandstand here and announce, 'We are moving the All-Star Game,' even though that game is not scheduled to take place for 10 months.
"[But] we have a playoff game in Charlotte in roughly a week. I'm not sure what statement we would be sending about our team."
It gets even more complicated because Jordan is a native of North Carolina, as are many NBA players and employees -- including Clippers guard Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association. Silver himself attended Duke University in Durham, N.C., visits the state frequently and has known McCrory for years.
"Ultimately I'm very sensitive to this notion that someone who's very much an outsider to North Carolina or [a] league is trying to dictate what the societal norms should be in North Carolina," Silver said.
He added: "By no means are we saying we're stepping back. The message is not that somehow the current state of affairs is OK for the league. Let me be clear."
Silver said he has talked with executives in the private sector and officials in the public sector about ways to address the matter. He did cite the "hundreds of vendors" and "thousands of guests" who would be affected, financially or otherwise, if the league were to move the 2017 game.
"Putting aside the business issues completely," Silver added, "I think there is a special place for the NBA in these discussions. There is a long record in this league of speaking out where we see discrimination."
This is a bit of an experiment.
– Commissioner Silver on ads on jerseys beginning in 2017-18.
Critics of the law, including gays, lesbians and transgenders, contend that it prevents people from using restroom facilities of the sex with whom they gender-identify, along with empowering other forms of discrimination. Supporters challenge the idea that anatomical members of an opposite sex should choose which facilities to use, particularly in the presence of other adults and minors. And for many on both sides, a lot of the details fall away, turning the debate solely into a civil rights vs. privacy issue.
Considering McCrory's executive order this week, Silver said: "The one place I know I agree with the Governor is, I think there is enormous misunderstanding about this law. When the legislature meets again this month ... and legislators are together with the governor and able to think through the implications of this law and the impact that it potentially can have on minority groups in their state, I think they will see clear to change the law. I'm hopeful they will."
Taking a longer, more thoughtful view is something the NBA, 10 months out, can afford to do for now.
"The best role for the league to play here is through constructive engagement for change," the commissioner said. "Not setting deadlines. Not making ultimatums. But working in private sector and in government to effect change in North Carolina."
Among other topics discussed this week:
• Silver characterized as "constructive" and said he remains "optimistic" about ongoing talks with the NBPA about the collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA is expected to be re-opened in July 1. Silver has met several times with union executive director Michele Roberts, individually and in groups, and their shared hope is to avoid another lockout. "There seems to be a real commitment in the room," he said, "when we've sat across from the union officials and their executive board, that we all should just bear down, work behind closed doors and do whatever is necessary to ensure that ultimately we of course miss no games but that there's no disruption whatsoever in our season."
• The issue of injuries, fatigue, player missing games for rest and the 82-game schedule continues to generate discussion, with Silver indicating that a more compact preseason could provide added days over which the regular season could be played. He added: "As we go into our playoffs now, it quickly switches to the criticisms that there's too much rest built into our playoff schedule. And people say, 'Oh, I can't believe there are three days before a team plays again.' We're always trying to find the right balance."
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