It’s Lockout Season!

If you’ve recently visited the website of your favorite NBA team, you probably noticed that something isn’t quite right. For example, during my recent check of the Washington Wizard’s site, the top news story was about their mascot G-Man going to China. The New York Knicks’ website was full of pictures of retired players and celebrities who have visited Madison Square Garden. Every NBA site has a feature about their “dancers,” but pictures of current NBA players seem to be conspicuously absent.

This twilight zone we have entered is all due to the NBA lockout, which started on July 1st at 12 a.m. when the last CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) expired. The owners locked out the players, as meetings to get some type of headway on what is going to be a long and arduous path to finding middle ground between the owners and the players. The biggest issues that need to be sorted out are the idea of a hard (or flex) salary cap and revenue sharing amongst teams.

Let the owners tell it, and they’ll say 22 of the 30 teams in the NBA are operating in the red, losing money in a system that keeps small market teams (such as Memphis or Sacramento) from being profitable. While there are always ways for teams to “show” that they are losing money, the current CBA mixed with today’s economical climate does make it difficult for those markets to be profitable. The players currently have a 57% share of revenues gained from the operations of the NBA. The owners are looking for a share closer to 60% for them. Such a shift in paradigm from the last CBA is mostly why the process of coming to an agreement that both sides can ascribe to will be so difficult.

The NBA players had a great run, though. There is no organization in pro sports that pays its players better than the NBA, where the average salary is $4.8 million. There is no mistaking the fact that players deserve the right to have gripes with management and have their say heard. But they had to know it was coming. When it becomes more cost effective to not even have a season for some teams, you have to look at the current system. A few of the NBA owners also own franchises in other sports leagues (such as the NHL), and they bought their respective teams at a premium. Their own business ventures may not have been as lucrative as in the past in this economic climate, so they will find it imperative to save money or find a way to make their teams profitable for them.

While no NBA team is as bad off as, say, the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers (whose employees checks bounced last week), the league cannot continue to operate under a CBA that sees 73% of its teams operating in the red. It will take a long time to fix this, and most people are saying a significant amount of games will be missed. While both sides will undoubtedly try to find a resolution as quickly as possible to not lose the momentum the stellar 2011 NBA season gained, it will seem that the owners will have the upper hand in bargaining. With the players benefiting so much as before stated, and teams not doing so well business-wise, the NBA Players Association will have to step back a bit if they desire a resolution that will result in some, if any, games to be played in the 2012 NBA season. With word coming down the pike that the NFL may soon be resolving its labor lockout, one can only hope that the NBA owners and players are taking notes.

Something that tends to get lost in the labor disputes and financial showdowns of professional sports is the fact that it’s not only the owners and players who are being affected by the strife; the fans are punished too. When beloved sports teams can hold a city hostage to get its new stadium, or bolt to another town when the answer is no, it’s clear that concern for the fans ranks at the very bottom in the minds of many team owners. To paraphrase the scripture, the love of money is the root of all sorts of sports evil. 

And now with lockouts threatening the 2011-12 season for both the NBA and the NFL, there’s no telling when we’ll see our favorite teams play again. 

We as sports fans, however, should take this opportunity not to sulk and cry and rant because two of the most popular sports in America are in limbo. We can take this time to get into other sports that we’ve never given a serious thought to before (women’s soccer, anyone?). Or, better yet, maybe we turn the TV off and get active ourselves. Summertime is here, and in lieu of waiting for football to return, we can go outside and toss a Frisbee, play badminton with our neighbors, or simply take a brisk walk around the block. Maybe this is a time to reconnect with our inner athlete.

While the millionaires squabble about who deserves what, we can take our fandom into our own hands and try something new.