The owners and players are walking a fine line.
They both want a financial deal that is good for them not just next year but for the next five plus years — and this year’s Collective Bargaining Agreement will end up being the basis of the next deal, too. Both sides have a lot of money riding on the outcome. Both want to get a big slice of the revenue pie.
But if the lockout goes on too long — frankly, if it costs one regular season game — that pie will shrink. Dramatically
And that is the big risk. The NBA is on a hot streak. The last couple of NBA finals have been the most watched since Shaquille O’Neal was the biggest star in the sport and had teamed up with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Attendance is up, merchandise sales are up, interest in the league overall is up. Right now the league is approaching a level of popularity not seen since the Jordan era. It took a decade and a lot of hard work by players and franchises to win all those fans back.
A lockout fighting over how to divide up hundreds of millions of dollars as the country is trying to shake free of the worst recession in generations will kill that momentum. Dead.
After the last lockout it took four years or so for the league to really regain its footing. This time it will take longer.
On both sides — but particularly the owners’ end of the table — there are hard liners willing to do take that risk. They plan on owning the business for a decade or more, they want a new business model that makes the franchise they leveraged themselves to get profitable. Now. They will sacrifice a full season and lots of fan good will to get there.
And that’s a businessman thinking about his profits, his business, and not the good of others or the industry he is in as a whole. Which is how we got into the recession in the first place (thank you so much banks).
There will be serious repercussions to an extended lockout. Not the least of which is that all the momentum — built up because people wanted to see LeBron James fail or not — will be lost. The casual fan will be lost. For a long time.
Both the owners and the players talk about this, they give lip service to not alienating fans with a long lockout. The questions do the mean it? Really mean it? Are they willing to compromise to get it? Are they willing to sacrifice something they think they deserve for the good of the game as a whole?
I don’t know. We really won’t know until mid-September. But it would be sad to see the league throw away all the momentum it gained because rich people couldn’t decide how to divide up the fans money.