The NBA owners continue to say the lockout is going on because the players don’t understand the fundamental need to change the league’s poor financial system — that $300 million was lost this past year.
More and more reports are questioning the severity of that loss.
The latest is Nate Silver at the New York Times, who questions the heavy losses the owners claim, and particularly the claim that player salaries are to blame.
On this point he is spot on — NBA players salaries make up 57 percent of the Basketball Related Income the league takes in. That number is fixed in the current Collective bargaining agreement — it is a fixed cost, the owners know exactly how much the players will cost the league as a whole. It’s the non-player costs that increase faster than income, Silver notes.
Growth in non-player expenses has outpaced that of salaries, having increased by 13 percent over five years and 43 percent over 10 years. Although some of this undoubtedly reflects sound business ventures, like the league’s investments in digital media or efforts to expand the game internationally, they have nevertheless had a reasonably large effect on the league’s bottom line. Had nonplayer expenses been the same in 2009-10 as they were in 1999-2000 (adjusted for inflation), the league would have made a record profit that year.
Even with those costs, Silver says the owners are making money.
Even as it stands, however, the Forbes data suggests that the league is still profitable. Its operating income — revenues less expenses (but before interest payments and taxes) — is estimated to have been $183 million in 2009-10, or about $6 million per team. The N.B.A.’s operating margin (operating income divided by revenues) was about 5 percent in 2009-10 and has been about 7 percent during the life of the current labor deal.
A 5 percent or 7 percent profit is not dissimilar to what other businesses have experienced recently. Fortune 500 companies, for instance, collectively turned a 4.0 percent profit in 2009 and a 6.6 percent profit in 2010 (both figures after taxes). Profit margins in the entertainment industry, in which the N.B.A. should probably be classified, have generally been a bit lower than that.
Silver goes on to say that a lot of the losses the owners claim are tied to depreciation and amortization when a team is sold. However, the league has noted that amortization is not used in the $300 million loss figure for the past season. Silver misses the mark there.
The players need to understand that some owners are hurting and there needs to be adjustments to the system. Things like the players hotel rooms and food per diems are not taken out of that 57 percent — they get to count the revenue minus any expenses. Those expenses are rising. Players need to give up some of their pie (maybe by rather than taking 57 percent of the gross allowing some deductions of league expenses from that before the “net” is divided up, maybe just taking a much smaller percentage of the gross). The owners have some valid points about the needs to alter the system to create a chance for all teams to make money (although revenue sharing must be part of that).
But it’s still hard to buy the owners claims that the league is in that much financial peril. Particularly when people are stepping in to pay record prices for franchises.