Did NBA teams lose money last year? And if so, really how much?
In the absence of the owners and players union sitting down and actually talking, the question of loss has become the talking point of the NBA lockout. There has been plenty of back-and-forth between the NBA and the players union — and we can throw in the New York Times — about this subject.
Darren Rovell at CNBC did something smart — when Bruce Ratner’s Nets Sports & Entertainment LLC owned the Nets, the books were public. Still are. So Rovell went and looked at them and broke down the year before the team was sold to Mikhail Prokhorov.
What he found is that while the reported loss by the team that year was $77 million, wipe out the amortization — which the league says it does not include in it’s loss numbers — and the loss falls to $44 million.
But that’s where the controversy starts on how the owners and players define losses and responsibility for those losses.
I said that there were two other numbers, which could be disputed. Let’s look at those. The first one is depreciation, which in this sense is the allocation of costs distributed over a certain period of time. In this case, the reported depreciation by Nets Sports & Entertainment is $2,041,611.
The players association says that depreciation shouldn’t be included in the losses. The owners say it absolutely should because it does reflect the cost of expenses that could be related to growing revenues. If the players get a certain percentage of revenues, the owners claim they should be responsible for some of the costs to get to those higher revenues.
The other disputed number is interest. The Nets for the 2008-09 season had $13,412,981 in interest. The players association again says that that shouldn’t be included in the losses. With depreciation, the actual loss might not be taken in the year it is credited to. With interest, the ownership is actually writing a check. The players can argue they shouldn’t share in this, but there’s no debate that that is a real loss.
I tend to side with the players on interest — it is not their responsibility if an owner took out loans to buy a team. But for fun, even if you wipe depreciation and interest off the books, the Nets still lose in the neighborhood of $28.5 million. That’s a chunk of change. You can see why an owner would be frustrated.
There needs to be some balance in the system. Should some of that kind of loss be covered by revenue sharing from larger market owners? Yes. Should a reduction in players’ salaries (via a reduced share of basketball related income) be part of it? Yes. But the Nets were bad and played in a bad building, and if an owner loses money because of that I have a hard time thinking the players should cover too much of the losses.