With NBA lockout there are plenty of losers, but it starts with fans

20 Comments

The NBA locks out and there are tons of losers.

It’s not the owners and the players. Sure, they are shooting their own business in the foot, but when it is all said and done the owners will be insanely wealthy and the players will still make a lot of money playing a game. It’s hard for fans to relate to. Or put it this way, if my bosses at NBC want to pay me the NBA rookie minimum salary (more than $400,000 last year) I will gladly accept that pay raise.

The losers are they guy who owns the pub across the street from the arena who counts on those 42 nights a year to keep his business going (as do the bartenders and waiters and chefs who need to pay rent). The losers are the security guards and ushers who are staying home and not being paid. It is the team assistant athletic trainers who got laid off and don’t know when they will go back to work. It is countless other people who count on the NBA financially that have no say in the negotiations.

But mostly, it’s the fans. The fans are the ones getting screwed again.

This is all a fight over how to divide up the fans money. They are the ones that buy the tickets, buy the beer and hot dogs in the arena, who buy the jerseys, who watch the games on television and visit the Web sites. It is their money and they eyeballs on the set that drive the revenue for this league, that revenue the players and owners get about $4 billion of a year but can’t figure out how to divide.

It’s the fans in Sacramento who fought so hard to convince the powers that be in the NBA of their support for the Kings franchise, how they would get a new arena built in the city. A project that is going to take public money. A project that is going to take corporate sponsor dollars. A project that is going to take a lot of season tickets — which were selling fast after the team drafted Jimmer Fredette. An extended lockout could kill that momentum and lead to the city losing its team.

It’s the fans in Memphis who suffered through years and years of bad team and finally saw their team win their first playoff game this April. Then their first playoff series. A starved fan base finally getting to taste some success in the NBA with players they can rally behind. They are excited about next season, just in time to have it threatened.

It is like that for 28 other teams as well.

After the 1998-99 lockout both sides admitted they had to win the fans back, but they did. The fans did return. But if there is a lengthy lockout in this economy — if they are arguing over millions in salary and hundreds of millions in profits while the nation struggles out of the worst recession in generations — it will be much harder to win casual fans back. The road back will be harder.

The owners and players have to think long and hard about the repercussions if this drags out. The fans are the losers in all this. And if the fans feel alienated through this they will not come back nearly as fast or in the same numbers they did last time.

Nobody likes to be the loser. And with this lockout, there would be a lot of them.