When the threat of the NFL’s missing preseason games due to the lockout hit, it put real pressure on that league’s owners. The NFL plays its preseason games in the same stadiums it does its regular season (mostly) and if you buy NFL season tickets, you have pay full game price for those preseason games. The NFL and its owners make a killing on those games.
The NBA? Not so much.
Stern pointed out on Wednesday that, to save the season, “We have three weeks.” Training camp is supposed to start in less than a month. When the NFL was in a lockout, there was an emphasis on saving training camp, but according to a league source, that’s not necessarily as important for the NBA. First of all, pro football is a lot more complicated to coach and requires more thorough conditioning. Second, the source said, “Financially, the NFL makes a killing off the preseason. The NBA doesn’t. We play in some pretty far-off spots. And our preseason games aren’t televised much.”
NBA teams often play half their preseason games in areas where one team is trying to pick up fans. So the Suns do an outdoor preseason game at the tennis facility at Indian Wells, the Celtics play a game in Hartford, the Knicks head up to Albany. Those aren’t money makers, it’s just trying to grow a fan base. If those games are lost, the owners and players do not weep.
The owners may not be interested in the preseason but there are some deadlines coming up where both sides would feel a pinch. For one, when the European leagues start at the end of the month, the players union may think it has leverage and the negotiations may slow.
But a complicating factor to bear in mind is this: Many players have already committed to playing overseas, and most of those are scheduled to start with their new teams by the end of the month. Most of those contracts have out-clauses allowing players to return to the NBA should the lockout end, but the feeling among both general managers and agents is that, once the international leagues begin play, the pace of negotiations will slow, and probably impinge on the season. “It will be hard to have players go overseas and join a team in late September,” one agent told SN, “only to have them turn around and come back in a couple of weeks.”
The future date that would hit the players is Nov. 15 — the day they would miss their first paycheck. There are some owners that want the players to suffer a little, they want to use that leverage to get a better deal. They want the players to miss some paychecks.
But right now that attitude does not seem to be winning the day, which is really why there is an upswing of optimism as we follow a few days of negotiations between the owners and players. It’s not that the two sides have made a breakthrough but rather that they are talking regularly and have stopped the public sniping at each other. They have gotten serious about negotiating. We’ll see if that’s enough to get a deal done, but the serious tone makes things feel like there is momentum.
However, if the owners lose some preseason games to get a deal, they’re not going to lose sleep or money over that.