Players’ union director Roberts fires back at Adam Silver’s claims about league finances

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The question isn’t, “Will there be a lockout in 2017?” The question is, “Will we lose games — or an entire season — because of the 2017 lockout?”

While there are some optimistic that all the money on the table will get the sides to agree to a deal before some or all of the season is lost, the posturing and rhetoric two years out shows two sides trying to control the narrative and seeming pretty far apart.

On Tuesday, after the NBA owners meetings, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver bemoaned that “a significant” number of NBA teams are losing money, that the 50 percent of the Basketball Related Income (BRI) that goes to the players is out of the NBA gross, and that the league would need to write a nearly $500 million check to the players union because the league did not meet its payroll floor under the current agreement.

Thursday, in a letter to media members, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts challenged those assumptions (hat tip Ken Berger at CBSSports.com).

Virtually every business metric demonstrates that our business is healthy. Gate receipts, merchandise sales and TV ratings are all at an all-time high. Franchise values have risen exponentially in recent years, and the NBA has enjoyed high single-digit revenue growth since 2010-11.”

Regarding the idea teams are losing money: “We agreed not to debate the finer points of negotiation in public, and aren’t going to change that approach now, in response to some remarks by the commissioner on Tuesday. We are, however, going to take him up on his offer to share the audited financials with the union. We also want to ensure that everyone understands the facts of this business.”

And that the players share of BRI comes out of the gross NBA revenues: “We do not have a gross compensation system. The players’ 50 percent share is calculated net of a substantial amount of expenses and deductions.”

She also went on to challenge Silvers’ comments that arena leases and deals are harming some teams, noting that a lot of teams get “generous” loans and subsidies from a variety of levels of government to help with those costs.

Going into the last lockout the NBA owners behind David Stern controlled the narrative — the players got 57 percent of the BRI, and the owners needed changes to the system to be profitable. Whether it was true or not is moot, the owners controlled the storyline, and eventually dominated the negotiations. Then union director Billy Hunter was forced out of his job not long after that.

Roberts, the new union director, isn’t about to let Silver and the owners control the storylines — and she’s got a strong case to make. With the Clippers selling for $2 billion and other teams’ values through the roof, plus a new national television deal that basically doubles that massive revenue stream, the owners cries of poverty can be more easily met with “well, that’s on you for how you choose to run your business, not just the players’ salaries.”

Right now both sides are trying to control the spin.

What will matter come the summer of 2017 is not as much the spin but just one thing — BRI. Who gets how much of the pie. Everything else — from the age limit through drug testing — is window dressing.