NBA Lockout Update: Players Continue to Point Fingers

Another week of negotiations, and another week with no labor deal. But for those who expected another article denouncing David Stern and the owners, think again. If you’re a frequent reader of the site, you may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been heaping Stern with praise during this lockout.

The league’s stubborn refusal to reduce their ridiculous Basketball-Related Income demands has been particularly irksome, as has the lack of negotiating sessions. But with a 16-hour (yes, 16-hour!) negotiating session in the books on Tuesday, I’m not going to be attacking Stern this week. Instead, I’ll be focusing my attention on the players’ side, beginning with the comments made last week by the league’s reigning MVP.

"It's sad. It's very sad. Everybody knows it's not our fault. It's definitely not our fault. If it were up to us, we'd be out there playing. But I think that it's wrong. I know (the owners) can easily take care of it and not take advantage of people. But I guess that's how people are. (The owners are) not thinking about anything we're saying. They're not taking it into consideration, nothing that we're trying to give them. We'll just have to see how it goes."—2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose (Taken from this Jon Greenburg article on ESPNChicago.com)

Rose is clearly emotional about the lockout, and why not? He’s a 23-year-old entering the prime of his career after leading his team to an NBA-high 62 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals. If there’s anyone who wants to end this lockout right now, it’s him. I genuinely believe that he wants to be out there playing (as most players do). The problem I have with Rose is his pronoun usage. He claims that it’s “not our fault”—'our' meaning the players. A lot of people are blameless in this lockout—Neil Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, and my mom, to name a few—but the players, one of the two groups actually negotiating the terms of the new labor deal? Sorry Derrick, but you guys certainly carry some blame.

Rose argues that “if it were up to us, we’d be out there playing,” but that’s simply not the case. If the players acquiesced to all of the owners’ demands, the lockout would be over right now. The players know exactly what they have to do to end the lockout, but they refuse to do so because it would not be “fair” to them. I can’t disagree; the players deserve way more than the 46% of the BRI that the owners were initially offering, and for the players to completely cave now would make them look like a bunch of idiots. Yet to claim that the players deserve no blame in this situation is fallacious; Billy Hunter and the NBPA were just as reluctant to budge from their initial 57% BRI split position.

It kind of seems like I’m back in high school English class, explicating a quote right now, but I feel that I have to do it. The chances of Derrick Rose seeing this article are slim, but there’s a good chance that someone who thinks like him is reading this convinced that the players are scot-free, so I feel the need to go through the flaws in Rose’s statement. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe the owners carry the majority of the blame, but, as is the case in most conflicts, both sides carry some blame.

To return to Rose’s quote, the owners can’t “easily take care of it.” If the lockout could have been solved easily, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place. The issue here is that many NBA teams aren’t making money. We’re three-and-a-half months into the lockout and I still don’t have a sense of how much teams are exaggerating their losses, but it is clear that the NBA’s financial model needs to change. If multiple teams are struggling financially after a fantastic season with huge TV ratings, there is something wrong with the model. And fixing it isn’t as simple as Rose might think. It takes time to figure these sorts of things out (though I hoped it would take less than three-and-a-half months). Just think of all the issues to be considered with just one of these possible solutions, revenue-sharing. How much money should be shared? Where should it come from (solely TV contracts or all revenue?)? Where should the cut-off be placed for teams that give/receive aid? How is the money divvied up? All of these things need to be ironed out, along with solving all of the other issues with the lockout. The owners might be able to take care of these issues, but there’s nothing easy about it.

Rose actually has a point when he says that the owners are “not thinking about anything we're saying. They're not taking it into consideration, nothing that we're trying to give them.” His point is weakened, though, when you realize that the players are just as guilty of this refuse-to-budge mentality as the owners are.

Rose and other top players are in a tough spot, since they’re going to get paid well in any system (even though Rose is still in his rookie contract, he will get a lucrative deal when that’s up). All of those guys want to play, and play now. The problem is, A-list stars like Rose are in the minority when it comes to the players’ union. Most guys are middle-of-the-road players, many of whom have been overpaid in the past. These are the guys that are holding up the negotiations, because they are the ones that Billy Hunter is fighting for. And really, Hunter and union president Derek Fisher are the guys that should be making public statements and sending messages, because they’re the guys with the power in negotiations. Comments like the ones made by Rose are unnecessary, because finger-pointing from individual players and owners does nothing to bring the sides closer to an agreement. If anything, it just makes the two sides more pissed off at each other, which is not what you want when negotiating a labor truce.

Smart Move of the Week

When this lockout ends, every team will face the same inevitable problem that follows a protracted labor dispute: how to win back fans that may have turned from the sport? The new owners of the 76ers, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, (yes, the NBA is still managing to sell franchises despite the labor impasse) already have an answer for that one. They announced on Tuesday that the price for just under 9,000 single-game seats will be cut by 50% or more. For every single game. That’s almost half the capacity of the 20,444-seat Wells Fargo Center.

As far as fan-gaining moves go, that one has to be near the top of the list. And looking at the NBA attendance charts from last season, the Sixers will need every fan they can get. They drew just 14,751 fans per home game, and no team had a higher percentage of empty seats in their arena than the Sixers’ 27.4%. And this was for a PLAYOFF team. (Sidenote: four of bottom six teams in the attendance rankings made the playoffs. No wonder we’re having a lockout). The new owners in Philly realized an important point: you get more money for selling a couple thousand seats at a 50% discount than you do selling no seats at 100% of the price. Moreover, once they’re in the building, these extra fans are bound to buy something from the concession stands. Those are dollars that would never be spent if the ticket prices remained at their original level.

Hopefully other teams will take this knowledge into account when setting their future ticket prices. That way, they can hit two birds with one stone: making NBA games more accessible to the average American, while also increasing revenue by selling more tickets and concessions.


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