Barring a significant change of heart from one party or the other, the NBA season is not going to start on time. Today's meeting, which was characterized as crucial by both sides, ended with essentially no progress on the paramount issue of the revenue split. The day started with the players offering to reduce their share to 53% (from 57% for the last 13 seasons) and the owners asking the players to accept 46% - and it ended with the players still on 53%, and the owners moving all the way up to 47%. So in the meeting that everyone agreed could determine the fate of the season, there was one percentage point of movement.
With no schedule for future meetings and the scheduled start of the season exactly four weeks away, the NBA has canceled the rest of the preseason games, and will have to begin canceling games very soon - next week at the latest.
Here's Adrian Wojnarowski's article about today's meeting.
I'm going to post this as a placeholder and then update it with more thoughts. [Note by Steve Perrin, 10/04/11 5:11 PM PDT ] And those thoughts are now up, after the jump.
This is very disappointing. Obviously, I like me some NBA basketball, and to think that the season is going to start late if at all is downright depressing. There's little doubt in my mind that ultimately any work stoppage will end up costing both sides more than a compromise would, as I wrote last week, so it's pretty amazing that it's come to this. I really thought they were smarter than that. I guess not.
But make no mistake: I blame the owners in this, 100%. Tom Ziller does 'indignation' even better than I do, so read his post from this morning to get a flavor of how I feel. The owners never made a serious offer in this entire process - it seems obvious that they were planning on cancelling games from the day they instituted the lockout.
I've gotten so bogged down in the day-to-day of this lockout that I almost forgot the big picture. I mean, the owners signed this deal in 1999 with this revenue split, and then renewed essentially the same deal in 2005. Meanwhile, by every external measure the NBA has been thriving - attendance is up, ticket revenue is up, TV ratings are up, total revenue is up, franchise valuations and sale prices are up... all of this during a recession. Yet somehow the owners insist they're losing gobs of money. Of course, that's not keeping new owners from buying into the league. The Hawks were purchased for $208M in 2004 and then 80% of the team was sold to Alex Meruelo for $300M DURING THE LOCKOUT! What other investment had that kind of return since 2004? Atlanta Spirit Group made $92M on their initial investment and they still own 20% of the team! And this is the Hawks we're talking about - one of the most chronically mismanaged franchises in the league. So I hear David Stern say that the league needs a reset, but it sure seems like the owners are doing fine. I mean, kind of great really. Am I the only one, or is the emperor walking down the street in his undies?
The owners instituted the lockout. It's not the players who are on strike. And the best the owners can do - the offer that sits on the table as we prepare to mothball arenas across the country - is to ask the players to give back 10%, to decrease their share from 57% to 47%. What is the justification? What did the players do wrong? No matter how you slice this, the problem occurred on the owners' side. Either they've spent too much on non-player expenses, or they signed a horrendously bad deal back in 1999 (and then renewed it in 2005) , or something. But even though it's their screw up, they've behaved like the wronged party throughout this process. Heck, it's the same idiot who signed that horrendously bad deal who's negotiating this one.
Dropping the players' share from 57% to 47% is a 17.5% reduction for the players. It happens all the time in labor disputes that management asks a union for some kind of give back - and sometimes the union will agree in order to save jobs or even an entire industry. So when GM, Ford and Chrysler are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and ask the UAW for concessions, it may make sense for the union to do so. But any NBA owner could sell their franchise to a willing buyer tomorrow for a tidy profit - instead they asked for a 17.5% concession from their employees. If there's an existential threat to the future of the NBA, it's certainly not evident to anyone other than David Stern and his 29 dwarfs. The players offered to take a 7% pay cut when arguably they were never the issue in the first place - so while I'm distressed that the talks have broken down, I can't blame the players for refusing to bend further.
If I were the players union, I'd start making plans for an alternative league now. The owners have gone to the brink on this for one simple reason - they think that the players will cave once they start missing paychecks. So it is the owners' expectation that they will get a better deal in December or January or next June than the one they can get now - a much better deal. If the players weren't willing to accept it today, the offer is not getting better. So walk away. Really walk away.
Show those arrogant bastards that no one cares about them. Decertify the NBAPA and start organizing an alternative league now. I'm sure Fox Sports would love to televise basketball games featuring all of the NBA players, without having to deal with the actual NBA.
Let that be David Stern's legacy.
[Note by Steve Perrin, 10/04/11 11:21 PM PDT ] Check out Ken Berger's story following today's meetings (also FanPosted by Citizen Raffo). According to Berger's sources, the sides were tantalizingly close to a deal in their negotiations during the day - in their press conferences they presented a harder line, but they may in fact have been within a couple of percentage points within each other. Are they really going to lose the season, or even just the start, over a couple of percentage points?