Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NBA Armageddon 2011: How and why the NHL’s cancelled 2004-05 season will destroy the NBA

The two sides in the NBA labor dispute met yesterday and today in New York in hopes of moving closer to settling their differences. Who is are they kidding? They have as much chance of success as Kim Jong-Il has of joining President Barack Obama for a burger and fries at Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries.

Early Tuesday morning, hours before the two sides met in New York, ESPN released the contents of a letter NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher sent to each NBA player.

Fisher wrote: "Our game has never been more popular and we're poised to see tremendous revenue growth over the next 5 to 6 years. ... We must share fairly in the continued growth of our business. Any deal that decouples us from a fair share of the revenue growth in the years ahead is a deal we cannot accept. Period!"

“There are a number of team owners that will not lose the season over the hard cap system. We've been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts, in any way, to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed," Fisher said. "Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we've worked so hard to build."

"We still haven't been presented with any real specifics or proposals that include what a new revenue sharing model will look like," Fisher said. "It is my belief that if they can get us to be short-sighted and agree to an unfair deal they won't have to share more revenue amongst themselves. They will have gotten what they need from us. We can't allow that to happen guys. Not under any circumstances.

"It is also my belief that once they have worked out more of their internal issues, the opportunity to negotiate and get a fair deal done is there."

Last week the NBA postponed the opening of training camp and the start of the NBA’s preseason. It’s not a matter of if, but when, the NBA will postpone the start of the regular season set to begin November 1.

Fisher’s letter suggests NBA owners are “divided” and that great divide will lead to NBA owners capitulating to the players. Who is Derek Fisher kidding? It will be the NBA Players Association who will fall in line before the National Basketball Association plays another basketball game.

There are many reasons the NBAPA will crack before the owners do. We’ve seen this before, specifically the 2004-05 protracted NHL season. We’ll look at the example from 04-05 to show why the union will break before the owners.

Five current NBA owners also own their cities respective NHL franchises:
• Kroenke Sports Enterprise own both Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets.
• James Dolan owns both the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks.
• Ed Snider owns both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia 76’ers.
• Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment own both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors.
• Ted Leonsis owns the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards.

These five owners know what it takes to shatter a professional sports players association – stick to your guns and stand as one because the players long-term will never stand together.

The real connection between the NHL and the NBA lies in the synergy created not only by the five groups who own both NBA and NHL franchises but in the NBA and NHL teams that share the same arena:
• The Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins both play in the TD Garden.
• The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Kings all play in the Staples Center.
• The New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets currently share Newark’s Prudential Center and during the 2004-05 NHL lockout shared East Rutherford, New Jersey’s Izod Center.
• The Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks share the United Center.
• The Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars share the American Airlines Center.

It’s reasonable to assume that the 11 NBA franchises that are either currently owned by NHL owners or share a building with an NHL team have a tremendous understanding of what it takes to break the backs of a players association – resolve and commitment to the task at hand, united we stand, divided we fall.

History taught the National Hockey League Players Association a very tough lesson, a lesson inflicted by the resolve of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL owners in 2004-05. If we stand together as one the players will fall and the owners will win.

NHL owners began their lockout on September 16, 2004, the day after the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) expired. The negotiating teams reached an agreement on July 13, 2005, and the lockout officially ended nine days later.

Then-NHLPA leader Bob Goodenow suggested numerous times, as Fisher did in his letter Monday, that owners would break sooner rather than later. By the time the two sides reached an agreement the NHLPA agreed to a salary cap and Goodenow lost his job NHLPA executive director.

Goodenow was steadfast in his belief NHL players would never agree to a salary cap. Once NHL players realized Goodenow was wrong, he lost his spot on the NHLPA’s top line and was soon on the unemployment line.

The owners’ requirement of a salary cap was the major thing keeping NHLers from the ice. The same issue of a hard salary cap is the major issue keeping NBAers from the hardwood.

The current NBA collective bargaining agreement allows for a soft salary cap, easily manoeuvred around by crafty NBA general managers and owners. The NBA suggests, as a league, they’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few years and a hard cap is the only way to save the owners from themselves.

There is currently a large gap between large and small market NBA teams. Not the group of 11 NBA teams that have the history and understanding to support a long NBA lockout, but a group of NBA teams with issues because of their market size and the local marketing, sponsorship and media revenue these teams can generate.

These NBA franchises likely include: the Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz – there are at least three of four more teams that could be added to this list.

All told there more than 20 NBA teams prepared for a long lockout. The next time Derek Fisher and the NBAPA sends a letter to players they had better get their facts straight. In the end it will be the players, not the owners, who will be waving the white flag.

And the final note to NBA players. "We started the fight because we didn't agree with the introduction of salary caps," forward Jaromir Jagr, then with the New York Rangers, told a Czech hockey website. "Now, we'll be happy to get them. We didn't expect the owners to be so tough and persistent. It was a risk that didn't pay off."

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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