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The other CBA battle: big market vs. small market owners

Apr 13, 2010, 7:18 PM EST

When talking about what seems like the inevitable 2011 lockout — it’s not inevitable, but all sides involved seem to think it is, therefore it is — it’s often portrayed as the players union vs. the owners.

But the owners are not a united front. Big market and small market owners do not seem to be on the same page.

The owners have to figure out their own house in terms of revenue sharing, from items like local television deals and gate receipts. Right now, the Lakers make nearly $2 million at the gate for every home game, while for the Grizzlies that is $322,000 according to Forbes. The little guys want some of that money.

The Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley was blunt about it in an interview with FanHouse.

“We’re not Los Angeles where we spend like the Lakers,” Heisley said in a phone interview with FanHouse. “Kobe (Bryant) and Pau Gasol make as much as our whole basketball team. If there is anything that is sick in the NBA, it’s that it could be going the way of the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals, where you can spend $45 million on two players…

“It’s very difficult to match some of these salaries we have in the NBA that are out of line,” Heisley said. “It’s very difficult when your local television revenue is a fraction of what they get in L.A. In L.A., they probably get as much for local TV as we get for total revenue.

“The NBA needs revenue sharing. It helped straighten out Major League Baseball, and it makes the NFL such a profitable business. How would you have some of the teams that win in the NFL if they didn’t have revenue sharing?”

The Grizzlies total salary for this year was $54.4 million. But this summer Rudy Gay is a restricted free agent and is going to get a big raise — possibly a huge one as some team that misses out on LeBron/Wade/Bosh overpays for him. Heisley has said he will match any offer, however.

Heisley is also willing to sell the franchise. He’s not long for ownership in this league. So he has nothing to lose by speaking out.

But the Buss family and the Dolan family and the Reinsdorfs are not going to simply, willingly cut their own revenue back.  The Lakers have a high payroll but they also turned a profit last year. Big market owners do not want an NFL-like system of revenue sharing, just an NFL-like hard salary cap. If some small market owners decide to push the issue, the CBA negotiations could be slowed even more until the owners come to their own agreement.

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