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Sports economists say NBA financially healthy, aren’t buying owners claims

Oct 12, 2010, 8:31 AM EDT

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NBA owners are crying poverty — the system needs to change because right now the NBA is bad business. One new owner, Washington’s Ted Leonsis, talked of a hard cap. Then was promptly fined by David Stern for talking out of school.

Two prominent sports economists interviewed by the Boston Globe
said not to believe everything you hear from the owners or players right now. (Found via TrueHoop.) They are negotiating through the media.

They add that the league is basically healthy, so a lockout would do far more damage than good.

“I think the NBA is reasonably healthy,’’ said [Stanford economics professor and author Roger] Noll. “If you extract the fact that it’s the worst recession in the lifetime of anybody who’s thinking about it, the league is healthy. I do not anticipate there will be a strike or lockout. I do not anticipate the next agreement will differ materially from the present agreement.

“Both sides blow smoke in the run-up to collective bargaining. But you shouldn’t pay any attention to what they say. They are jockeying for position and trying to put pressure on the other side through the media. Nothing they say now about the state of the league or the state of the collective bargaining negotiations has any particular truth value.’’

Noll’s solution is somewhat radical — put a cap on team salaries if you want, but let go of (or dramatically relax) what an individual player can make. Put simply, if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could each command $30 million a year there is no way they could team up, allowing a more balanced spread of talent. In this scenario, the top players would make more but many “middle class” players would take a pay cut as the disparity would grow.

He also says revenue sharing needs to increase if the owners want parity.

“The NBA has relatively small revenue sharing in comparison to football and baseball, and so the financial disparity between the top teams and the bottom teams is not as bad as it is in hockey,’’ Noll said. “But it is a lot worse than it is in baseball and football, and one of the interesting features is that it gives the teams in the biggest cities a great deal of leverage over other members of the league.’’

The Globe also spoke with University of Michigan sports economics professor Rodney Fort, and he wasn’t buying what the owners were selling either.

“The argument somehow that owners are on the brink or anything of the kind is a little difficult to swallow, but that doesn’t mean they won’t posture themselves that way,’’ said Fort, who authored a 544-page textbook, “Sports Economics.’’ “But it doesn’t mean they won’t posture themselves that way to reduce the share of basketball-related income that’s going to players.

“They will argue that always, in any situation. Not because owners are going belly-up but because everybody likes more money than less.’’

Fort adds that whatever the owners’ motives, they benefit more from a lockout. Which means there will be one. Which sounds like what we have heard, where people on the owners’ side of the equation have been more adamant about a lockout when talking (off the record) than players, who just accept that it is coming.

“If there’s a lockout, the owners perceive that they are going to be in better shape when it’s over than they are right now,’’ Fort said. “And that’s going to be true, regardless.

“So if the owners feel like they can profit more from a new agreement by locking the players out for a year, you better believe that’s something they are considering.’’

Even if it kills the momentum the NBA as a whole is building right now.

  1. zblott - Oct 12, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    A bunch of rich guys lying so they can get richer? No crap. If you want a breakdown of the whole CBA fight and what each side (owners vs players), here’s a primer that makes it simple to understand.

    http://www.hoopskarma.com/hk/2010/8/13/nba-collective-bargaining-agreement-a-primer.html

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