Omnibus · Sports

Re: Lockouts, how much corporate welfare do owners need?

I was hoping to avoid talking about the current lockouts. (Lockouts?! As in plural?! Are you friggin’ kidding me?! And can you believe wordpress has no interrobang character?!) I really thought that the CBA labor negotiations would be relatively calm and quick, as far as nationally covered labor negotiations go. However, it seems that the owners of both the NFL and NBA are determined to take a hard-line. They are caught up in the union-busting spirit that has been currently in vogue in this political climate.

The NFL’s situation is mind-boggling to me. Everyone knows that the league is quite profitable. I thought the biggest point of contention was the untapped potential goldmine that is the mobile app market. I thought everything else was already settled behind closed doors. That, it seems, was an overly optimistic assumption on my part.

The NBA is repeating the same message the NHL stated back in 2004: they are losing money; a hard salary cap is needed; and we are willing to lose an entire season in order to get their way. Most everyone can agree that the state of the NBA’s economy is nowhere as rosy as the NFL’s. But just how dire is the situation? As Deadspin revealed, there are many common bookkeeping practices a franchise can do in order to turn a profit into a loss. This is not very different from the methods many Hollywood movie studios employ in order to claim that even major blockbuster hits were net losses. (No pun intended). So far, the NBA’s players major response has been something along the lines of, ‘well, you were the ones who signed off on bad contracts – i.e.: overpaying certain players (see: the New York Knicks under Isiah Thomas’ regime). We might agree to some rollbacks, but why should we suffer so much from your mistakes?’

I tried to think of an analogy to the situation, and this is what came to mind. The owners remind me of me when I first played Sim City: using the easiest setting available, and utilizing multiple cheat codes, I got upset whenever any little thing didn’t go my way. With anti-trust exemptions, and national television deals that border on the absurd, the owners operate under a set of rules that any other (i.e. non-sports) business simply do not have. They also get such favorable media coverage that politicians can only dream about. Not only that, any bad PR seems to fall mostly on to the players, and not the owners or commissioner. While certain owners are much better others, I find it hard to imagine that most of them have the financial savvy and acumen to run a lower profile business. And while I, and many other folks consider Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to be one of the better sports owners, I still remember just how much he struggled running a Dairy Queen for a day. For those thinking about making a Celebrity Apprentice reference, remember, Donald Trump was the owner of the USFL‘s New Jersey Generals, and not only did the Generals not win despite having Heisman Trophy winners Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, Trump was one of the architects of the USFL’s ill-fated strategy to move their schedule from the spring to the fall in the hopes of forcing a merger.

In the spring of 1994, I wrote a term paper about Major League Baseball, titled “When it was a Business.” It was a Take That pun on those self-proclaimed “baseball purists” that waxed in nostalgia, and thought that baseball only became a big business after the advent of free agency. My point was that baseball had always been a business, ever since the formation of the National League in 1876. I took the minority positions at that time by predicting the upcoming work stoppage later that year, and blaming the owners for sed work stoppage. In 2011, neither the NFL nor NBA can use the illusion of pastoral innocence that MLB still wields to this day. Yet, I still place the majority of the blame on the owners. Most owners have the cognitive dissonance of treating a professional sports franchise as a toy or hobby, and yet insist it is their god given right to make a profit on that franchise no matter what. I have no problem with the former. I take umbrage with the latter, since it is our tax dollars that subsidize many of the multi-million dollar, tax-free stadiums and arenas where these teams play. Ralph Nader is credited with the term, “Corporate Welfare,” and on this page, he cites the city of Cleveland, OH as an example when the city nearly simultaneously cuts funds for scholastic athletics and approving the financing of a new baseball stadium and basketball arena.

I suppose if both lockouts continue past the scheduled start of the regular seasons, then I owe NBC and Versus an apology for purchasing the TV rights for the NHL.


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