Letters from America: the NBA lockout

[box] Joe McLean [/box]

The National Basketball Association (NBA) lockout could potentially signal a sea of change in the world of sport. The owners of the NBA teams have had enough of entrenching themselves in debt in order to build a winning side and have decided to take a stance. Although a draft resolution was being voted on at the time of print, regardless the implications  remain the same. The NBA as a whole has been losing $300 million dollars per year over the past several years and 70% of teams are running at a loss each year. If they are successful in readdressing the balance of power, they could potentially start a revolution in terms of how sports stars are paid and perhaps even reduce the influence of player power when it comes to financial matters.

The lockout which had looked set to force the cancelation of the NBA season stemmed from a breakdown in negotiations between players and owners. The teams are struggling to cope with spiraling debt, caused mainly by the vast sums paid in player’s wages and in order to address this issue and to try and alleviate their financial worries, the owners have called for a salary cap of $45 million per team. The one stumbling block they have come up against is the rather tall brick wall of superstar players they have on their teams. They are the ones who hold all the cards when it comes to negotiating the multimillion dollar contracts that are crippling their franchises. The result of this stalemate is that there is no Basketball and the people who really matter, the fans, are being deprived.

What has this got to do with other sports? Well change the playing surface and it could easily sound like the description of any British football team; multimillionaire players earning vast sums of money, which in many cases forces clubs into administration. The extortionate wages being paid in the British game has brought many a footballing giant to its knees, such as Leeds United and Portsmouth in the English premier league. They are both examples of clubs that were spending way beyond their means in terms of player salaries and transfers and ultimately it cost them their place at the top table of English football.

Closer to home we have previously seen examples of teams like Gretna FC trying to buy their way to the top, it eventually got them there, but the time spent in the rarefied upper echelons of the top flight was fleeting. The bubble soon burst and they dropped out of the top flight, plighted with debt from players’ salaries. The solution was to offload the high earners who simply moved on to other teams willing to pay the going rates and the club was soon back down in the lower divisions.

If the same principles of the NBA lockout were applied to football in the UK, it could have as profound an effect as the 1995 Bosman ruling. Except it would now shift the balance of power from players back to the clubs. It could lead to a salary cap, a reduction in clubs operating debts and perhaps even make it a more level playing field, as with a salary cap enforced, teams would not be able to simply buy their way to glory. Instead they would be forced to nurture young talent and build teams consisting of maybe one or two superstars playing alongside local homegrown players.

The reckless spending has come home to roost for many teams, including Glasgow Rangers, who now find themselves in a precarious financial situation, most of which can be traced back to trying to spend their way to the Champions league. A few years of not earning the big money from UEFA and TV deals soon has an impact and they are now paying for years of living beyond their means. But this story can be associated with the majority of clubs in Britain. Perhaps chairmen up and down the country are watching events unfold across the pond and considering implementing some changes of their own in order to protect and preserve clubs for future generations rather than succumb to the demands of the current crop of multimillionaire players who bleed their clubs dry.


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