Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Adam Silver's Life Just Got Harder

Singing Their Song
So the NBA signed a monster new deal with ESPN and TNT, driving $2.66B in annual revenue starting in 2016-17. or nearly triple the amount that the league currently rakes in from TV and digital rights.

Now, let's be clear about where the money is going to come from: every single man, woman and teenager that pays, or is impacted by, a cable bill. That money has to come from somewhere, and what ESPN and TNT are banking on is that they will be able to recoup the cash from higher rights fees and/or bigger ratings. The latter is never as big as people think, though the worldwide rights are trending nicely, due to the league's longstanding and brilliant investment in foreign markets. It's getting to the point where the NBA doesn't really need domestic US dollars, because the Asian market is so crazed for the league, and they run in a field without, well, the NFL. But I digress, because the Association is well on its way to being Sport #2, and maybe even Sport #1A if the NFL keeps having months where they shoot themselves in the foot, then eat the foot, then shoot the other one.

Combine this with the unexpected large sales for the Bucks and Clippers, and it's clear that good times are here again. Especially if you are selling a franchise. (Cue the look of alarmed Sixers Fan here.)

Which is, of course, when things all go hell, mostly because the NBA players association still remembers the preposterous lockout, and the utter hogwash that the owners used in crying poor when it was just about squeezing profit margins while looking all kinds of manly. If you think the players are going to sit back and let salaries stay the same, rather than push to 3X, you are high. (Cue the look of alarmed Cavs Fan here. LeBron can leave after one year for how much?)

But it's not just more money that the players should want. It's fewer games, or more time to play them (we need a pre-season?), or deeper benches, or laws against 4 games in 5 nights, so that the 82-game slog doesn't just determine which teams were dumb enough to try during the regular season.

This is also a fine time to talk about expansion (yes, seriously, the game is played on six continents, it can support more teams in more places), more push for the D-League (I know, I know, it will never take over for college slave ball, but man alive, it should, especially given how so many useful bench pieces come from the D now), and even the WNBA. The players could probably care less about all of these things, but the plain and simple of things is that more jobs means longer careers and easier numbers against guys that aren't as good as you. And while the WNBA may be an undisclosed money pit, it's a relatively shallow one, and it gives everyone involved cover that MLB and NFL doesn't have, especially in re domestic violence issues.

Oh, and one last thing? TV money is a great deodorant, but it doesn't actually fix the underlying profit problems of many of the teams. It's still really difficult to fill seats at your average NBA venue, especially for regular season games. Competitive balance is still a mess, as turning around an NBA franchise might be the hardest job in American sports. Free agents are colluding to thwart the draft and other points of competitive balance, and there are still whole franchises and towns that really don't need to exist. Many teams tanked last year, and the people who paid to see those teams were cheated. And so long as things like an inequitable position in re state tax rates, not to mention the fun of avoiding the worst climate months of the year by choice if you just go south young man, they always will.

So, last year's challenge for Adam Silver was relatively straightforward -- enjoy the new job honeymoon,, then get the most litigious racist in America to give up his club. This year? Try to figure out how to keep your PR from circling the drain, and your players from storming the castle with pitchforks and torches, when everyone knows you've got money. Lots and lots of money. And teams that aren't trying to win.

Anyone still wondering why David Stern got out?

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