The NBA decided last week to stop letting the NFL have all of the fun and instituted a lockout to shut down the league until a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached. Given that these are two multi-billion dollar leagues with fairly similar set-ups, there are some comparisons to be made in the NBA lockout and NFL lockout. But there are just as many differences.
Joel Thorman, SB Nation's NFL editor, and Tom Ziller, our NBA editor, worked together to create a primer on the two lockouts.
What's the lockout about?
NBA: The NBA lockout is focused almost completely on cutting player salary to help struggling teams -- the league claims 22 lost money last year -- make a profit. A line you hear often from the league is that while players are collectively guaranteed more than $2 billion in salary every season, team owners are never guaranteed a profit, and in many cases, are guaranteed losses because of extraordinary expenses.
NFL: The NFL lockout is focused on a number of issues, the biggest being how to split the over-$9 billion figure in annual revenue. The owners feel they need a larger slice of the pie, since they're taking the larger financial risk, while the players have called for the current system to stay in place. NFL teams aren't claiming poverty, like some in the NBA, but they do want a bigger cut of the pie in order to grow the game.
Who wants the system changed?
NBA: NBA owners want the system changed; the NBA players' union's earliest proposals were essentially the current system, tweaked and extended for five years. NBA owners seem quite united in the central goal of cutting salary, though there are said to be divisions in how zealous new-money owners are (very, because they paid a lot for their teams) versus old-money owners. Midlist NBA players are at highest risk; the deal that ended the 1998-99 lockout created a very wealthy middle class in the NBA, and the measures the owners seek to implement would be a crushing blow to that level of player.
NFL: The owners want the system changed; two years ago they opted out of the CBA early, which has lead us to this point. The lockout started in March, and the owners have requested a larger percentage of the revenue, while the players have said, if a change to the revenue model is needed, the owners need to open their books. The teams have declined to do so to this point, but they have given concessions on other issues, such as changes to the offseason program and more money to retired players, which many are hoping will ultimately lead to a new labor agreement.
What are the major issues?
NBA: The NBA's biggest two issues are the revenue split and the hardness of the salary cap. Currently, players receive 57 percent of basketball-related income, which was about $2.1 billion for the 2010-11 season. This is taken from gross receipts and includes gate, TV revenue, merchandise and more. The NBA has a soft salary cap around $60 million; through cap exceptions and the ability to re-sign their own players in excess of the cap, teams easily surpass the soft cap, and it's rare that more than two or three teams end the season under the cap. The NBA is trying to turn that soft cap into a hard or harder cap to shrink overall salary levels and expenses at the team level, and is trying to shrink the revenue split to something closer to 50-50. The players have been willing to go down to 54 percent without a hard cap. The hard cap is seen as unacceptable by the players' union.
NFL: The biggest issue, by far, is how to split the money. The players were previously receiving a little over 50 percent of all the revenue, and recent reports say they have given in to the tune of a 48 percent slice of the pie. It's believed that, once the money issue is figured out, the rest of the deal will fall into place relatively smoothly. Another major issue is the rookie wage scale because the owners feel that the players at the top of the draft are receiving a disproportionate amount of money. The players have been receptive to changing the model in which the rookies are paid by funneling some of that money to established veterans. One more major issue is retired players and increasing the amount of money they're given. The owners have reportedly been open to the idea of giving more money to the retired players and this issue has not become one of the most divisive on the table.
What are the impacts of delaying or cutting into the season?
NBA: The 1998-99 NBA lockout was devastating for ratings and popularity, though the fact that Michael Jordan retired before that next season and the dynastic Bulls were broken up may overstate that fact. One of the more lasting impacts from the lockout is that the players were presented as greedy, ungrateful and irresponsible with their money. Public opinion of the NBA's players in comparison to those of the NFL and MLB went down markedly as a result of the '98-99 lockout, to the point where it's just recovering more than a decade later.
NFL: An NFL spokesman has noted that a loss of the preseason could equate to about $800 million in losses so, even though fans don't care much about preseason games, they're a major revenue generator and neither side truly wants to get to that point. It's believed that some NFL teams are willing to cancel games in order to secure maximum leverage in negotiations but doing so would ultimately hurt the future of the league. The NFL is a highly successful and financially viable sport, so losing any games would hurt and would mean a decrease in the total revenue of the league.
What's the actual chance of games being lost?
NBA: The chance of NBA games being lost seems high, given the stakes and given that after two years of negotiating we still haven't seen much progress. The lockout wasn't at all surprising -- the real deadline is in September, when the start of the season becomes in jeopardy. To save the season, the sides need to work out a deal by early January; as in 1999, that'd let the league put together a 50-game schedule leading up to a postseason.
NFL: It's believed that a deal needs to be done by July 15 to save training camp and, shortly after that, preseason games. Those in the know say significant progress is being made and it's possible they come to a deal -- perhaps as soon as this week -- but the two sides are still far enough apart that no one is betting quite yet on games being played. Although percentages mean very little in negotiations because they can change so quickly, I would say there's a 70 percent chance no games are missed.
Who's winning the PR battle to date?
NBA: Surprisingly, much of the media has been after the owners this time, attacking their claims of great losses and expressing surprise at the level of concessions the league has asked for. But don't worry: before long, everyone will remember why players have to be the bad guys, just as they were in 1998. David Stern has taken great care to avoid attacking the players in any way; all it will take, however, is for one owner to step out of line off the record to ignite a war of words.
NFL: Each side has been attacked publicly -- and rightfully so, because it takes two to tango -- but polls have suggested more people are blaming the players. Traditionally, fans tend to side with owners in labor talks and, if you think about it, that makes sense. You generally don't root for specific players -- you root for your team.
What is the relationship of the two principals (Stern/Hunter, Goodell/Smith) like?
NBA: Stern and NBPA chief Billy Hunter were actually the chief negotiators in the 1998-99 lockout. Fun! Back then, they were said to be at each other's throats often enough ... but they did get a deal done, and negotiated a last-minute deal in 2005 to prevent another stoppage. Most reports suggest they have a better, more cordial relationship now, but a story about a blow-up between the two at All-Star Weekend reminds us that we're only a nudge away at any point from another hot war.
NFL: It's getting better. The two have never been through labor negotiations together, so there were some rough patches early, but recent reports have suggested their relationship is improving. Last week, perhaps in a symbol of unity, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith, left negotiations in Minnesota and flew to Florida together to speak with the rookies. The two even had a casual breakfast together before they spoke to the players. Ultimately, though, their relationship will be judged on whether they can come to a labor agreement in time to save training camp, preseason and the regular season.