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Labor negotiations between National Basketball Association owners and players broke down Tuesday, leading to the cancellation of the entire NBA preseason. The owners have locked out the players since July 1 as the two sides were unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement and owners are demanding a decrease in the percentage of revenue that goes to player salaries. Players are currently guaranteed 57 percent of revenue and the owners have demanded that percentage fall to 46 or 47 percent. David Stern and other league negotiators offered a 50-50 split that was rejected by the players, who have offered to decrease their percentage to 53 percent.
Some may wonder why anyone should care about what percentage of league revenues go to the players and ask why we should care about one group of millionaires arguing over money with another group of millionaires. There are several reasons. First is that the money in question rightfully belongs to the players. The players do all the work and fans universally come to see the players. The whole league is based on the interest of fans in the efforts of the players. What do the owners add to the situation? Virtually nothing and they already get 43 percent of the revenue for that. Now they demand the majority of the money despite adding little to nothing to the product.
More importantly, in the bigger picture, is that the labor battles in professional sports are the highest profile labor battles in the country and they are an introduction for most Americans to the concept of unions and workers rights. Positive coverage of players unions can translate to positive feelings towards other unions and vice versa. Accurately showing the public the greed of team owners and how they exploit the labor of the players can help people understand that the same types of situations exist where workers don't make millions of dollars.
And there is the fact that these same owners, as pointed out by SB Nation's Tom Ziller, take public money to build arenas and then pocket all the profits without giving anything back to the government that financed them in the first place.
Owners complain about their teams losing money, but the reality is that they aren't losing money because of player salaries as much as they are losing it because of their own bad business decisions. As Ziller points out:
No, if the NBA is truly losing money, it's because other expenses are growing faster than revenue. The league refuses to discuss those other expenses, of course. Interest payments on team purchases -- you know, the interest Robert Sarver is paying to finance his record-breaking purchase of the Suns -- is a big chunk. That whole racket has become a self-perpetuating scandal that ensures that non-payroll expenses increase for eternity. The values of NBA teams as properties will continue to rise, and the players (through lockout-forced rollbacks) and fans (through higher prices and worse service) will be forced to help finance those deals. But when Sarver sells the Suns, when Chris Cohan sells the Warriors, do those players and fans get cut in? Nope. They're left helping the next guy finance the takeover.