The lockout drama looms: what if there is no season?

The NBA would face a very delicate future if the players stopped the competition. The franchises have the power to break the current agreement.

The-lockout-drama-looms:-what-if-there-is-no-season?

The NBA overcame a huge challenge and created a perfectly safe health bubble at Walt Disney World, with 22 franchises competing in one of the states, Florida, where the effects of a pandemic that is hitting the United States, a country that are the worst in which the Trump administration's response has been very deficient. That was the great threat to the restart agreed after stopping the competition on March 11. But there was another: the social situation, a commotion after George Floyd's death (May 25) in Minneapolis. The protests swept across the United States, a cry for social justice and an end to systemic racism and police abuse against minorities. A sector of the players had many doubts about whether to play or not, if it was convenient to use the competition as a loudspeaker or if the games would end up serving to create a distraction that would remove the focus from social demands that particularly affected the African-American community. to which approximately three-quarters of the collective of NBA players belong (about 450) .

Now, police shooting from behind another African American, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has reignited social disgust and left players wondering if it was finally not a mistake to return to racing in Florida. Many feel that no matter how much they wear messages on T-shirts or display the Black Lives Matter logo on decks, they only get attention without promoting real and substantial change. And that's why they stopped yesterday and will debate today the future of the 2019-20 season, which was immersed in the first round of the playoffs. The option to stop is on the table, pending to see if the owners transmit new plans in which social transformation is more actively promoted. From an economic point of view, on the other hand, the economic impact of a definitive cancellation would be devastating for an NBA that before this crisis generated about 8,000 million dollars a year. Now, the losses are proving heavy, even with the tremendous achievement of the restart, in a league where crowd presence in the halls still accounts for around 40% of total revenue.

The long shadow of the lockout appears

Adrian Wojnarowski said that in the meeting on Wednesday there was a lot of tension between the players. And that the members of the union (NBPA) chaired by Chris Paul spoke clearly of the effect that a permanent stoppage would have, without ruling out a more than possible lockout. An attempt was made to close a common position and a plan of action, but emotions were running high and everything was put on hold until today's meetings, Thursday.

The players will have to decide in conscience, but with the certainty of what their steps would imply if they decide to put an end to the season. In that case, all the experts in the NBA's labor network believe (as was the case when the restart was debated in June) there is a fairly predictable roadmap. The League would activate the "major cause" to which it can benefit due to the coronavirus pandemic and would consider the collective agreement broken. That would be followed by a lockout, the dreaded lockout that would put the 2020-21 season in check. And it would lead franchises and unions to negotiate a new agreement, the soul of labor relations in the NBA and the axis that establishes the distribution of benefits on which salaries and the conditions and rules of contracts are based. Everything would blow up.

Until now, the League and the union have been negotiating the deadlines for the possible application of this "force majeure cause" (in this case, the pandemic) or the freezing of a percentage of the players' salaries to save in case it touched cover massive losses. On Tuesday, a new delay in the deadlines was reported, which went from September 10 to October 18, when the season would have ended and more information would be available on the next one, which will delay the draft dates, free agency and, finally, the implementation of the parties. Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBPA (the union) blessed this movement: "If everyone continues to act in good faith, the collective agreement can be renegotiated without breaking it."

This would change if playing is stopped. Before the summer there was talk of a hole that could reach 2,000 million dollars if there was no season finally. The NBA generates profits, at the most lucrative moment in its history, of about 8,000 million a year. The value of franchises has skyrocketed to an average of more than 1.9 billion, and the median salary of players exceeds 7 million. A bonanza based on international expansion, the perception of the NBA as a young, dynamic and plural League and some new agreements that have multiplied revenues exponentially. The change from Adidas to Nike to dress the franchises left 1,000 million for eight years, a rise of 245%. The current television contract is 24,000 million for nine years (2016-25). Pagan Turner (TNT) and Disney (ABC, ESPN). The annual average is about 2,700 million. In the previous agreement it barely scratched the 930.

The agreement stipulates how much of the income obtained directly from basketball activities (tickets, merchandising, television, direct sponsorships, restaurants ...) goes to the franchises and how much the players take. This breakdown of the BRI (Basketball Related Income) is the key to relations between employers and the union in the NBA and was established in the last agreement at around 50% for each group. According to the precedents and the projections of that BRI, the salary cap is established, the money that each franchise can spend during a season in salaries: 109.1 million last season and 116 expected for the next that will undoubtedly be a few less ( As minimum). In the 2015-16 season (and this data explains the explosion of the NBA in recent years) that salary cap barely exceeded 70 million. The new injection of money from televisions allowed salaries to skyrocket to highs not long ago unimaginable.

The current agreement, by the way, expires in the summer of 2024, although both parties, owners and players, may break it a year before, at the end of the 2022-23 season, as long as they announce that they will do so before 15 December 2022. But another shadow arises, that of that force majeure that franchises can cling to if there are no more games or more income. The deadline to apply that unilateral break was 60 days from the end of the season (March 11) but the NBA have been agreeing on the aforementioned extensions, which now keep that possibility active until October. If the franchises believe that the economic situation caused by this crisis (the pandemic and social protests) makes it impossible to maintain the conditions set in the current agreement, they will break it. It's that simple.

Even without a lockout, the future is uncertain. There is no way of knowing when the public will return to the stands and it is still an option that the entire 2020-21 season be played without fans. That supposes, according to the calculations that have been made since the spring, the loss of 40% of these direct income (BRI) that would go from 8,000 million to about 4,800. The salary cap for the next few seasons could fall below 100 million if players and franchises do not negotiate measures that mitigate the economic impact of this crisis for both parties.

The latest agreement, which came into effect in 2017, was agreed with negotiations that did not require a lockout, a tremendous social success for the NBA. But in 2011 the lockout cut the regular season (it started at Christmas) in 66 games per team, 16 fewer than the 82 in a conventional regular season. In that agreement, some players who until then had taken 57% of the BRI a lot. The lockout of 1999 is also still remembered, which left the regular season in only 50 team games, without All Star Weekend and with a start date of February 5, when the shadow of the total cancellation was already very long. There is a lot in the air. Especially for (in the NBA there are about 450 players) those with lower contracts and less economic margin to sustain a pulse to the franchises. But some believe that social conditions demand action ... and sacrifice. We are facing a turning point in the history of the NBA and, surely, of the entire fabric of American professional sports.



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