Revenues, Salary Cap and Tax Projections for Next Season All Rising

The N.B.A.’s revenues are apparently booming right alongside the broader economy.

During the negotiations that ended the lockout in December 2011, the players union and team representatives jointly created revenue forecasts for the league that extended from the 2012-13 season all the way out through the 2020-21 season.

Those forecasts are quite important because they form the basis off of which to determine how the league’s revenues earned in the years to come are split between the players and owners. Starting in 2012-13, players are guaranteed to receive 50% of those forecasted revenues, plus (or minus) 60.5% of the amount by which actual revenues exceed (or fall short of) those forecasts, with a lower limit of 49% of actual revenues and an upper limit of 51% of actual revenues.

When the accountants tabulated the results for the 2012-13 season last July, they determined that the league earned $4.293 billion in revenue, which, despite representing a massive 12% increase over the last full N.B.A. season in 2010-11, fell short of the initial forecasts by $15 million. That shortfall meant the players were only entitled to 49.96% of revenues.

On the basis of these stellar yet slightly disappointing results, the league issued official projections for the 2013-14 season in July, off of which the current salary cap and luxury tax are based, of $4.471 billion, a projected annual growth of 4.1% – again an impressive number, but $10 million short of initial forecasts. That shortfall, if it holds true when revenues are finalized in July 2014, would mean that the players are only entitled to 49.98% of revenues.

At the same time, the league issued preliminary guidance for the 2014-15 season, so as to help its member teams in planning for the future. Preliminary guidance is only meant to be illustrative, and is of no binding effect until it becomes an official projection one year later. The cap and tax guidance provided were $62.5 million and $76.1 million, respectively, which was based on a preliminary 2014-15 revenue projection of $4.672 billion, a 4.5% annual increase over the $4.471 billion projection for this season. That figure is actually $12 million greater than the initial forecast from December 2011. If it were to hold true when the numbers are finalized in July 2015, it would mean that the players would be entitled to 50.03% of revenues next season. But there’s a long way to go between now and then – almost two full years.

Just a week into the season, the league has already provided its first update. It’s good news. Projected revenues for the 2014-15 season have jumped from $4.672 billion to $4.700 billion, which is now a whopping $40 million higher than originally forecasted in December 2011. If that holds true when the numbers are finalized in July 2015, the players would be entitled to 50.09% of revenues for the 2014-15 season.

More importantly to Miami Heat fans, as the revenue estimates for the 2014-15 season increase, so too do the cap and tax projections, which are always based on revenue projections taken in the first week of July for the upcoming season. They started at $62.5 million and $76.1 million, respectively, in July. They’re now at $62.9 million and $76.6 million. That may not sound like such a big increase, but that slight boost alone could produce tax savings to owner Micky Arison of approximately $2 million or more. And things figure to only get better from here.

The salary for this season is $58.679 million, and the luxury tax level is $71.748 million. It would now appear that, despite the fact that the cap and tax figures were calculated based on 51% of revenues in the last collective bargaining agreement and are now based on just 44.74% of revenues, a 12.27% reduction, because league-wide revenues are rising so sharply, we are going to achieve all-time record cap and tax levels next season, shattering the old records by a massive 7% each.

The N.B.A. is certainly thriving. While individual teams like the Heat may choose to lose money in support of a winner, the league as a whole would appear to be a massive profit machine. And things figure to get a whole lot better in the near future. The N.B.A.’s national television contracts with ESPN/ABC and TNT, which pay an average of $930 million annually over the life of the eight-year contract, extends through the 2015-16 season. Some industry experts expect that figure to at least double when the new deal is finalized. That could add around a billion dollars in incremental revenues every season, which would have a profound impact on cap and tax figures down the road. At least for now, the future appears bright for the country’s greatest professional sports league.

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