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The central question of the 2011 lockout, endlessly paltered, parsed and probed was whether the league was actually losing money. While it was a key point of negotiation, its importance was somewhat overstated. A new CBA shapes the future of the league; it doesn’t necessarily need to address the past. It must be asked: How much of the lockout, then, was about owners feeling poor in 2011, and how much of it was about owners trying to get rich in 2016?
2016 is when the NBA’s current national TV deals expire – eight-year agreements that promise pro basketball a total of $7.44 billion from Disney (ESPN/ABC) and Turner (TNT) starting with the 2008-09 season and running through 2015-16, an average of $930 million per year. The deals were originally signed in June 2007.
The NBA was cratering back then. New stars had struggled to grow in the darkness of Michael Jordan’s ever-enveloping shadow. The Shaq-Kobe drama had breathed temporary life into the league, but their eventual break up left the NBA to slowly wither in its wake. Big market teams like the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics and Bulls were brands lacking a product, with no signs of future improvement. The Spurs had just pummeled LeBron’s Cavaliers in the finals, a dismal four-game extermination that limped its way into the record books as the lowest-rated series in NBA Finals history. Things were getting ugly.
An eight-year, $930-million-per-year combined deal? Sold!
Then-commissioner David Stern had negotiated for an increase of more than 20% from the previous average of $767 million despite declining viewership (which itself represented a nearly 25% increase over the $614 million per-year deal signed in 2002, then, also, despite declining viewership). The networks were more than willing to comply with what amounted to a modest 2.5% compounded annual growth rate in rights fees in exchange for an atypically long eight-year deal. The preceding six-year 2002 deal had been the longest one Stern had ever signed.
The agreement looked even better for Stern and the league as the economy got even worse. In 2008, credit froze because mortgage insanity stirred by (us) Wall Street evil-doers planted massive hidden debts packaged in complex synthetic financial products throughout the business world. The ensuing global economic meltdown blazed its way into the NBA, spurring widespread layoffs and igniting fears that league revenues could collapse by, as Stern described it, “maybe as much as 10%.” The league seemed fortunate to be able to cling to a $930 million lifeline every year.
Times have certainly changed. Read more…