How Players Unions Are Killing Sports

This year, we may not get to see Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers play. The people of Italy probably will. While the National Basketball Association lockout continues, Bryant is considering a deal worth $5 million for one year from the Virtus Bologna. He’s not the only NBA player who might appear overseas. Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets signed a contract with the Turkish team Besiktas, worth $200,000 per month. Many more top players are jumping overseas during the work stoppage.

By contrast, Bryant signed a contract on April 2, 2010, with the Lakers for $87 million, which means he’s playing for about one-sixth what he would be if the NBA lockout ended. Williams has a player option for $17.7 million next year, so he’s playing for about one-seventh his normal pay.

So why are these players not on the court in the United States?

Thanks to the NBA Players’ Union. That’s also the reason you pay such high prices at the ticket office and can only afford seats in the third tier. It’s why a beer costs $7 at these games. And it’s why so many of the players are spoiled brats.

The current NBA lockout pits the owners, the folks who risk their capital, against the players, who risk no capital, who have guaranteed contracts and who hardly lack for pay. (The average NBA yearly salary is $3.4 million.) This isn’t Norma Rae. It’s a monopolistic shakedown.

So what are the issues that prompted the lockout? The current collective bargaining agreement expires in this year. Supposedly, the players want more intra-team revenue sharing, which makes sense from their perspective — if small market teams have more cash, they can jack up the bidding on players. But revenue sharing should be a question between the owners. The players should have no part of that negotiation, since it is the owners’ cash.

The players also want to prevent a luxury tax imposed by the owners on themselves to prevent certain teams (read: the Lakers) from doing a New York Yankees and stockpiling talent and creating competitive imbalances. Again, this is not the players’ business. If owners want to impose a tax on themselves, that is their business, since it is the owners’ money.

The players currently receive 51 percent of the gross revenue garnered by the teams. This is an insanely stupid deal the owners never should have done. After all, what business owner gives his employees a percentage of the gross, before expenses? And the players are complaining about it. The teams lost a combined $370 million last season, and it’s not hard to see why. A typical team may take in about $20 million in gate receipts (that’s the actual stat for the Milwaukee Bucks, for example). They pay out three times that at least just in salary for their players (the Bucks spent $69 million in 2010). They make up revenue from advertising and TV contracts and all the rest, but NBA players are hardly being paid poorly. Again, the gross revenue shouldn’t be any of the players’ business, because it is the owners’ capital.

Because of all of this, the owners are pushing for a hard salary cap, meaning that no team can spend more than a certain amount. The players don’t want this, with good reason. But again, it’s the owners’ call, since it is the owners who pay.

The teams also want to apply a personal conduct policy to the league, to prevent idiots like Gilbert Arenas from bringing loaded handguns into locker rooms. The players oppose this because they want to continue to be able to act like morons without losing their jobs. Could you do this at your job and keep it? Didn’t think so.

The bottom line: Members of the NBA Players Union are grabbing for a chunk of something that isn’t theirs in the first place. And that’s what players unions have been doing in every sport, driving up the cost of business — costs that are passed on to the consumer. It now costs almost $50 for an average NBA ticket. That’s been steady since 1999, when the players and owners locked out. Between 1990 and 1999, the ticket prices — prompted by players’ demands, which forced another lockout in 1995 — rose 108.1 percent.

What about owners who bargain collectively? They’re all in the same business, so they’re more like franchisees of McDonald’s than owners of Burger King vs. owners of McDonald’s. They don’t compete with each other because their business has common ground rules. That’s why if they were smart (which they aren’t), they’d tell the players to shove it. If they don’t like the deal, they can find work elsewhere. They’d have to wait a couple of years to do that, though, until the current contracts expire.

But they’re not smart, so they’ll likely come to some sort of arrangement. And the fans will pay higher prices. Eventually, however, we’ll stop going to the games. Then both the owners and the players will see where the true power lies: with the consumer.

Ben Shapiro, 27, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School. He is the three-time bestselling author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda,” and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” on 810 AM in Orlando, FL.

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