Monday, July 14, 2008

NBA fans! Watch your back

Sorry to go on with another basketball blog, but David Stern just sold out every NBA fan in the entire country while destroying 41 years of professional basketball history in Seattle and there are a few things I don’t see anyone else documenting, so I feel the need to point them out. Back to the dirty songs in a couple weeks, I promise…

NBA fans nationwide, a warning! What just happened here in Seattle should serve as a cautionary tale to all of you. Watch your back. The ice that the relationship between your city and the Association was happily skating on just got a whole lot thinner. Here’s why what happened in Seattle is almost guaranteed to happen in your city:

To recap the Seattle situation, Stern and the NBA basically came down to having two options: One, go through many hoops (pardon the basketball pun) lose a lot of money and move the team to a smaller market, shedding it’s history and destroying its fan base in the process. Or Two: expand the league by one team, make the fans of two cities, the players union, sportswriters and countless others extremely happy. None other than Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was willing to pay for it and most of the stadium remodel as well. Stern and the league fought hard for option number one. Why?

With option one, OKC basically got an expansion team from the deal anyway. It didn’t get the history, titles or banners. (Who would want them anyway? Who puts up trophies in their house that they didn’t win?) So why not just create an expansion team? Put it either in OKC, or if Bennett really wants to keep Kevin Durant and the like, put it in Seattle and call them the Sonics. Seattle had an ownership group ready to go with none other than Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer involved, one of the richest, most powerful men in the world. Why not have him on board?

Under scenario two NBA fans would have had a whole new team to root for, owners would have received expansion fees, and Microsoft would now be a full-time partner. What’s not to love about this?

Everyone loved scenario two except David Stern and the owners. And here’s why: NBA teams lose money. Despite blackmailing the cities they play in every few years for tax breaks and new stadiums, the owners of this league have a broken model that doesn’t make individual teams profitable, or at least as profitable as they’d like. And yet the owners still turn a profit on their investments. All of it through resale value. That’s what the whole ungodly mess in Seattle was really all about. The resale value of NBA franchises.

What gives these money-losing businesses value? Rarity. The fact that there are only 30 of them and that they give extremely wealthy people status. Despite being money-losers constantly dependent on government handouts, the fact that there are only 30 NBA teams and more than 30 billionaires who want them makes them constantly spiral upwards in value. Expansion makes great sense for fans and for the players but it doesn’t make money for the already very wealthy owners. So presented this choice, Stern naturally chose the owners. To a stock speculator, all that matters is the price of the stock. The employees? The product? The quality? None of that matters if the stock can’t be resold for significantly more than it was purchased for.

So why does the NBA not want Steve Ballmer? Because the THREAT of Steve Ballmer is more powerful. The threat of Steve Ballmer wanting to buy a team and move it back to Seattle immediately increases the value of every existing franchise. The threat of Steve Ballmer moving your team makes it that much easier to extort the local citizenry for tax handouts, leases, and stadiums. Steve Ballmer and his friends have the money to buy the Celtics or Lakers. Nobody is safe. No wonder the NBA gladly paid 75 million to buy off Seattle for a few years. They just made all 30 teams worth ten million dollars more.

Stern has just set a precedent that no team is secure in its current location and that he will go to incredible lengths, including outright lying and slander towards a city and its fan base to wrest a team from one place to another. And now he has Microsoft money as his bogeyman. “Hey New Orleans! Like Chris Paul? Yeah, Ballmer likes him too. Best do what we say.” “Hey, Memphis, Sacramento, Charlotte and all you small markets. Sure your teams are sub-standard, but you’d better pay some big market prices, because big bad Steve Ballmer is out there and those Seattle fans showed they can carry a franchise for 41 years! We want fountains flowing Krystall in the locker rooms. Can you swing that? I’m sure Ballmer wouldn’t have a problem with it. Hmm…”

So remember NBA fans, of which I no longer can really say I am still one. Your loyalty, season ticket purchases, cheers, longsuffering… make sure they increase the resale value of your “franchise.” Because David Stern has just positioned it so that the wolf is always at your door. The NBA cares. Fan-tastic!

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