The NBA Contraction Debate Verdict

October 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

Considering the fact that I am an expectant father, with a child due just a few weeks from now, I have already developed an irrational fear of the word ‘Contraction.’ And it seems that, considering the context of this debate, that negative connotation is quite justified.

To boil this debate down into its most simplistic form, and to put it into terms that many people around the country can truly relate to, the conversation about NBA contraction is really a conversation about layoffs.

The “L” word

The business (NBA) is losing money, and cannot afford to operate under its current structure. As a result, the business (NBA) is forced to choose which is the lesser of two evils – force a pay cut, or proceed with layoffs.

As Babe Ruthless points out, contraction should be perceived only as a viable option when there are none other worth pursuing. A decision like this would not only affect the teams facing the cull, but would also seriously impact the cities and fans which support, and are supported by, those franchises.

For a league like the NBA who already is struggling financially, the bad PR from league contraction and the fan reaction from those cities which would lose their franchises could be very damaging.

But all those premonitions of gloom and doom from Babe Ruthless still did not provide enough justification to me that league contraction was the wrong decision to make. As such, I am awarding the verdict for this debate to Sports Geek, although for a moment, Sports Geek’s own argument almost convinced me to go the other way.

Identifying the root cause

Sports Geek points to franchises such as the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers as teams with winning records that were losing money. So out of curiosity, I checked the attendance numbers from last season to see how those two clubs (for example) fared at the gate.

According to last year’s statistics, the Mavericks averaged 19,994 fans per home game at American Airlines Center, an arena that holds 20,000 at capacity. Likewise, the Blazers averaged 20,497 per game at the Rose Garden Arena, which holds 20,630 spectators at capacity.

Folks, those are sold out seasons.

The Blazers and the Mavericks are not suffering from lack of fan support. And when you look at the rest of the league, only the Philadelphia 76’ers, New Jersey Nets, and Memphis Grizzlies played to an average crowd of less than 75% capacity (compare that to the MLB, where 17 different teams drew average crowds of fewer than 75% capacity).

The real problem is, DESPITE that fan support for home teams, that the cost of paying the athletes has exceeded the amount of revenue that is even possible to be gained. If a sellout will only draw in $2M in sales for each game, how can you be expected to pay $3M in salary?

And even with revenues being generated from TV contracts, advertising, and merchandise, these teams are STILL paying more than they are making.

Normally, this is a problem that can be corrected either by a) cutting players’ salaries or b) raising ticket prices, rather than having to resort to league contraction, which Sports Geek argues is the answer. But just as I was ready to place my seal of approval and award victory to Babe Ruthless, I noticed something very interesting that ultimately changed my mind – attendance statistics for NBA teams on the road.

Big names sell games

Obviously, teams with winning records should be able to garner support from their hometown fans. But it is when those teams go on the road that you find out their value as it is perceived by the REST of the league. The New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, for example, will sell out no matter where they are playing. They appeal not only to their home town fans, but they are a draw to EVERYONE.

So, how did the Blazers and Mavs fare on the road?

Portland averaged a road crowd of only 16,546 (nearly 4000 fewer fans than when they played at home), while Dallas drew 17,129 (nearly 3000 fewer fans). And that trend was not exclusive to those two teams, either.

In fact, there were only two teams in the entire NBA (the Cavaliers and the Lakers), who averaged sellouts on the road. And the not too surprising reason those two teams managed the feat is simple – LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Every other team (even championship contenders like the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, and Phoenix Suns) failed to attract people on the road to the same extent that they managed at home. A problem, as Sports Geek points out, created by an utter lack of star power in the league.

The gap in marketability between players like LeBron or Kobe, and players like Mehmet Okur and Chris Kamen is far too great. There just aren’t enough “faces” in the NBA to fully support 30 different NBA franchises. Then, when you compound that lack of star power with the grossly overinflated contract amounts that the athletes are earning today, you find yourself in a very bleak financial situation.

People just don’t care to go out on a Wednesday night in the middle of December to see Carlos Delfino lead the visiting Milwaukee Bucks in scoring against the Roy Hibbert led Indiana Pacers.

Real value must be established

In a concentrated market, Chris Bosh is not a $100M athlete. Likewise, a guy like Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who averages only 24 minutes per game over his career, is not a $50M athlete. But when you dilute the talent level to the extent that the NBA has, players like Bosh and Varejao BECOME superstars simply by comparison to the weaker talent around them. They APPEAR to be superstars, and can cash in as such.

A concentrated player pool, played within a league of fewer teams, would allow for a much better product to be put on the court. Player salaries would more accurately reflect the talent levels in the league, and the “business” of professional basketball could be righted.

It’s time to trim the fat. Addition by subtraction is the answer, and an NBA in concentrated form will help everyone remaining in the league to be successful for many years to come.

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The NBA Contraction Debate

October 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

It seems these days like the only people making money in the NBA are the athletes.

While players like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and Amar’e Stoudemire were recently awarded contracts at or beyond $100M each, the collective NBA teams posted a net loss last year of $400M.

Obviously, a business of any kind cannot sustain itself if it continues to lose money.

So in an effort to combat this financial predicament, NBA commissioner David Stern has stated a desire to see the players’ collective salaries reduced by $750M-$800M in order to reverse the negative trend so the NBA can get a return on investment.

One such idea that has been floated to help support this process – an idea that will be on the table at the upcoming owners’ meetings – is the possibility of a league contraction, as some within the league feel that a reduction of teams would provide a remedy to the imbalance between player salary and league revenue.

Which brings us to our debate topic for today: With the financial losses posted by the NBA recently, and the prospect of more losses on the horizon, should the NBA contract some teams?

Clearly this is not a decision that David Stern or the collective NBA owners will be taking lightly. Their continued goal to this point has always been the growth of the league, and expansion has been a major part of that growth. The NBA is arguably at its peak in terms of popularity among the fans, and to face the prospect of eliminating teams from the league would be extremely disappointing for everyone involved.

In evaluating today’s topic, Sports Geek believes that NBA contraction is the way to go, and will argue that “trimming the fat” will be better for the league as a whole. Meanwhile, Babe Ruthless feels that contraction would not be the best solution, and will argue that the NBA should not consider this as a viable option.

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The NBA Contraction Debate… Less is More

October 27, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Yes, less is more… and I’m not referring to the Miami Heat point total from Tuesday night’s season opener. No, my reference is to successful businesses in today’s modern business landscape. Am I pro downsizing? Of course not… but successful businesses cannot sustain themselves long term if they are consistently losing money. Guess what, folks? The NBA is consistently losing money. Bravo to David Stern (who, for the record, I do not like) and league officials for acknowledging that fact and proposing an obviously unpopular – but shrewd and smart – solution by contracting the league.

Let’s all put our thinking caps on and consider why the NBA expanded in the first place. The business climate of the late 1980s was dominated by one word – growth. The more the better. The faster the EVEN better. Growth was the ambition that superseded all other reasonable concerns. It was the only thing that mattered. Long term thinking did not enter into the equation as it often derailed the conversation regarding growth.

The late 1980s saw four expansion teams appear within two years. First, in 1988, the league welcomed the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets, then in 1989 the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves joined up. Six short years later – still in the full swing of growth in the build up to the dotcom bust – two MORE teams were added for good measure in the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. None of the teams were berthed with a long term plan for sustainability or even a good solution for how the league was going to create a talent pipeline to maintain and boost the level of competition fans had grown accustomed to with a more concise league structure that made both product and economic sense.

Here’s more business sense for you. The Charlotte Bobcats were purchased for $175M by Michael Jordan. The seller, Robert L. Johnson, paid $300M for the team. Johnson lost a whole lot of money.

In the most recent evaluation of which teams in the NBA made money and which teams lost money, a surprisingly large number of teams lost money. In fact, 40 percent of the league’s franchises LOST money. More shocking, FIVE of the teams that are losing money are actually successful, winning teams. The Portland Trailblazers lost $20M, the Dallas Mavericks lost $17M (though the majority of that may have been in Mark Cuban fines), following by Orlando, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Perhaps the economy impacted a few of those teams, but all 40 percent? That’s doubtful. The league’s costs are out of control and drastic measures must be taken to reign in the poor business decisions from years gone by.

Does the NBA currently have teams that do not contribute much in the way of notoriety of financial return? Yes. Do these franchises in peril have a track record of success but have recently fallen on hard times? No. If the franchises aren’t functioning as they should, and there is no hope of digging them out without deepening the bad investment, why not cut bait? Needless to say, the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Hornets, and Minnesota Timberwolves are not successfully functioning NBA franchises, and they have never had enough success to warrant further investment.

It’s time to trim the bottom feeders in the NBA. Think about it, only good can come from it. The talent pool is richer as there is a higher concentration of talent available to few teams. The franchises that require the most financial attention from the league are now taken out of play. The promotional resources the NBA has available are now concentrated better on the franchises that warrant the attention. Each of those factors is a big success for the NBA.

And, most importantly, the league will save a whole lot of money in player costs, enough to keep the league financially successful and viable.

The NBA is in an interesting time right now. Whether LeBron and his dodgy and insulting new Nike commercial like it or not, he is the villain of the NBA, along with his cohorts down in Miami. For the first time since perhaps the early 1980s the league has a legitimate villain and the suddenly appealing Kobe Bryant playing the likely uncomfortable role of league “good guy.” In short, the league has more attention and popularity than it has grown accustomed to in this decade. It needs to better focus its resources to grow the league’s popularity and diminish the cost of doing bad business.

Contraction will likely suck for those cities that are impacted by it, but the people in those cities had the chance to support the team and chose not to. No blame to pass, that’s just reality. The league must become financially solvent again, but then it has to honor its covenant to the fans and avoid the temptations of rapid growth that lured officials in with its siren song in the late 1980s. Unfortunately for some, contraction is a good place to start.

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The NBA Contraction Debate… Downsizing is Out of the Question

October 27, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

Right now is a very important time for the NBA. The league stands at the brink of a make or break scenario that holds huge implications for the league. The NBA is suffering significant financial losses while at the same time staring down a lockout for the 2011 season. Right now the NBA is peaking in terms of popularity and the NFL is teetering on the verge of a hugely unpopular work stoppage. The NBA could see major gains in its fan base if it ends up being the only show in town… or it could drive away fans in droves if multi-million dollar athletes decide to sit out during the biggest economic recession of our time.

With the NBA figuring to experience major losses this season, it appears that commissioner David Stern and company are looking at any and every option to stay profitable, including cutting franchises. While on the surface this looks like a good first step towards getting into the black it appears the commish isn’t looking at the long term big picture.

So Long Small Market Teams, Basketball Is Big Business

The NBA is one of the few professional sports that is somewhat small market friendly. The NBA currently has franchises in cities like Memphis, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, and Charlotte. These are certainly large cities but they are by no means the sprawling metropolises of most big sports cities (i.e. Boston, New York, L.A.). In the grand scheme of things the sport might not implode if the Grizzlies or Thunder weren’t apart of the 2011 season, but it certainly would be a major loss to the fans.

Right now then NBA has cracked markets that other sports franchises have not, and that is certainly a public relations booster for them. But if the small market teams get the axe because the league is in the red, it will be a huge step back for a sport that is more inclusive than most. Obviously the NBA is a business and it can only afford to operate at a loss for so long, but pulling the rug out from under a franchise, no matter how small, is sure to make enemies of a sport.

For instance, when the Hornets abandoned Charlotte there was a lot of ill will toward professional basketball amongst the people of the Queen City. Sure all wounds heal with time, and slowly but surely the city is embracing the Bobcats, but that has been a slow and bumpy journey at best. North Carolina was college basketball country to begin with, and a pro team was a risky venture. Then when the people of Charlotte felt they got burned by the NBA it made for awkward bedfellows moving forward with future business ventures. The city opposed funding for a new coliseum for the Bobcats and attendance generally struggled in comparison with the Carolina Panthers. I do not suggest every market would turn against basketball for football and baseball, but it is a plausible result. One that the NBA cannot afford.

Cutting Teams Should Be A Last Resort Not A First Option

Cutting teams is a desperation move for which the league must be fully prepared. The fallout from such an unpopular decision is sure to have ramifications for years to come. When a team or a league abandons a fan base, they turn fans off for years to come. That is not something the NBA, or any sport, can afford.

Popularity is 90 percent perception and 10 percent substance. While that is not a mathematical law, it is a fair enough assessment of the way the world often sees sports. That is not to say a sport’s popularity is not influenced by the excitement of the action on the court or on the field, but rather that a sport’s popularity is influenced by things other than the successes of its best players, high profile teams, or biggest events.

Popularity is often a matter of how the fans perceive they are being treated. If a sport entertains fans, gives them great value, and does not betray their trust, it earns loyalty. But that loyalty can be lost.

For instance, when baseball went on strike, and then the curtain was torn down on the steroid era, the popularity of the sport was dealt a black eye, one that the sport is arguably still not over the hump from today. One of the most damaging legacies of those fiascoes was quite simply that the fans felt abused. Baseball fans are an intensely loyal bunch, and the league allowed the fans trust to be betrayed by performance enhancing drugs and the greed of the players union. Basketball is not above being pulled down by similar circumstances and culling a franchise, no matter how big or how small is public relations suicide.

Of course basketball has to make money, but cutting franchises is not the answer. Calling it league “contraction” does not change the fact that it is telling millions (yes, literally millions) of fans that they were not important enough to continue to entertain. The league must find another way or face the backlash of a scorned public that finds another way to spend its money than supporting a game that doesn’t support them back.

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The Which Player Should Hang ‘Em Up Debate… Shaq’s Skills Are Gone

September 20, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

The Sports Debates has been a forum for many things, and the writers, over the year and a half we’ve been running this website, have earned reputations for specific pet peeves within the world of sports. I have written about several pet peeves, as has Bleacher Fan. Today’s debate is an outgrowth of that. A Bleacher Fan pet peeve is athletes that hang on too long. A Sports Geek pet peeve? Shaquille O’Neal. Let’s kill two birds with one stone.

It is no secret that I do not like Shaquille O’Neal as a player. I felt he was a terrible fit for the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before those years, I never enjoyed his style of play. I never believed – and never will believe – that Shaq is a great basketball player, or that he was at any stage of his career. What Shaq was, and still is, is large. He is bigger than any other player, and he used his size to his advantage to dominate the opposition inside the paint. Sure, his career stats are tremendous. But there are several traits that are great basketball player needs to ensure that moniker is earned and not just awarded by the lazy media. The traits include, the ability to reliably hit a jump shot from any range, solid free throw shooting, good lateral movement, etc. there are more, but those are some basics… some basics that Shaq just does not have. Especially now.

Shaq is big. He has always been big. While his size hasn’t diminished, his strength, intensity, and quickness have. Because he was never a great basketball player, he is not well equipped to continue being an effective player in the twilight of his career. The first signs of decline became apparent when consistency became elusive. Last season Shaq was a different player game to game. One game he would show good effort, the next he would be completely overmatched by a smaller player.

Statistics never tell the whole story. But they do at times give important context, especially when writing to convince you all that of all athletes currently playing sports, Shaq is the one that needs to hang up the oversized shoes the fastest. Consider the under 50 percent free throw shooting last season, which was actually lower than normal (if you can believe it). We always knew he wasn’t a good shooter. How about rebounding, since he is still big? Surely there was no significant reduction in rebounding. Except that Shaq grabbed fewer offensive rebounds last season than he ever has in his entire career – even in seasons where injuries dramatically reduced playing to less than half the games in a season. Shaq rebounded just 93 times on offense last season, and only 262 on defense. Neither number is impressive at all.

Even if stats aren’t a big factor, often a player can take other less obvious actions to spur his team to victory. While Shaq may have been helpful in that regard early in his career, that is no longer the case, as evidenced by his terrible performance in the playoffs last season for the Cavaliers, when clutch was most in need since the team’s star didn’t have his head in the game. Shaq was not quick enough to set screens, to rotate on defense, or to get out of the way of a driving player and avoid a dumb foul. The details that win championships are no longer elements of Shaq’s game that can be considered reliable.

As a person, Shaq has always blurred the lines between entertainer and athlete. He has some movies to his credit (ugh) and even his own program on network television called Shaq Vs. But, Shaq went far enough to admit that he is now fabricating controversy and feuds in the hopes to increase ticket sales. This is an example of a last gasp by an over the hill athlete. The game is no longer enough to keep his attention, focus, and enthusiasm.

With this debate is it easy to simply assume the right player to argue for is obvious in their declining skills, a guy like Brett Favre, for example. But Shaq is now an under the radar type player with an over the radar personality. It’s time for everyone to realize he is a shell of the player he was, and that it’s time to retire to Hollywood.

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The Trading Carmelo Anthony Debate… A Nugget of Advice is to Cut Your Losses

August 26, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

My opinion on the ego-driven, selfish behavior of professional athletes today has been thoroughly
chronicled here at The Sports Debates. In fact, it seems like all I have written about in the past few weeks are the exploits of
guys like LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Darrelle Revis.

As a true fan of sports, it is very frustrating to me whenever a person (the athlete or coach) believes they are bigger or more important than the game. These people have been told all of their lives that they are winners, but they have never been instructed on how to BUILD a winning philosophy. When things are going good, they do and say all the right things. But as soon as they are presented with adversity they
stomp their feet and whine.

Check that – they don’t just stomp their feet and whine. They quit.

That is what players like LeBron James, Darrelle Revis, and Chris Paul are – QUITTERS! They have been trained throughout their entire lives to be takers. They have been told they are special, and led to believe that they already are champions. They have been given everything and had excuses made for them, because outsiders (also takers) have perceived them as cash cows.

To them, the journey means nothing more than formality. They lack the real conditioning and training required to EARN a championship. And just like everything else, value is drawn from HAVING, rather than WINNING that championship.

These quitters will only play as long as they continue to get their way. As soon as something happens that they don’t like, they just quit.

In fairness to James, Revis, and Paul, they are not the first athletes to make selfish demands on their team. They are simply among the latest in a very long line of contract athletes who have an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And now the fraternity of quitters has a new pledge – Carmelo Anthony.

We’ve heard the song and dance before. His team isn’t giving him the tools he needs to win a championship, and so he wants out. Blah, blah, blah. The REAL situation is that he has watched his buddies land new deals that appear to be from the land of championship milk and honey. As a fellow taker, Anthony absolutely MUST keep up with the Jones’s (or James’s, as the case may be).

Unhappy with his situation in Denver, Anthony seems eager to force a trade. He doesn’t believe that Denver is in a situation to help him genuinely compete for a championship, and so he wants out.

There is a difference between Anthony and guys like Revis and Paul, though. Anthony has leverage. His contract is expiring at the end of this season. If he walks, the Denver Nuggets get nothing in return.

Chris Paul can cry about wanting to be traded, but he still has YEARS on his contract. If he sits out, he loses. Likewise, Darrelle Revis can demand a new contract all day long. But once again, he still has several years of obligation remaining with the New York Jets. And so a decision to sit out in protest of his seemingly unfair contract does nothing more than take a year off of his career.

By comparison, although I believe Anthony would be wrong in forcing this situation, he will be playing the negotiating game correctly. He would be timing his demands in such a way that he can actually capitalize on the situation, and is shifting the pressure onto the Denver Nuggets and forcing them to make a decision.

Something, or nothing?

If the Nuggets do not grant Anthony his trade, he will simply walk away at the end of the season and leave Denver in the same rebuilding mode the Cleveland Cavaliers are in this year. Either way they are losing Carmelo Anthony. They just have to choose how and when.

On one hand, they can allow him to walk away. In that situation, they would have a roster loaded with nothing more than supporting cast members, and would have no real means to woo another top-tier free agent into their ranks. Instead, they will have to hope for another lucky draft pick where they can get the “next” Carmelo Anthony, and hope to build a franchise around that player.

I know that sounds like a lousy deal for the Nuggets, who would ideally like to utilize Anthony’s talents on the court this season. But he has made his intentions very clear, and the Denver Nuggets have virtually no hope of extending his contract beyond this season.

The better option for the Nuggets is to grant him a trade, and they can get some real value for Anthony, an All-Star caliber player. Just like investing, sometimes cutting your losses can be the wisest decision to make. In this case, there is nothing to be gained in Denver by hanging on to ‘Melo. So rather than continue to uselessly dump time, money, and resources into a player who has already declared his intentions to leave, Denver should just suck it up, deal him away, and at least recuperate some of his value.

I do not condone Anthony’s actions, but he is executing well. Now, the Denver Nuggets choice is one that is simple – lose Carmelo Anthony and gain nothing in return, or lose him and gain something.

When you put it like that, it becomes an easy choice to make.

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The Is LRMR Good For the NBA Debate Verdict

August 4, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

There is an old marketing rule – perception is nine tenths of the law. The phrase is one of those timeless business truths. No matter what action a brand does or does not take, it is setting an expectation with its audience. Something as simple as a coupon offer for 15 percent off means a company is willing to discount its products.

Read that last sentence again, but put the emphasis on the “count” part of the word “discount” this time. It reads differently, doesn’t it? Even a coupon results in creating a perception that a company does not feel as good about its product as we all may think. The company is willing to cut the price simply to sell more. A high end brand would never stoop to such depths… which is why high end brands are perceived as “high end.”

It is a simple marketing example that proves how perception matters. A one-time discount on a product now sets a brand on a course for diminished perception.

Good marketers care as much about the short term pay off from a decision as its long tail. Unfortunately for LeBron James and company, LRMR Marketing is not good at marketing. Unfortunately for this debate, that doesn’t matter.

This is a debate about whether LRMR’s approach is good for the NBA, and both arguments are worthy contenders for this debate’s crown.

Babe Ruthless is correct that some of the virulence in the media (that has been rightly directed at LRMR, at least for bad marketing) has gone a bit too far. The guys that comprise the company are not public enemy number one. After all, there are no marketing or perception police.

Babe Ruthless does, however, oversimplify LRMR and its actions as simply “a marketing agency.” First, we would have no reason for a debate if LRMR was simply a marketing agency and nothing more. Second, creating perception creates consequences. LRMR’s job is not as simple as promoting a player or buying advertising space somewhere. Therefore, the oversimplification of LRMR as a marketing agency is nearly as bad as the other extremes we see in the media.

The point that really stuck with me from this controversial but incisive argument is Babe Ruthless’ commentary about Michael Jordan. Babe Ruthless is also correct that Michael Jordan has a great brand. In many ways Michael Jordan invented the sports marketing brand. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson endorsed brands and made money, but Jordan transcended basketball, and even sports. The thing about MJ’s brand, though, is that it did not become fully developed until he won a championship.

LRMR is trying to replicate Jordan’s success for its entire client base. But, it is attempting to circumvent that pesky “championship” and get right to the vast riches. I neither condone that methodology nor believe it will work in the long run. The idea is to put the player above everything. The result is short term attention, money, and possibly championships – though I doubt the last one at this point.

Bleacher Fan offers up a very interesting analogy to boxing. ESPN writer Bill Simmons made an NBA to WWF analogy, but I believe Bleacher Fan’s effort is more suitable. While myriad other factors have diminished boxing’s shine, when a sport becomes too fixated on the players, everyone involved suffers except for a rich few who sit back and count money. Players do not control media contracts, they do not deal with the rigors of marketing and advertising, and they do not do a thing on the operations side. NBA players often act as though the owners – and even the fans – do not matter. LRMR, which acts as a boxing promoter in Bleacher Fan’s sharp analogy, perpetuates these issues by working hard to remove the focus from teams and put it solely on individual players.

Is that player-first, inherently selfish ideology pushed by LRMR good for the NBA? No, it’s not – though Babe Ruthless makes a compelling case.

The danger here is two-fold. Fans leave as a league becomes too focused on players. It’s a fact. Review any history of any lockout in any sport and that is obvious.

The other negative outcome is potentially even greater because the team-nature of the sport gets stripped the more players steal control from the league.

Bleacher Fan acutely describes the Rubicon moment for boxing, when the governing bodies allowed boxers to receive bigger paychecks by moving the sport to pay-per-view. I agree with Bleacher Fan that when money becomes the focus, selfishness gains prominence and rusts the luster off of a sport. Any ideology that marginalizes both fans and ownership is dangerous, and it is currently what is plotting a course for the demise of the NBA.

Do not assume that this verdict is a tacit nod to the supremacy and greatness of the league and its owners. It’s not. Many owners are lousy for their teams, their players, and their fans. But NBA’s union does a good enough job at giving players leverage in negotiating. LRMR, however, has found dangerous loopholes in a toothless NBA. The owners must circle the wagons to avoid significant damage to their investments and the league as a whole.

I do disagree with Bleacher Fan on one point. LRMR hasn’t cheapened ESPN. ESPN cheapened ESPN, LRMR just has aligned goals. Bleacher Fan is right that ESPN sold its soul for relationships with athletes. But LRMR brokered the deal.

Bleacher Fan wins this debate for rightly pointing out that the NBA is about competition between teams. Babe Ruthless constructed a great argument. But any actions that undermine the fundamental element of teamwork should be severely punished.

Sports easily fall victim to selfishness… especially in an age where self-promotion is simple, and consequently rampant. I was on the fence about this when I wrote the intro. Bleacher Fan has absolutely convinced me that LRMR Marketing is in the business of making individual players bigger than teams, and even the league. LRMR is setting a dangerous precedent right now, and the league is in a position to stop it with the pending labor agreement up for conversation next year. The league must do whatever it can to save itself.

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The Is LRMR Good For the NBA Debate

August 3, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Babe Ruthless.

It is said that any publicity is good publicity. Whoever coined that phrase likely enjoyed the short view on life. The longer term vision changes that perspective.

But, LRMR Marketing – the marketing group started by LeBron James and his high school buddies – does not seem concerned with the long-term impact of its actions. And by “actions,” of course, I am referring to engineering the unification of Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James in Miami.

The company has now recently signed Chris Paul, after he quietly fired his agent in early July. Paul’s former agency, Octagon, did an outstanding job signing a talented but not particularly famous player to lucrative contracts with companies like Gillette. Paul followed up that action with the news that he wants out of the two years remaining on his New Orleans contract. Rumors, an LRMR specialty, now swirl about Paul’s eventual destination.

Paul is likely not the last example of LRMR’s impact on the NBA. The company is literally capitalizing on the idea of players taking complete control of the league and usurping NBA and team-contract authority.

The question to my esteemed colleagues is: Is LRMR’s approach to NBA player marketing a good thing for the NBA?

Bleacher Fan will argue that LRMR is a bad influence on the future of the NBA while Babe Ruthless will argue that greater control of the league for players is simply the new NBA reality.

With a potential lock out looming, who controls the NBA – players or the league?

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The Is LRMR Good For the NBA Debate… A Cautionary Tale for the NBA

August 3, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

If history repeats itself, NBA Commissioner David Stern, and the owners he represents around the league, better start brushing up on Boxing History 101.

The Decline of Boxing

The sport of boxing, which was once considered one of the premier sports in the United States, has been diminished almost to the point of irrelevance. While there are many factors that have contributed to the sport’s slip into obscurity, one of the key issues that has threatened the viability of boxing is the selfish “pay-day” mentality of its athletes.

The history of boxing has been always been defined by its great fights: Ali versus Frazier, Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling, Sugar Ray Leonard versus Marvelous Marvin Hagler, The Rumble in the Jungle. These were all fights slated to determine which fighter was the best, and the sport thrived as a result. Nowadays, fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather allow contract disputes over paychecks and other trivialities to get in the way of those potentially great battles, the types of battles that would benefit EVERYONE in the boxing world.

Boxing promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, and Lou DiBella have helped to facilitate a shift in focus for the sport, and a greater emphasis has been placed on the fighter at the expense of the event. These “super fighters” have become more important than the “super fights” by usurping the authority of the boxing sport. Now, boxing is driven by the whims of its biggest stars, not the needs of the sport.

What is important to the sport has been superseded by what is important to the athlete.

Premier bouts were moved first from network to cable broadcasts, and then from cable to pay-per-view. Why? So the fighters and promoters could draw bigger paychecks. The problem is that the move to pay-per-view has restricted the accessibility of the sport, and the general public has lost interest because it cannot easily (or affordably) view the greatest matches.

Boxing condoned a system where the athletes and promoters were allowed to be self-serving and focus on their personal benefit, rather than the benefit of the game. Selfishness and greed have completely changed the sport of boxing, and it is all bad.

Boxing’s journey is the history lesson the NBA needs.

LRMR Marketing, the brain-child of LeBron James and his high school buddies, has essentially become a boxing promoter in the NBA. It has started to shift the focus of the sport away from the most important event – the game – and onto the athletes themselves.

Celebrity over Substance

LRMR has already orchestrated countless scenarios where pre-game and pre-season activities are becoming a bigger spectacle than the games. From choreographed pre-game introductions and LeBron’s puff of baby powder to “The Decision” and the fiasco that was the 2010 free agency season, LRMR has successfully placed their premier athlete on a pedestal above the league itself.

The result of these actions? The future of the NBA (at least for the next several seasons) has been scripted through back-room deals between selfish players rather than on the court, where it SHOULD be determined. LRMR, behind the free agency of LeBron James, has staged a coup where IT (and not the competition of the league) has set the course of events for the NBA. LRMR’s machinations have also cheapened the value of ESPN, an organization that claims to be a legitimate sports NEWS source. LRMR hijacked the network and turned it into yet another tool for self-promotion.

First, a full hour was reserved… dedicated prime-time coverage (with almost no notice) so that LeBron could make a 30-second statement. This statement was not that he would be running for Congress, or that he was retiring from the game, or any other sensational news story that would normally warrant this kind of attention. No, he was just announcing the team he intended to sign a basketball contract to play for. And he took a FULL HOUR!

Then, last week, an article was published on ESPN.com that highlighted the escapades of LeBron as he threw a lavish Las Vegas party. However, the article (which portrayed LeBron James in a less than favorable light) magically vanished from the website just minutes after it was published.

Those incidents have cheapened the value of ESPN as a viable organization by giving the appearance that it is nothing more than an extension of LRMR Marketing. Rather than risk the ire of a sports celebrity and get on his bad side by remaining UNBIASED in reporting, ESPN has sold its agenda to the latest pop-culture star.

The Snowball Effect

LeBron is not the lone stud in LRMR’s stable of celebrity talent. New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul (who happens to be another buddy of LeBron’s) has joined the three-ring circus at LRMR Marketing, and cast aside the seemingly sound (and successful) advice of his previous representation to get his moment in the sun.

Following the lead of the league’s newest prima donna, Paul feels he is OWED a championship, and with the help of LRMR has attempted to force a trade so he can join his own version of an All-Star roster.

Although no charges or allegations have been made regarding specific actions, warnings have been issued across the league against tampering.

The league does not usually issue a tampering warning when a player wants an early out from their current contract, so why issue one in this case? If you read between the lines, the implication behind that warning is very straightforward – LeBron and LRMR Marketing have already proven once that they are willing to negotiate the future of the NBA in closed-door, back-room deals, and it is assumed that they will do it again.

All of these actions by LRMR Marketing, and the two athletes whom it represents, have done nothing but cheapen the value of the NBA. They have chipped away at the competitiveness of the league in an attempt to take (rather than win) a championship via the path of least resistance. They have demonstrated that player collusion (whether permitted by the rules or not) to use to manufacture an ideal situation. They have shown that their motivation is self-service, even if it comes at the expense of everyone else in the league.

I am not advocating a system where a player should have no say in their future. However, a delicate balance must be maintained between the two. In the battle between teams and players, if either side assumes “control” over the other it is bad for the league.

The NBA is a league centered around TEAM competition. The interests of the league are best served when the overall competition of the league and its TEAMS (not players) are protected. When individual players begin to chip away at the level of competition in the league, all in the pursuit of self-service, it is bad for everyone involved.

The NBA should learn from the state of boxing as it exists today. The more control that individual players have over the game, the more the viability of the league is eroded away.

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The 2010 NBA Under The Radar Pick Up Debate… Bell Joins Jazz Ensemble

July 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

The Utah Jazz took an early hit when the 2010 free agency period kicked off, immediately losing Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer.

After reaching the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, the losses of both Korver and Boozer to the Bulls presented a sudden and serious obstacle to the team’s chances of stretching that run into a fifth season.

In response to the loss of Boozer, the Jazz landed Al Jefferson, who brings him with the potential for even greater production that Boozer had while at a much cheaper price. But it is the new shooting guard who will have the most valuable impact on the Jazz roster – Raja Bell.

Already once a fan favorite in Salt Lake City, this signing serves as a bit of a homecoming for Bell who previously found success in Utah under head coach Jerry Sloan. The experience that Bell already has in playing for Sloan, combined with the support he will undoubtedly receive from the fans upon his return, should make for a very smooth transition as Bell returns to the Jazz once more.

But sentimentality is not the reason this is such a solid pickup for Utah.

What really makes this the prize under the radar pickup is the combination of solid offensive and defensive perimeter play that Bell brings with his game.

It was his defensive prowess that made Bell a standout during his first Utah Jazz campaign (as well as elsewhere around the league). A two-time winner of the NBA’s All Defensive honors (in 2007 and 2008), Bell has a very quick and aggressive style in moving to the ball, and he is able to apply constant pressure to opposing shooters on the outside. It is precisely that perimeter defense which will be invaluable to the Jazz, who ranked 16th in the league last season in allowing three-pointers.

As for his offensive credentials, Bell may not have earned All NBA honors but he IS one of the top three-point shooters in the league. Just four seasons ago Bell led the league in three-pointers made with 205 while he was playing with the Phoenix Suns. And, his CAREER three-point shooting percentage of .412 ranks as the 11th best mark ALL TIME.

The only knock against Bell is the fact that he basically missed the entire 2009-2010 season because of a wrist injury. Bell is confident that he has fully recovered from that injury, though, and will in all likelihood prove to be a solid upgrade on both sides of the ball from what Kyle Korver offered the Jazz last season.

Bell is one of the league’s all-time best from beyond the three-point arc, he plays some of the best defense in the league, and he is returning to a team and coach that he previously found success with, in front of fans who are ecstatic to see him back on their side of the ball.

That sounds like a successful, low-profile signing to me!

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