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Expect owners to have their way in NFL, NBA negotiations

Tom Gores bought the Detroit Pistons earlier this month for a reported $325 million, a professional sports bargain compared to recent years. (Associated Press)
Tom Gores bought the Detroit Pistons earlier this month for a reported $325 million, a professional sports bargain compared to recent years. (Associated Press)

The NFL lockout drags on, with no indication it will be resolved before training camps are scheduled to open next month. NBA owners are preparing for a lockout of their own, and already the doomsayers are predicting little chance of next season opening on time.

Owners in both leagues say the huge salaries paid to players are ruining their franchises. They’re demanding givebacks, which the millionaires they employ don’t want to give.

Eventually, though, they will. And that could make the next few years a good time to own a pro team.

Tom Gores apparently thinks so. He bought the Detroit Pistons earlier this month with a low-ball bid that would have been laughed at just a year or so ago. For a reported $325 million, he got both the Pistons and the arena the team plays in.

He can certainly afford it. The California financier is one of the richest men in the country, with an estimated net worth north of $2 billion.

Gores seems to know a bargain when he sees it. The empty seats at Pistons games this year didn’t scare him off, and neither did the looming June 30 deadline for labor peace in the NBA.

If anything, he saw opportunity knocking. So did the prospective buyers of the Philadelphia 76ers, who are trying to pick up that once-proud franchise for a mere $280 million.

“There’s a real discount in the price right now,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant. “If you’re liquid enough to sustain for a period of time with a potential lockout it’s a good time to buy. In the period of three or four years it may look like a bargain.”

It may look like a real bargain, assuming NBA owners prevail in their battle with the players’ union. That’s the prevailing assumption as they stake the league’s future on reducing the 57 percent of revenue that players currently get.

NFL owners will surely win, too. The only questions are how much the players will give up, and whether it will cost the league some regular-season games to make them give it up.

The people behind a planned stadium in downtown Los Angeles certainly think that’s how it will play out. They said this week that Anschutz Entertainment Group has been in discussions with five teams about buying a majority interest and moving them to Southern California. A competing group across town is also in search of a team for another planned stadium.

The sports are different, but all the buyers have one thing in common: They wouldn’t be putting their millions in investments they didn’t think would pay off.

The NFL has always been an attractive target of billionaires who want to buy a high profile with their money. A new labor deal would only make the league’s franchises even more valuable than they are today.

It’s different in the NBA, where commissioner David Stern claims 22 clubs lost a combined $300 million last year. Deals that looked good when the economy was booming aren’t nearly so good now, and the owners – not the players – are the ones paying the price.

Former Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said as much a few days ago when he predicted salary adjustments are on their way.

“I personally think in football and basketball, the owners are going to win this,” he said. “We have been kicking their butt for a long time in the last couple of collective bargaining agreements. I think the owners, they are going for the jugular this time.”

They are, and they’re willing to risk short-term pain – perhaps even as much as a lost season in the NBA – to restore order. Stern recently warned that both sides are “very far apart” in talks even as the expiration date of the existing contract draws closer.

Gores and the buyers in Philadelphia are rich enough to ride out a labor dispute. They also understand that the odds are good a new contract will bring with it new profits.

“It’s almost a foregone conclusion the owners win,” Ganis said. “The question is how much they win and how long it takes to get there.”

We won’t know that until deals are finally done in both leagues. Hopefully it can be without games – or even seasons – being canceled, but owners in both leagues have made it clear they want new contracts that will swing the pendulum back to their side after nearly giving away the store in earlier deals.

And in a battle between billionaires and millionaires, expect the guys with the deeper pockets to prevail.

Tags: nba, NFL

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