In March, NFL owners locked out their players. On Friday, NBA owners followed suit.
It’s believed that two of the United States’ major sports leagues have been shuttered at the same time only once.
A look at what’s at stake in the labor disputes, and how they are similar and different:
Q: What’s with the NFL and the NBA being stuck in labor lockout at the same time? Are the two situations connected?
A: It’s partly a coincidence that the two leagues’ collective bargaining agreements expired within months of each other. But it’s probably not a fluke that owners in both sports are saying at the same time that the old deals didn’t provide them with sufficient revenue. The U.S. economy is emerging from a recession. And NFL and NBA leaders contend there aren’t enough new revenue streams to cover costs for building and improving stadiums and arenas.
Q: But haven’t both sports been doing well recently?
A: The NFL and NBA have enjoyed a surge in interest the last couple of seasons, with appealing story lines and big-name stars driving robust television ratings. In fact, the two most watched U.S. television programs of all time were the past two Super Bowls. The NBA, while not the same draw as pro football, last month had the highest rating for a Game 6 of its final series in 11 years.
Both players’ associations argue that’s proof the leagues are better off than they purport to be. The owners counter that ratings and other indicators of popularity are irrelevant when their economic models are broken.
Q: OK. But what, exactly, is a lockout? And how’s it different from a strike?
A: Management has the right under federal labor law to shut down a business once a CBA expires. That means, for instance, that the leagues aren’t paying for players’ health insurance, and free agents can’t sign with teams. Employees have the same right to strike.
In this case, for both basketball and football, the owners’ side is the one that wants to significantly alter the structure of the old deal, leading to a lockout, not a strike.
Q: How similar are the issues in the two sports’ negotiations?
A: The tone of the two labor disputes has differed because of the league’s disparate financial situations. For the NFL, the debate is how to divvy up $9 billion in revenues, with players and owners wrangling over what is the fairest split. The NBA is in a more dire economic plight, and the question is how much of a hit players’ salaries will take as a result.
Q: Is the NBA lockout going to look like the NFL’s?
A: The NFL union decertified and turned to the courts in an attempt to lift the lockout. The NBA players’ association doesn’t plan to go that route, at least for now.
Q: Should fans be worried about losing games in either situation?
A: Anything’s possible. There was optimism earlier this week that an NFL deal was near, but the sides went into the holiday weekend without an agreement. The NBA’s regular season isn’t scheduled to start until around late October, but at the moment both sides say they’re far apart.
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