Occupy the NBA?

Iowa City Owl Sports
The word “occupy” has taken on new context in the past few weeks. The meaning of the word itself has not changed, but rather the mental image that comes to mind when a person hears or reads it. Whereas it simply used to mean that a structure had persons using it for a specific purpose, now the word invokes visions of protesters, signs, tents and in some cities, police. The movement has spread across the nation from Wall Street into many different venues. I would like to suggest one that thus far the movement has not descended upon though, and that is the National Basketball Association.

The NBA has been in a lockout since the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players’ union expired on July 1st. Unable to reach any agreements, this past Sunday the commissioner of the league David Stern cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season. Certainly, this inability to negotiate a deal will hurt both the sides at the bargaining table. The Associated Press estimates that the owners as a group will lose one million dollars for every game that goes un-played. If the lockout forces an entire month of cancelled games, the players as a group will face a loss of $350 million. Fans will miss watching their team and participating in cheering for victory. Media outlets such as ESPN and Turner Broadcasting have to adjust their schedules to fill the holes created by games that will not be played. Despite these difficulties, I believe the owners, players, and media outlets will be able to survive. Fans will come back when professional basketball is again played. The real losers in this debacle are people that have no say in the matter and that most of us will probably never hear from.

They are the people that serve up the soda during the break between quarters. It’s the guy that scans the tickets when fans enter the arena. The crowd of people that sweep through the aisles and pick up the trash after the fans leave, and those are just a few examples. Thousands of people and across the nation that have depended on the National Basketball Association for at least part of their income are now faced with the reality that in hitching yourself to a star, you take the risk of it burning out on you, sending you plummeting back down to the ground. It’s not just individuals that are in the employ of the individual franchises that are going to feel the loss of revenue. It expands to effect other businesses, the cities, and from there the rest of the nation.

We’re looking at a hotel in Salt Lake that is dealing with massive cancellation of reservations due to the fact that nobody is coming into town to play the Jazz. There is a Hooters restaurant in Miami near American Airlines Arena, the home of the Heat, which flourishes during the basketball season that is presented with the prospect that their “Santa” may not come this year. The potential serious loss of parking revenue normally received during Magic games for the city of Orlando has the city council thinking about their budget. This is not the result of overbooking by that Salt Lake hotel or poor service by the wait staff at that Hooters or poor planning by the city council in Orlando. No, it’s the result of a small group of millionaires not being able to come to an agreement with a larger group of people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the average.

I can’t see the lockout continuing perpetually. Eventually the pressures of financial loss will move both sides to be more willing to accept less than desired in order to find a solution. In the meantime though, these people can’t tell their utilities companies that the electric bill will be paid when the lockout ends. The companies whom contract with the franchises to provide security can’t bring in the seasonal help they usually do and pay them to wait for the lockout to end if they aren’t getting paid by the franchises. The cities can’t make lost revenue float on the books for months as these two sides duke it out. All the NBA markets will feel the sting, but it will hit hardest in cities like Portland and San Antonio, where the NBA is the only thing going as far as professional sports are concerned.

Oregon is already above the national average for unemployment at 9.6%. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 15,340 people in the Portland metro area are employed in what they call “sports occupations.” Obviously, not all of those are employed by the Trail Blazers or companies that work with the Blazers, but it’s safe to say a good portion of them are. Add a few more thousand individuals to the already thin job market and the problem has become much worse. San Antonio is in a similar situation. Unemployment in Texas is at 8.5%, and the BLS estimates there are 8,480 people employed in sport occupations in the San Antonio area. Once again, the lack of Spurs games won’t put all those people out of work, but it has for a solid number of them. I don’t have the solution to the myriad of financial quandaries that will end the lockout. It doesn’t seem anyone does right now. I do think though that the thousands of people and hundreds of businesses that are negatively affected by the cancellation of NBA games have only themselves to blame if they don’t let their voices be heard. Perhaps it is time to occupy the NBA.
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