It always strikes me as strange that, in the greatest free market economy in the World, professional sports should provide an anomaly, an oasis from the dog-eat-dog capitalist ethos of the rest of the economy.
Of course, the various bailouts may have put paid to the assertion that the United States endorses capitalism in any form, but certainly, when it come to sport, the collective has always been king.
Collective bargaining, the lynchpin of the entire egalitarian process, is a lot like electricity, you only realise how much you need it when you don’t have it.
Thankfully, for anyone who truly loves the game of basketball, the lockout that has cast a shadow over the entire NBA season is finally at an end, albeit with a further delayed start, Christmas day 2011. A shortened 66 game season is still a victory of sorts for the parties in the dispute, but the fans are the ones who have and will suffer most.
The lockout highlighted the one problem with collective bargaining, its strength also being its main weakness.
One out, all out. When Manchester City’s wayward forward Carlos Tevez goes on strike at his next club, be it Inter Milan or Corinthians that lucky side will still continue, as Manchester City are doing, to field a team and honour their fixtures. When collective bargaining breaks down however, there is no league, no games, no training, and nothing for the ordinary fan to do except wait, or watch soccer, though I can’t imagine the average basketball-loving American finding the MLS an acceptable substitute.
So, in hindsight, in the aftermath of a dispute which has resulted in the cancellation of 16 regular season rounds, the loss of 400 jobs, 350 million dollars in players pay, and much more again in ticket revenue for the franchises, is collective bargaining the right choice? Perhaps, for rational people, but we’ve seen that those involved have not behaved rationally at any stage of this slow-motion car crash.
If the claims by the league are indeed true, and 22 of the 30 teams involved are operating at a loss, how can the predominantly multimillionaire players justify their initial demands for a bigger slice of the pie? If in the real economy where the average hard pressed but loyal fan works, your company is making losses, you tighten your belt, you accept the inevitable cuts that you hope will ensure the survival of your job.
Not in the cosseted alternate reality of the NBA, the players, safe in the knowledge they are operating in a monopoly, have prioritised a couple of percentage points of the multi-billion dollar pot above the fans that pay their exorbitant salaries.
With the exception of a handful of players who made an effort and played exhibition games during the lockout, players have damaged their relationship with their real employers, the fans, and that might hurt them financially for a long time to come.