By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Basketball Association's decision to lockout players has come at a bad time with the National Football League already embrioled in a labor dispute, according to a marketing and crisis management expert.
NBA Commissioner David Stern declared a lockout after their collective bargaining agreement with players expired at midnight on Thursday, saying the salary system in the $4 billion league had to be changed to keep team owners from losing money.
The ongoing NFL lockout started in March after club owners and players could not agree on how to divide $9 billion in revenues.
"For better or for worse the NBA will absolutely suffer because of the NFL. People are just not receptive to these sorts of fights, given the state of the world, given the state of the economy."
Stern said he understood there were risks involved in locking out the players, who currently make an average salary of about $5 million a year.
"I'm not scared," Stern told reporters after last-ditch talks on Thursday with the Players Association failed to bridge the gap between the two sides. "I'm resigned to the potential damage that has been caused to our league.
"And as we get deeper into it, these things have the capacity to take on a life of their own. You never can predict what will happen."
The NBA says 22 of its 30 teams lost money last season and that players' salaries had to be controlled to allow teams to be profitable.
In contrast, owners of clubs in the profitable NFL say they are seeking a bigger cut of the revenues in order to better grow the game and build new stadiums.
Duke University law professor Paul Haagen, a sport law expert, suggested there could be more sympathy for the NBA labor struggle than for the NFL.
"The central difference appears to be the NBA needs concessions more critically than the NFL," Haagen told Reuters.
Torossian said the distinction might be lost on fans.
"There is no sympathy at all for that fight. You can explain to me that this one isn't making money, or that one isn't making money," he said.
"But when you're charging hundreds of dollars to attend a game, it just doesn't score you any empathy points.
"Especially since we're still in a difficult economic time. It's important to realize that times are still tough in America and I'm spending a lot for entertainment and I have a lot of different options."
Stern was resigned to some fan backlash.
"I think our fans will have a negative view of why can't you work this thing out," he said. "So I don't expect anything good to come out of this. This is just what happens in labor today."
Torossian called it a "lose-lose" battle.
"The longer it drags on, the more damaging it is," he said. "There is always the danger of a public backlash and that speaks not just to fans but to corporate sponsors as well."
The public relations man said he believed there would be little damage to the NBA if an agreement was reached without threatening the start of their season in late October.
"You still have time before you have long-lasting damage," Torossian said.
If the labor impasse drags on, that could cause trouble.
"The NFL for example, is getting into a real danger zone," said Torossian, casting an eye toward the early September start of the professional football season.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)