NEW YORK – Commissioner David Stern agrees with his players: NBA teams need to do a better job sharing revenues.
They disagree over when that should happen, and what input the players should have in the system.
Players contend that a revenue sharing plan belongs in the new collective bargaining agreement. Owners say the plan is coming, but only after the CBA is settled.
"We're of the opinion that any shortfalls that they're suffering, that they can be rectified through revenue sharing," players' association executive director Billy Hunter said last week. "And while we've had some discussions about revenue sharing, they have not disclosed to us an iota of what their proposed revenue sharing plan might look like, what the contribution would be coming from the owners of the respective teams, et cetera."
Owners will be briefed on both collective bargaining and revenue sharing Tuesday during a Board of Governors meeting in Dallas, with the CBA set to expire at the end of Thursday. Owners and players then plan to meet Wednesday and/or Thursday, perhaps giving them one final chance to avoid a lockout.
The union would surely like details of the board's revenue sharing discussion, but isn't likely to get much.
"Whether or not that would precipitate a move by us beforehand or whatever has yet to be seen," Hunter said. "But, yeah, we would definitely like to know and see it. We'd like to not only see it, but to incorporate it as far as the collective bargaining. It should be incorporated in the CBA."
Not so, says Stern.
"We can't make the final push on revenue sharing until we know what the yield or not of the labor deal is," he said.
Stern has previously said the CBA and revenue sharing were on separate tracks, one needing to be completed before the other. Owners want to see what their savings will look like from the players before they commit to how much additional money would go to each other, but players want to be assured revenue sharing won't be a tool to control salaries, such as by making teams stay below a certain spending limit to qualify for it.
The league has projected losses of about $300 million this season. Players believe the number is lower and could be addressed if teams making money help those who aren't, and called for expanded revenue sharing in their initial proposal for a new CBA.
"When this whole process started, the first theme that we tried to agree on was that this needed to be a partnership. So if this is a partnership, we're working from that concept, then you have to be willing to discuss all of these pieces, including revenue sharing," Lakers guard and union president Derek Fisher said. "If they are reporting losses, if you're trying to get to a certain point on the page, revenue sharing can help you in some way, even just a little bit."
Owners say it can't, because the current system guarantees they will lose money and thus have nothing to share.
"As we've said repeatedly, if we lose money on an aggregate basis, we can't possibly revenue share our way to profitability," Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said.
NBA teams share money from the national TV contracts and the funds collected from teams that exceed the luxury tax. Contrast that with the NFL, which shares about 80 percent of all revenue from media deals, national sponsorships and merchandise sales, and 34 percent of ticket sales after the home team has collected its 66 percent of the gate.
Wealthy teams such as the Lakers and Knicks then have a much greater advantage than ones without good season-ticket bases or lucrative TV deals, and the little guys have already asked Stern for help. Eight owners sent Stern a letter in September 2006 stressing the need for better revenue sharing — and Hunter hinted at a divide that exists among ownership.
"Now it all comes back into play, and by that I mean it was three, four years ago when you had those eight owners in the small market who sent a letter to David saying we need a much more, a vibrant revenue sharing system. That we could resolve our issues and problems if we had revenue sharing and I know that that's still the theme that's going on," he said.
Stern and Silver insist owners are on the same page, noting the labor relations committee consists of owners from both large and small markets.
They had been scheduled for a conference call to discuss revenue sharing Friday that was delayed, likely to Monday, after a long bargaining session with the players. And they deny keeping the union in the dark about their plans.
"The answer is that we've had a full discussion with the players about everything and we're prepared to discuss everything with them," Stern said.
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