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Steinberg: There is time for the NBA

Steinberg Says

September 24, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

I wrote a book, "Winning With Integrity — How To Get What You Want Without Losing Your Soul," that suggests numerous techniques for achieving a win-win result in a negotiation. When parties deadlock and harden their positions thinking that the other side will collapse, it usually leads to more deadlock.

The NFL realized that compromise and mutual consideration was the road to mutual benefit and preserved their training camp and season.

The Nielsen television ratings for Sept. 6-12 have the top three shows and five out of the top 10 as NFL games or pre-game shows. The NFL continues to be the dominant entertainment property in this country. That is the result of preserving the relationship with fans and the benefit of labor peace. With ratings like that the next television contracts will be even bigger.

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Then there is the NBA hurdling down a road to self-destruction.

Last week the NBA postponed training camps indefinitely and canceled preseason games scheduled to play between Oct 9 and 15. This is because negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement has not been negotiated.

Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated between the leagues and players' unions to establish the basic rules and financial structure of the sport and benefits for players.

The NBA has an acrimonious and troubled labor past. Because of a disastrous botched negotiation, in 1998 the NBA canceled the entire preseason and played a truncated 50-game schedule. They are on the same path in 2011.

Professional sports are not necessary for sustaining human survival, much as we males seem to think so. They are not food on the table or transportation to get to work and school or shelter to live in.

They are a discretionary entertainment expenditure which competes with other sports, movies, television, amusement parks. At the best of economic times fans have little sympathy for millionaires publicly fighting billionaires for a massive pie. And these are far from the best of economic times.

Force-feeding fans an unremitting diet of labor strife and bad individual negotiations pushes them away from the reason they love sports. It hurts the brand. It is like Marie Antoinette saying to fans and the public "let them eat cake."

Fifty-six of the 450 NBA players have decided to play in Europe this season. Some have NBA opt-outs in their contracts with their European teams, most do not.

Kobe Bryant received a $6.7 million offer to play in Italy for Virtus Bologna. If star players take this route it could result in a diminished NBA product.

The players are fortunate to have Derek Fisher, a calm and rational person, as their leader.

David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, is a feisty negotiator who "takes no prisoners."

So the sides are stuck, fiddling while the NBA may go up in flames.

The parties need to look at how truly profitable their sport has become and not make the same mistake that Major League Baseball did in the 1994 lost season. Attendance had a huge drop the next season and it took the McGwire-Sosa home-run race to bring the sport back.

It is not too late to step back from the apocalypse.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.

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