NBA vs. NPL: Will Players Create New League if Lockout Continues?

I don’t think the cancellation of another two weeks of the regular season possibly being announced by the league was a shock to any basketball fan. To be honest, announcing a two week cancellation at a time is getting quite old, fast. Just tell your fans if there is going to be a season or not. And if there is not going to be a season, it’s time to get serious, put egos aside and start negotiating like the NBA and the fans matter.

Until then, what fans want is basketball. The fans could care less about who gets what percentage of the overall basketball profits. I understand it matters to the players’ association and the owners. However, the fans dictate how profitable the league is in the first place, buying tickets, merchandise, etc. Therefore, give the fans basketball and we will support you.

There have been rumors and stories coming out that the players are thinking of forming their own league that is operated under the control of the players themselves. The October 31, 2011 ESPN the Magazine issue contains an editorial called Power to the People written by Peter Keating. It is an interesting idea that just could work.

One of the league’s top stars and faces, Carmelo Anthony, told ESPN the Magazine after this month’s All-Star Classic, which featured some of the league superstars in South Florida; “I’ve discussed forming our own league with LeBron (James).” He went on to say, “You can see the fan reaction here. They need it, we need it. I can tell you that I’m working on something. We’ll see what happens.”*

Anthony’s Knicks teammate, Amar’e Stoudemire added, “It’s [a player controlled league] something that we’ve thought about. Obviously we want to play in the NBA and get this situation resolved. But if it doesn’t, we still want to play at a high level and keep our fans satisfied.”*

Finally, some talk about the fans!

The article goes on to discuss a business plan that would potentially work for a National Player League (NPL) including a mission statement, the business concept, how the league would be funded, the operating structure, the pricing and market and the competitive risks that the league would potentially face.

This concept has been used before in professional sports. In 1890 several baseball stars formed a players league, but only lasted one year due to mismanagement and greed.  However, a NPL can be successful if it is planned and implemented correctly and appropriately. With the major advancements in the financial and business world and what we have learned about professional sports since 1890, chances for success are extremely higher.

Fans will without a doubt show up and watch the great game of basketball played by their favorite players. Therefore, funding is the most important factor for the NPL. Here is ESPN the Magazine’s take on funding. “The NPL’s overall goal is to raise $500 million. Initial seed money will come from a source that has gone largely unnoticed in the current labor dispute: escrow overages.”

Peter Keating describes the not-talked-about escrow overages by stating, “Under the NBA’s expired collective bargaining agreement, players were entitled to 57 percent of the league’s basketball-related income every year. But team owners couldn’t know whether all of the contracts in the league would add up to more or less than that until after each season, so teams withheld a small portion of every player’s paycheck in an escrow account. At the end of each season, if teams had collectively already paid out more than 57 percent of revenues to players, they kept part or all of the account, if they had paid less, they gave the escrow back.”*

To keep the NPL financially afloat, “the NPL will offer primary ownership roles to players willing to invest $10 million or more in the new league. Ten players have earned significant MVP votes in the past three years: Anthony, Bryant, Durant, James, Paul, Wade, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Derrick Rose. As the NPL’s top players and revenue producers, they will be given first chance to be managing partners of NPL franchises. If one of then balks, then player rep Derek Fisher would step in and be given the first pick.”* ___________________________________________________________________________
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In ESPN the Magazine’s business plan for a new NPL, there would exist 10 teams with a 10 man roster. The teams would be located in two different cities that are NBA ready, but don’t currently host NBA teams. Cities that would be contenders are Las Vegas, Anaheim, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Kansas City, to name a few. The NPL season would have a 45 game schedule beginning in mid-February, each team would play each other five times and have a two round postseason starting a week before the NFL season begins.

There would be a yearly draft made of nine rounds with 90 players up for grabs. “Each team will have an initial budget of 10 percent of the league’s investing pools. Teams will share the league’s overhead: the costs of insurance, promotion and travel. Beyond that, the managing partners, together with the general managers they hire, will negotiate the salaries.”*

Sponsorship, advertisement and television deals would be the least stressful issue for the NPL. Fans drive these sorts of deals, and since fans want basketball and want it now, this is forecasted as a non-issue. However, fans who are unwilling to vacate their support of the NBA and the possibility of the NBA coming back to business to compete with the NPL are two major risks of the player controlled league.

With all this said, there is a huge possibility that by forming a National Players League: the NBA ending their lockout. “If the NPL came close to viability, Stern and his minions would probably unhinge their jaws and do whatever it took to swallow the new league.* If this occurred, the players would have a new power when it came to negotiating a new CBA: partial ownership.

Whether it is in the NBA or a new NPL, the fans want one thing: basketball. Fans want to watch their favorite players play the game they love. Fans want competition on the hardwood, not in the negotiating room. Give the fans basketball, and they will show up.

*Source: ESPN the Mag, October 31, 2011

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