After another 8-hour marathon negotiating session, the NBA and NBPA again found themselves without any kind of agreement for a new CBA. This time, Commissioner David Stern also threw down the gauntlet, leaving the owners’ newest offer on the table for the players to stew over until the close of business Wednesday. If the players don’t accept the offer, the league will pull the deal and offer something measurably worse. First, let’s go over the basic tenets of the league’s offer.
- League offers 49-51% “band” of BRI (defined league revenue) to players. This is essentially the same as the 50% offered to the players previously, but with a few wrinkles. The base offer is 50% to players, plus 1% annually set aside to fund retired player benefits. The 50% share would be dependent on the league reaching an unspecified BRI level, probably $4 billion. Any amount over that threshold would be split 57-43 in favor of the players, up to a total cumulative BRI split of 51% for the players. Running the numbers, for the players to reach 51% the league would have to beat the $4B revenue projection by $666 million, or 16.67%. That led NBPA president Derek Fisher to characterize the 51% figure as “impossible” to attain. In a move reminiscent of the NHL’s CBA, the players would be limited to 49% of BRI if BRI were significantly lower than the projection (also by an unspecified amount).
- Escalating Luxury Tax. The previous dollar-for-dollar tax would be transformed into a much more punitive tax, starting at $1.50 per dollar over the tax threshold for the first $5 million over, then $1.75 for the next $5 million, $2.50 for the next $5 million, and $3.25 for the next five million. In addition, a “double tax” would be assessed at either $1 (league) or $0.50 (union) for teams who pay the tax three out of five years.
- Variable Mid-level exception. There would actually be two definitions of the exception. For teams not over the luxury tax threshold, they’d be able to pay $3-4 million for 3-4 years. Teams over the threshold would only be able to pay $2.5 million for up to two years. There’s also some talk of having the maximum length of a MLE contract vary from season to season. This is clearly the most confusing part of the discussions and may be in flux, so expect some corrections in a few hours.
- Sign-and-trade modifications. Luxury taxpayers would no longer have the ability to do sign-and-trade deals. If a team is over the cap and tax threshold and wanted a marquee free agent, they could work out a trade with that player’s previous team by having the previous team sign him for a lengthy max deal, then trade him immediately to the desired team for a mix of other players and draft picks.
- Offer valid until close of business Wednesday (November 9).
Those five tenets were suggested by federal mediator George Cohen, and subsequently adopted by the league. A sixth item involving higher shared revenues for teams who don’t trigger the luxury taxes was not approved. For their part, the players aren’t backing off their request for 52.5% of BRI, though Fisher seemed to be somewhat amenable to 51% if it were a truly achievable number.
The Wednesday ultimatum sort of acts as a mini Doomsday, since the NBA will offer less if no deal is reached and it will probably cancel games in December. Any hopes of being able to play a full 82-game schedule in 2011-12 would be dashed. And there’s the growing possibility that the union will take a page out of the NFLPA’s playbook by calling for the union to decertify and an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.
BRI for the 2010-11 season was $3.8 billion, which was up from 2009-10’s $3.65 billion, so it’s not hard to see the $4 B target as achievable. That’s where both sides are getting the “$40 million equals 1%” argument from. The players got 57% of BRI in the previous agreement, so a drop to 52.5% or 50% is a major concession. The problem for the players is that there’s a huge difference between the economy back when the last two CBAs were ratified and today’s economy. The NFL accomplished a major pullback in its negotiations with its players. The NHL is looking at the NBA talks with great interest, and is rumored to be pushing for a major pullback as well. MLB has no guaranteed payout to players as it has no salary cap or floor, but it regularly pays less than 50% to its players. The new trend for the four major North American sports is for the player-league split to drop to between 48% and 52%, depending on how revenue is defined. It’s quickly becoming a matter of bargaining against the other leagues, perhaps more than it is about preserving or changing existing agreements.
Every week lost in the 2011-12 NBA season translates to $100 million lost in game revenue, including tickets, other arena revenue, and broadcasting revenue. Over the span of ten years, which is the preferred CBA length for both NBA and NBPA, a few hundred million is not that much to lose compared to the impact of losing 2.5% of BRI over the course of ten years ($1+ billion). The league may see this as a test of the union’s collective will. Some want to play ASAP, others want to go the decertification route. It’s getting to the point that several weeks of games (and thus paychecks) will be lost and unsalvageable. There’s no guarantee that by holding out, the players will end up with a better deal. It didn’t work for the NHL players, and it didn’t work for the NFL players. MLB and the MLBPA must be laughing at their counterparts. Their biggest bone of contention is fixed slotting for first round draft picks, which the players union considers its own miniature form of salary cap. Somehow both sides have convinced the players that the lack of a salary cap/floor/guarantee is best for all concerned, despite the players getting less combined than their counterparts. But they get the biggest, longest individual contracts with most guaranteed years. While baseball’s business model does little for broad competitiveness among teams, it generally works for the players in terms of meritocracy and tenure. That’s hard to argue with when the other leagues have so much trouble arguing over details.