Government Should Act to Keep TV Money From Bankrolling Sports Lockouts

 

The 2011 big time sports calendar has two rather significant dates that could throw hard core National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) fans into a depressed state. The NFL owners and players will have no collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place on March 4 unless there is major movement and the NBA owners and players will have no collective bargaining agreement in place on July 1 unless there is major movement.

Major League Baseball (MLB) owners and players will have a full 2011 season as that industry’s CBA does not expire until December and the National Hockey League (NHL) will continue playing games until the 2012 Stanley Cup final game as the league’s owners and players have an accord until then.

If there is a work stoppage, the NFL owners are well fortified to do battle with an enormous war chest built on over-the-air, cable and satellite TV revenues. National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith has filed a protest with the Special Master who was appointed by a federal court to oversee NFL matters about the use of television money to assist the owners through a trying time.

Like the NFL owners, the NBA owners will have a war chest from ESPN and Time Warner. NBA owners will also be getting revenues from regional cable TV networks and can withstand a lockout.

The cable TV issue is one that needs to be addressed by Congress. Lawmakers should grill NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBA Commissioner David Stern, and media leaders about whether it is just for the leagues to have their lockout war chests funded by cable TV basic expanded tier consumers — many of who never watch sports but are forced to buy ESPN, TNT and regional sports networks because of tiering.

Congress should also call down FOX, NBC and CBS to ask if they believe that it is a proper use of a television license to use monies generated on the public airwaves to underwrite a lockout.

Local municipalities should also be checking into their agreements with cable franchises (Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and the others) to see if they plan to offer rebates to consumers if programming (NFL and NBA games) has been cancelled due to a lockout — after all consumers are paying for the programming.

No cable system has ever refunded money for missed games from the 1994-95 baseball strike, the 1994-95 NHL lockout, the 1998-99 NBA lockout and the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

Local municipalities that have built stadiums and arenas may not be sitting on the sidelines in these potential labor disputes either. Cash poor governments cannot allow owners to skip payments on rent in the event of a lockout. After the 1998-99 NBA lockout, Oakland went after Golden State Warriors owner Chris Cohan after he refused to pay rent on the arena because his Warriors didn’t play games. Cohan lost an arbitration hearing and had to pay rent for missed games.

Local governments should be diligent and not sit on the sidelines if they are doing business for the people. They need to force owners to live up to their leases even if there is a lockout.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at www.bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at evanjweiner@yahoo.com.

This is an edited version of an original article by Weiner, condensed by Dr. Kelly Flanagan, assistant editor of The Sport Digest.

 

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