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Doug Robinson: NBA needs to find new business to model after

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 11:26 p.m. MST

The NBA lockout drags on. Neither side is giving in. No progress is being made as the season shot clock ticks down.

The owners and players are holding firm. Nobody wants to play ball, so to speak. The owners make an offer, and the players reject it like Dwight Howard swatting one into the cheap seats. The players make an offer, and the owners howl with laughter. And so forth.

What to do?

What they really need is a model. Something in a similar business that is wildly successful. Something that works like a money machine, churning out billions of dollars. Something that nurtures competitiveness among all teams and instills all fans in every market with hope. Something that doesn't allow teams to stack talent by throwing unlimited amounts of cash at players. Something that doesn't allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

Something that isn't like Major League Baseball.

Something that is like, oh, say, the National Football League.

Ever wonder why the NBA — and, for that matter, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League and every other sports league on the planet – doesn't take lessons from the winners and copy the NFL formula? Why not imitate the league that generates $9 billion in revenues annually, compared to the NBA's $3.8 billion?

Instead, the NBA seems to go out of its way to do the opposite.

The NFL has a hard salary cap; the NBA has a soft cap. This allows the rich NBA teams to outspend the poorer teams by paying a meaningless luxury tax. Thus, Miami can pilfer the small-market rosters and sign the Big Three. A hard cap and even distribution of talent is even more important to the health of a basketball league than a football league because one or two players can make or break a team immediately.

NFL players receive 48 percent of all revenue; NBA players won't settle for less than 52 percent of basketball-related revenues (and that's down from 57 percent under the old collective bargaining agreement). And the smaller-market teams pay the most for it.

NFL teams share equally about 75 percent of all league revenue; the NBA is more complicated to pin down, but, simply put, the league doesn't share any of its local revenue among the 30 teams. This is a huge advantage for big-market teams. The Lakers can sign a $3 billion deal with Time-Warner while the Jazz sign a $250 million deal with Root Sports.

In the NFL, all the money would go into the league pot and would be distributed among the other teams, but not in the NBA.

NBA owners contend this is why at least half of its teams lose money and why a better revenue-sharing program must be adopted. The Knicks and Lakers generate about $250 million annual compared to the Grizzlies and Hornets, who produce about $100 million.

All of the above relates to one important ingredient in sports: Competitive balance.

Only a handful of NBA teams have a chance to win a championship. Look at the difference between the NBA and NFL.

The NBA is top-heavy and always has been. Of the 65 NBA championships that have been decided, 33 of them (more than half) were won by two teams, the Lakers and Celtics. The Bulls and Spurs have won 10 total. That means 43 of the league's titles have been won by four teams — or 66 percent. If you prefer a more recent trend, four teams have combined to win 23 of the last 30 championships.

Then there is the NFL. In the last 30 years, 14 teams have won championships — the last five by five different teams. During that time, there were four back-to-back championships (none won three in a row) compared to seven back-to-back championships in the NBA (including three three-peats).

Every year a new team, or teams rise up in the NFL. This year, it's the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers. When does that ever happen in the NBA (if you said the Dallas Mavericks, you're wrong — they've been a highly competitive team for years and they have money)?

In the NFL, small-market teams such as the Green Bay Packers can win the Super Bowl, as they did earlier this year. The Indianapolis Colts won in 2007, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, the St. Louis Rams in 2000, the Denver Broncos in 1998.

This doesn't happen in the NBA, where the only small-market team to win a league championship in the last 30-plus years is the San Antonio Spurs.

Who would you model a league after — the NBA or the NFL?

email: drob@desnews.com

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