Written by Dick Pryor on Wednesday July 20, 2011
Oklahoma has always been a big sports state, but now that Oklahoma City has a team in the National Basketball Association the issues affecting major professional sports teams has added relevance. Oklahomans have long loved their college and high school sports, but with the Oklahoma City Thunder now on the scene, we can truly call Oklahoma a pro sports state. So, with that in mind we gathered a group of sports reporters to talk about the impact of the recent lockout of NBA players by team owners in a labor dispute and the ongoing National Football League lockout.
Our guests were Berry Tramel, Sports Columnist for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com and contributor to the Sports Animal Network; Mark Rodgers, host on the Sports Animal Network; Myron Patton, Sports Director of KOKH-TV and host on the KREF Radio Sports Network; and Royce Young, writer for CBSsports.com and the Daily Thunder blog.
The NBA lockout was expected for some time, and finally happened on June 30th, when the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NBA players and league owners expired. There are numerous issues to be worked out, but the largest, of course, is money - specifically how the league's revenues are to be divided. The league claims that 22 of the 30 teams are losing money and that owners need to receive a bigger part of the revenue pie. Currently, teams operate under a formula that gives the players about 57% of the league revenues, with teams taking the remaining amount. There also is concern over revenue sharing among the teams and how television dollars should be allocated.
With the teams "locking out" the players, that means among other things that team websites have been scrubbed of references to players and their stats, players cannot be involved in team functions including summer practices, and player contracts cannot be negotiated or signed. As of this writing, the two sides haven't gotten together for formal negotiations, and players are starting to look outside the U.S. for employment. Just this week, Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets signed to play with a team in Turkey; and superstars Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic and Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City have suggested they might play in Europe to keep sharp until the lockout ends.
Besides the Thunder, there are many players with Oklahoma connections in the NBA. Among them are Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, Ekpe Udoh of the Golden State Warriors, Etan Thomas of the Atlanta Hawks, Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies, James Anderson of the San Antonio Spurs, and Daniel Orton of the Orlando Magic.
The effects of the lockout extend beyond the players. Already the Charlotte Bobcats and Minnesota Timberwolves had laid off front office staff to save money during the down time, and in a few weeks the pinch will start hitting the vendors, support personnel, businesses and others that depend on teams like the Thunder for income. Hardest hit will likely be those who rely on teams for some extra dollars in-season, such as concession workers. Oklahoma City is getting ready to find out what other cities have known for a long time - that professional sports teams have a big impact on their community's workforce and economy. Work stoppages also affect the fans who rely so much on pro sports teams for entertainment and a sense of community.
While the NBA lockout is just now starting, the National Football League lockout is heading into its 19th week. The issues are similar, but one of the major sticking points is the league's rookie salary structure. It's long been a problem for the teams and many veterans players who watch as untested rookies come into the league under multi-million dollar contracts. Former University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is the latest high-grossing rookie (his contract was for more than $50 million guaranteed as the number one pick in the 2010 NFL draft) and will likely be the last number one pick to make such money. The NFL's over-riding issue is how to split up more than $9 billion in revenue. The NFL work stoppage is affecting numerous players and coaches with Oklahoma ties; the league has a large fan base in Oklahoma.
There has been recent movement in the NFL talks and signs are that the lockout will end in time to salvage the season, although some pre-season games may be in jeopardy. Such is not the case for the NBA. Many analysts expect the NBA lockout to linger until winter, which could lead to cancellation of the first half of the schedule. The last time the NBA had a player lockout, in 1999, the league shortened the schedule to only 50 games. The league has announced its 2011-12 schedule (with Oklahoma City at the Los Angeles Lakers in one of the marquee opening night games on November 1), but it comes with a big caveat: if the lockout ends.
Until next time,
(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Berry Tramel, Mark Rodgers, Myron Patton and Royce Young.)
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