Disputes between the NBA Players Union and owners extend deep into January of 98, the NBA season was shortened to a 50 game schedule due to the disputes between the two groups and the lockout of the players by the owners.. Before the beginning of the shortened season on February 1 of 1999, many experts predicted a number of negative effects to the NBA as a result of the labor disputes. Among these were; a decrease in attendance, less support by the fans, non-competitive games by players that are out of shape , and a season that wouldnt be as entertaining as people or the media were used to.
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However, after searching through the data , It is my opinion that the labor dispute has caused certain situations that have actually benefited the NBA, both players and owners. These situations that have been beneficial to the league include the rise in free-agency moves, the shortened length of the season, , and the retirement of the best player ever to play; Michael Jordan.
The primary concern of league authorities after the lockout was how to keep the fans interested. They had known from previous strikes in other leagues that these had very bad effects on attendance. In fact, a study found that overall fan participation has drastically exceeded expectations and has even increased from the past year.
The most significant figure deals with the NBAs historical attendance figures, where the average attendance in recent years (94-98) has been around 14,900, this years average clearly contends with an average attendance of 14,912 (Evans 4/13/99).
From the perspective of an economist one must ask why these stats occur.
The answer is indeed due to the lockout. With a shortened season, teams are forced to play 50 games in 90 days. This is extremely different than the normal seasons 82 games in 200 days. This has raised the level of competition because teams simply cant afford to lose like they have in the past regular seasons. Phil Jackson, head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, summed this notion up best when he stated, teams simply cant go on losing streaks like past seasons or they will find themselves at home for the playoffs. With teams playing as many as 6 games in as many nights, players are forced to perform their best day in and day out, or else they will not be successful in such a short season. This is not the case in an 82 game regular season because teams usually have as much as a week in between games in order to rest.
Another interesting result of the dispute between the players and the owners has to do with free agency. Players today have more freedom to test their worth on an open market more than ever. There were big name players switching teams more often. These newly acquired free agents provided an increase in the level of play, and as a result increased the level of excitement for the fans. Nearly every team has a recognized player that can draw fans to the games. The fans of the NBA were given an incentive to see their own franchise perform well, whether it be to see a newly acquired player, or to root against one that left and is now back in town to play his old team . These numerous free agent moves caused a new interest for fans who follow the league . Fans are interested in what stars are playing where (Pippen is in Portland), as well as who specific players are being coached by and if everyone is getting along (Shaq and Kobe with Phil at the head). Whatever the reason, the fact remains that todays free agent moves have caused an increase in fan participation because in general, people are intrigued by the changes occurring in the NBA.
The shortened season has also been beneficial to television ratings because basketball fans can now expect nationally televised NBA action on the affiliated TNT and TBS stations every weekday night, as well as on NBC both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. With everyones season being shortened and free agency providing so many teams with star caliber players, fans could be certain that games would be on whenever they turn on the television. Whereas during a regular season networks such as TNT would only televise games a few nights a week. For this reason, ratings for the shortened season were comparable to those of previous years. The shortened season games have exhibited an average rating index of 2.54, just below the average 2.565 that was observed during the previous years regular season (Evans 4/13/99). What these rating indexes mean in laymen’s terms is that the NBA really hasnt experienced a negative effect due to the lockout by the owners.
Club owners made many adaptations due to the shortened season which would increase ticket revenues. One such method that has worked in raising ticket revenues in many different cities is ticket packages. A person no longer has to purchase tickets for a single game or a whole season, but rather fans can now purchase competitively priced ticket packages weekly that allow them to see a few games in one week. Frank Layden, Vice President of basketball operations for the Utah Jazz, credits these newly-developed ticket packages for increasing attendance: More fans are now buying tickets for a few games rather than just one, which allows them to see more games than they would in a normal season (Layden 3/4/99).
Perhaps the saddest result of the lockout on the NBA, and the one that has received the least attention, is the retirement of Michael Jordan. His retirement is an effect of the lockout because who is to say that if the lockout hadnt occurred that Mike wouldnt have returned? It has become common knowledge that Jordan was the most influential sports figure in history. David Faulk, Jordans agent of 14 years, estimated that with his many endorsements, merchandise sales, and ticket revenues, Jordan initiated circulation of over 7.7 billion dollars into the American economy by himself (Layden 3/7/99). The retirement of this Great athlete lead to a number of predictions that the NBA would now lose much of its attractiveness. I for one dont care much for the game anymore without Jordan. He was one of a kind when it came to his entertaining ,competitive style of play, that held all of us glued to the television just to see what he would do next. I still havent found anyone that has captured my attention as he did in the NBA. However, due to the statistics that were displayed earlier it becomes apparent that Jordans retirement really hasnt had as big of a negative impact as what was once thought.
Using simple economic thought, a person can figure out what Jordans retirement has done to the NBA. The entire past decade has been dominated by Jordans Chicago Bulls who won 6 of the last 8 championships. This has caused fans to realize that Jordans unmatched skill and talent with his unparalleled competitiveness would not allow opposing teams to win when they were in the playoffs. One could say that Jordan and the Bulls could be compared to Microsoft. They held a monopoly on the league because all other franchises really had no legitimate shot to win it all, just as Microsoft holds a monopoly on internet servers due to the fact that they have the software and a head start on everybody else. This may have caused many people to be somewhat uninterested in the NBA because everyone assumed that the Bulls would end up winning it all no matter who stood in thier way.
Those who dont believe this theory would say that Jordans exciting play actually caused a dramatic increase in fan support for the Bulls and the NBA. Although this fact cannot be denied, one must understand that the only ones in the league that were benefiting the presence of M.J. were the Bulls. Sure people packed the arena to see the Bulls play, but how many watched that exciting Orlando-Miami game when the Bulls-Lakers game was on the same night. So it can be said that as great as M.J. was , ands as much attention he brought to the league, his presence actually hurt the other teams because he drew the attention away from other players that would have otherwise been in the spotlight. In fact, if you ask any player the hardest competition besides playing against the man on the court, was competing against him for the attention of the fans.
One must understand that the primary goal of the NBA or any other professional sports league is to provide popular entertainment in order to make huge profits. The occurrence of the lockout had many critics predicting an economic and financial crash for all the many services involved with the NBA. However, what these experts failed to take into account was the beneficial aspects that resulted because of such an occurrence. The issues that have brought up are explanations that argue to support the lockout and how that it didnt have a negative effect to the economy of professional basketball
Due to the reasons stated above, along with the many statistics, it becomes extremely hard for someone to establish that the NBA lockout has had a significantly negative impact on the leagues economic status. We are now in the middle of the playoffs with the Lakers looking like the favorite. The fact that a lockout even took place is far in our minds as fans. It appears that the league is still intact and that they are still profiting from our love for the game. It isnt that hard to see how powerful professional sports are. They are huge cash cows , and when milked properly not even a tiny labor dispute and lockout can have a negative effect on its survival.
Over the course of my research my coherent argument claim has changed significantly. My theory was based on articles and books that I have read that discussed the effects of the NBA lockout on the leagues finances, attendance, and revenues. I did find some statistics and as I continued my research new data continually changed my arguments claim. Below are my claims and how each one of them changed chronologically with my research.
Initial Claim: The NBA lockout and the loss of Michael Jordan has had a negative effect on the NBA.
Revised Claim While the NBA lockout brought negative effects to the economic structure of the league, not as many games = not as much money, it has also provided a few scenarios that have actually proved beneficial to the leagues popularity as well as its economic standing .
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