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Sports Business

NBA union boss says owners' loss claims are "baloney"

June 15, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Who can you trust?

It’s an age-old question.

And one lots of people pondering the Indiana Pacers’ future are asking themselves these days.

Here’s another age-old line.

Numbers don’t lie.

Problem is, I’m not sure the city’s Capital Improvement Board has seen enough of them from Pacers brass. They’ve assured me they have. The public certainly hasn’t seen enough of them from the Pacers’ ledger sheet to be convinced the team needs $15 million annually to survive locally in Conseco Fieldhouse.

Then there’s this. NBA Players Association boss Billy Hunter is calling NBA owners a bunch of liars—or at the very least deceivers.

Ouch! That kind of press can’t be good for business—locally for the Pacers or nationally for the league.

Hunter told Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal this month that owners’ claim that they have collectively lost $400 million this year is “baloney.”

The perception among a growing legion of central Indiana taxpayers is that maybe some numbers do lie—depending on how you stack ‘em and count ‘em. And Hunter’s recent proclamation certainly isn’t going to help with that perception.

Hunter has been given reams of data from the NBA as the union and league negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

Hunter knows well the NBA owners have a time-honored tradition of crying poor. He says he has a basis for his “baloney” claim, but won’t tip his hand until the league’s owners cough up more data.

The collective bargaining agreement expires in June 2011, after which the league can lock out the players if no agreement is reached.

Before negotiations proceed any further, Hunter is asking for the sales prospectuses NBA teams have shown to buyers and potential buyers of teams in recent years. That might be a helpful piece of information for the CIB to obtain.

Majority ownership in five NBA teams—the Cleveland Cavaliers, Seattle SuperSonics, N.J. Nets, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards—has changed hands since 2005.

“There may be some inconsistencies between, you know, what they are representing in terms of the finances they have given us, versus what they are saying to these folks,” Hunter told Sports Business Journal.

The NBA’s poverty claims have gotten louder in recent years. With the weak economy and expansion of entertainment options, some of it is justifiable. And most I have talked to with knowledge of NBA finances, say Indianapolis is certainly among the NBA's poorest markets.

Still, Hunter said NBA ownership’s tactics are getting old and tired. He pointed out that NBA Commissioner David Stern claimed two years ago that team revenue was so bad, it was going to drive down the salary cap from $57.7 million to $50.4 million. That claim, Hunter added, had a chilling effect on free agent negotiations.

A pre-determined formula using team revenue later set the 2009-10 NBA salary cap at $56.1 million.

So NBA business isn’t as good as it used to be. But how bad is it?

Who can you trust?

And more importantly, whose numbers can you trust?

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