PAY THE PACER, CALL THE TUNE
The most significant thing about the collective-bargaining settlement struck in the NBA last week was the extent to which the owners were willing to share revenues with their players and each other. When the new pact goes into full effect for the 1984-85 season, there will be a ceiling on team payrolls, a feature the owners ardently sought, but there will also be a payroll minimum. The per-team ceiling in 1984 will be at least $3.6 million, and because another provision of the contract guarantees the players 53% of the league's gross revenues, that figure could be even higher. The payroll minimum will be determined by a complex formula and is expected to be roughly 90% of the ceiling; it would probably amount to about $3.2 million a team in '84. To meet the minimum, a cash-poor franchise like Indiana, which now has a payroll of only $1.1 million, will receive subsidies from the league under a pool arrangement yet to be worked out.
With any kind of sane management, those extra expenditures will make for greater parity in the NBA, a prospect that pleases NBA Players Association General Counsel Larry Fleisher. "This is better for us because more teams will be competing for players," Fleisher says. "In 1984 we're guaranteed $300,000 a player, and more than that if revenues increase." Fleisher thinks that revenues will indeed increase. "We analyzed their books and records and expectations from cable TV. Teams will have to spend the money to be more competitive, and because they're going to be more competitive, we think we'll bring in a lot more money."
John Weistart, a law professor at Duke who specializes in sports labor issues, agrees. "A classic theory of sports economics holds that it's in the best interests of any team to have the best competitors possible," Weistart says. "You can prove that by looking at attendance figures. A good team against a good team produces the greatest attendance; a poor one against a poor one produces the least; and mixes between produce variations." Weistart sees the settlement as a healthy step toward further centralization of the NBA. "The operation of the Indiana franchise is now of grave concern to the folks who own, say, L.A.," he says. "It's their money at stake, and it would follow that the league would want to exercise more control over the individual management of franchises. He who pays the piper calls the tune."
The settlement puts the NBA in the enlightened company of the NFL, which has long had its own form of revenue sharing, and light years ahead of baseball, whose "haves" staunchly resist any suggestion that they share the wealth with the game's "have-nots." The NBA arrangement figures to strengthen weaker franchises, such as Cleveland, Indiana, San Diego and Kansas City, and make those that are for sale more attractive properties. Said NBA Executive Vice-President David J. Stern, "If I'm a prospective purchaser of a troubled team, I now know I can project a situation where, if I do a good job of marketing and promotion, I won't simply be a developmental team for another club in a big city. Someone buying Indiana now won't feel that Herb Williams and Clark Kellogg will just be serving apprenticeships before going on to New York."
If there are any losers under the new contract, they figure to be the NBA's biggest spenders—Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Seattle, whose owner, Sam Schulman, cast the lone dissenting vote on the Board of Governors, in part because he didn't like the idea of other clubs horning in on his cable-TV revenue. "A confiscation of my franchise," he called it. But the rich teams may be losers only over the short haul. If Fleisher and Weistart are right that the NBA settlement will lead to increased competitive balance, the ultimate result may be greater prosperity for all. And if this happens, other pro sports, particularly baseball, may well want to take note.
CLAGHORN TAKES HIS CUTS
Until recently, proper use of the baseball idiom dictated that politicians could do only one thing with questions posed by journalists and other interrogators: They had to field them. At the end of a speech, Senator Claghorn would tell his audience, "And now I'll field a few of your questions." Thereupon good ol' Claghorn would set himself squarely on the diamond of political discourse, wait for the crack of the bat and try to handle the resulting chances without a bobble.
But something strange has happened. Instead of manning positions in the field, today's politicians prefer to spend their time at the plate. During his recent 12-day trip to Western Europe, Vice President George Bush accused a questioner in Brussels of throwing "a fast-breaking curveball" that he wasn't going to take a cut at. On the other hand, asked by a journalist in Geneva about Soviet activities in Afghanistan and Poland, Bush replied that this was a nice "slow-ball question" that he intended to clobber. No matter that many of Bush's European listeners appeared to be baffled by his choice of metaphors; the Vice President of the United States was at bat.
So were the Reagan Administration officials who appeared on Feb. 18 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. According to The Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan was the target of the group's "hottest pitches." The newspaper also reported, "No one hit a home run or struck out. Mostly, they scored with ground-ball singles."