In years past, it was easy for us to simply write off strikes and lockouts in professional sports as simply "millionaires vs, billionaires". However, if the latest economic downturn has taught us anything, it's that no one is immune from hard times.
What's the first thing that gets cut out of the budget when a family holds a belt-tightening summit? Entertainment! And in an economic downturn as disasterous as the one we just went through, and the one we appear to be heading into, it's inevitable that sports is going to take a hit. In years past, professional sports owners could survive these bumps in the road because they were simply their overhead wasn't as high. There was no free agency and collusion between the owners kept salaries low. That is not the case today. Owners have been forced by the unions to share revenue with those that are directly responsible for their on-field product, which is how it should have been all along.
However, with owners pushing their margins to the wall to make their teams as competitive as possible, there is no such thing as a bump in the road. They've maxxed out on what they can charge for a dixie cup of beer and no one's paying more than 10 bucks for a 10 cent hot dog. Jerseys and hat sales also go down in a "down economy". The internet, while a useful tool, has yet to yield true, sustainable income for sports franchises. Satellite TV packages have supplied a revenue stream, but once again, in a down economy, that's one of the first things to go. I know, I had to cancell my NFL Sunday Ticket last year. Where is the money going to come from to sustain these bloated salaries?
The owners didn't get into this line of work to lose money. While I believe most NFL teams still make money, the NBA, which just announced it's lockout today, has announed that more than 2/3rds of their franchises lost money last season. That includes the league-owned New Orleans Hornets.
To be clear, I don't think this is a one-sided argument. The players have valid points. Who could blame them for wanting to keep the system the way it is? Their careers are relatively short and can end on any given play. However, I believe that owners have drawn a line in the sand, and while I hate seeing the game I love and cover halted, I see the owners point. The sustainability of the sports needs to be paramount.
Fans need to become the first consideration again. Ticket prices are prohibitive in all major sports. A family of four would have to blow the better part of an average paycheck to go to a single game and make the obligatory trip to the concession stand.
There are no simple answers to this situation. The players don't trust the owners, they've lied to them in the past. However, I believe this time is different. The revenue streams are maxxed out and receding, while salaries continue to sky-rocket. And just like in our economy, the leagues now the haves and have nots. The superstars are sucking the majority of the money out of the game, and everyone else is getting the leftovers. And in the process, it's the veteran free agents that are getting frozen out. Servicable journeymen, who were the lifeblood of the game, are being forced to the sidelines.