I’m sure you’ve seen that sitcom episode where one character says they’re short on funds, so another person lends them money. Inevitably the recipient starts buying things that the lender finds to be extravagant, and that inevitably leads to a conflict. Like on Frasier where he lends Roz money, only to see her going to spas and fancy restaurants. Or on Everybody Loves Raymond where Robert borrows a thousand dollars and wants to take a trip to Las Vegas. Heck even the dark drama “Breaking Bad” wrote this theme into a recent episode. Of course in the end of the sitcom, the axiom “don’t count other people’s money” is proven because it’s difficult to evaluate someone’s economic portfolio from a few purchases.
In my life I’ve found that someone’s financial situation is a private matter. At my day job, no one has revealed exactly how much their paycheck is, nor have I divulged that information to any of my coworkers. I’m not sure how much my closest friends have in savings accounts, retirement funds, or credit card debt. Rarely is money owner-less, seeking someone to claim it. It’s always my money, your money, or their money. With money comes ownership.
Enter the second decade of the twenty first century, where everything is about counting other people’s money. Republicans say there is too much restriction on businesses for them to create jobs. Democrats respond with the rich have too much money and don’t pay their fair share of taxes. The Koch brothers fund the Tea Party and the ‘Baggers get lots of play on mainstream media. Meanwhile AdBusters start Occupy Wall Street, but struggle to get the national news to report about it.
Currently our country is undergoing a fascinating game of rock-paper-scissors, with the upper, middle, and lower class all at each others wallets. Middle class Americans believe the poor are getting off easy (see: Yes, It’s Absurd That 46% Of Americans Don’t Pay Income Tax), while fighting off the rich through their unions. Yet even though the middle and lower class spar with each other, they can both agree that they want to tax the rich more.
If the US were twitter, #classwarfare would be trending. It’s even permeated into our sports. Recently the NFL settled its dispute just in time to start their season, and so far they are reaping the rewards (are the Bills and Lions really a combined 7-1? Does that mean this is back in vogue?) Unfortunately the players and owners of the NBA have intensified their work stoppage by recently canceling a chunk of the preseason and threatening to end the season. The last time these two sides fought over money, they lost a third of the season.
The curious thing about these major sport labor disputes is the skew of the playing field. Usually when unions are fighting companies they are representing the working class. However in the NBA talks, the middle class is made up of millionaires (primarily). So although the public tends to side with the union in labor battles, in this case there isn’t as much sympathy for them. That’s because we, the fans, are essentially the underclass in this turmoil. For the most part we get to feel like America’s poor, we are marginalized without much of a say in the matter. There is a seat at the table for the owners and the players, but neither of them care much what the fans think.
Sure some will say we as fans get to choose where we spend our money. Unfortunately that just isn’t the reality. Tom Ziller talks about how the relationship between the public’s money and the NBA:
The people of Oklahoma City have spent more than $100 million to build the Chesapeake Energy Arena and a practice facility for the Thunder. They deserve to know why Clay Bennett is holding out for more money from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The people of San Antonio have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to build and renovate the AT&T Center, and have turned out in droves to celebrate the Spurs’ success. They deserve to know why an ownership committee headed up by Spurs owner Peter Holt has made so little progress in negotiations that a shortened season seems inevitable.
In the NBA, fans aren’t just customers. We are investors. We bankroll the whole operation. Of the $2 billion spent on building and renovating NBA arenas since 2000, $1.75 billion of it has been public money. Without a public willing to play Stern’s extortionist games — ask Seattle what happens if you refuse to build a gym on the league’s terms — the NBA would be hosting its biggest games in rinky-dink arenas, or worse, on college campuses. Instead, the public plays along and bites on the threats, Stern’s NBA rakes in $4 billion a year and owners have the luxury of demanding a bigger slice.
Both the owners and the players have been so successful at getting people to throw money at them that they can cease operations to fight each other on how much each side should earn. The stream of cash of the NBA is so secure that a loss of games, even a loss of season, won’t ruin the league. Yup, and to prove it, look at the NHL’s attendance since their lost season. The only losers in this game of tug-o-green are the fans. Our source of entertainment is potentially gone, and even worse we’ll hand over our wallets once they do return. And like a syndicated sitcom, in a few years when the next CBA expires, we’ll go through the whole thing again.