Every few years, one sports league or another undergoes a strike or a lockout. Simply put, a strike is when the players refuse to honour their contracts and a lockout is when the owners do the same. Both are done to garner leverage with the other side and improve the terms of the current structure to their benefit.
But the next time the owners of a league lockout the players (not a strike), the players should realise the golden opportunity the greed of the owners has provided them and turn the tables. How? Just play anyways.
Sports is a unique product. It does not take a high-tech factory, inventory delivery systems and an army of office workers to make this product. It only requires a location, a ball and players who are willing to play. The most difficult aspect would be organising the players to take such initiative without infighting.
Imagine the scenario. Personally, I think the NBA would be best suited for this so let’s use them in a hypothetical. What always happens is pretty simple: the owners lockout the players and the players (and owners) sit idle while terms are renegotiated.
But why should the players sit idle? It’s not as if they do not know how to play basketball without an owner above them and they would not even have to create teams. They could agree for initial/temporary purposes to form teams in accordance with their NBA rosters. Nor would they need to use NBA arenas. They can play anywhere whether it be a free park or a rented gymnasium.
If the players comprising the Oklahoma City Thunder intended to play a game against the players comprising the Golden State Warriors at a rented gym in Oakland, people would show up and pay for entry. If they could reasonably guarantee a modest schedule, they could sell broadcasting rights to whomever, even a YouTube channel, to show their pseudo-NBA games. They would indeed have to front the costs of these games and their own travel to the opposing team’s city but would quickly recoup the money with tickets sold and eventually broadcasting rights. And since none of that money would be siphoned off by NBA owners and execs, it would likely be able to more than reimburse the players for their initial cost outlays relatively quickly.
If the NBAPA, which has more than $100M in assets, put together a three-month schedule and small playoff for its players based on last year’s rosters, the owners would fold faster than we could imagine. The owners would not see this as a farcical exercise but rather the early beginnings of a competing league from which they have no ownership or power. We may look on it as novelty to see Lebron James and the faux-Cavs playing Joakim Noah and the faux-Bulls at a rented gym in Chicago but the owners would only see it as a legitimate threat to their power and the NBA itself. And the owners would know that while they may be playing in small gyms on a YouTube channel now, it could quickly turn into much larger arenas with major broadcasters if allowed to continue.
Does any person in America care whether the owners take part in the game? Of course not. If you gave us a game with the same players, we would watch and the owners know this. If they dared to let the lockout continue, they would only see the competing pseudo-league become more structured, more organised and more profitable over time. And the competing league would have all the stars the old league would be missing.
All it would take is some unity and initial financial sacrifice from already wealthy athletes. Leagues with wealthy unions like the NBA may be able to cover those outlays themselves without any further contributions or costs to players. They could arrange these pseudo teams into a single-entity league owned by the NBAPA. It would be the first league structure, albeit extremely modest at its beginning, owned in its entirety by labor.
Refs and scorekeepers can be hired and coaches designated by each team. Eventually and if the owners continue the lockout for too long, the players could seek to make the structure permanent, devising mechanisms for players transfers, free agency and new additions similar to other leagues. And once permanent the old NBA would be dead and the owners SOL.
The athletes just need to show up when a game is scheduled and play the game they’ve been playing their whole lives.
This is what any unified group of players facing a lockout (and whom are wealthy enough to pay for a flight and hotel) should do. If the owners lock em out, play anyways. Steal the entire league from right under their greedy noses.
That’d be awesome.