On the eve of what may be the most anticipated NBA Finals in recent history, there are dark clouds on the horizon. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of the season, a lockout will almost certainly follow. It is unlikely that the normal 82 games will be played during the 2011-2012.
Since the NFL draft in April, labor issues have dominated football coverage. Rather than focusing on free agency, the most covered stories are the court battles in Minnesota. Like the NBA, there is a possibility of a shortened 2011 season.
While both leagues face similar problems, the reasons for each respective lockout are incredibly different.
The NFL is a world class business model. The owners consistently make money and the league's popularity is unrivaled in America. However, as with any business, no matter how successful, there is always an incentive to cut costs. Labor is a big cost.
The NBA, on the other hand, does not enjoy the league-wide profit margins of the NFL. Some teams lose money. Of course, it's hard to feel sympathy for owners when they're the ones who offer excessive contracts for role players and wannabe superstars.
As the owners and players in each league take their seats at the negotiating tables, a seat remains vacant: that of the fans. There are no unions or commissioners for the fans. We sit by and watch millionaires squabble over more money than most of us will ever have.
As horrible as it sounds, our concerns don't matter. Both leagues know that when the dust settles and games are played, people will watch. Not only will they watch, people will go to the stadiums, buy jerseys, spend their work day on ESPN.com and flock the sports books in Las Vegas.
In a capitalist society, the consumer wields enormous power. If you are consistently underwhelmed at McDonald's, you will start eating at Burger King. If you're Windows PC drives you crazy, you can buy a Mac. If you don't like your Chevy, you trade it in for a Ford. Every dollar spent is a vote cast.
With sports, the equation changes. If either league misses games, fans' outrage should dictate that they strike too. But we won't.
The truth is, we love sports. As the power brokers in each league argue for weeks or months, we will just wait. When playing resumes, we will come back. When you love something, you don't want to be without it.
The owners know this. Maybe attendance and TV ratings will temporarily decline, but by each sports' playoffs they will be back to normal. Although the fans will be disgusted if a lockout drags on, eventually we will return. We always do.
We won't boycott either league. If we did, it'd be like the parable of the prodigal son. Except if the father, distraught after his son left, showed his displeasure by refusing to see him. No matter how much a person or thing may hurt you, if you love something, you want it in your life. Always.
I hope the NFL and NBA return as scheduled this fall. If they don't, I will be upset, but I will wait. When playing resumes, I will watch again. Maybe I shouldn't, but I'm too in love with sports.
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