Friday, July 15, 2011
An attack on opulence
By Zach Harper
As you’ve probably heard by now, the NBA has laid off 114 employees from the New York, New Jersey and international offices this week.
It’s an effort to help the NBA get rid of $50 million in expenses and the layoffs represent 11 percent of the league’s workforce. Immediately, people are going to blame the lockout for these 114 people losing their jobs. While the league is claiming it’s not directly due to the lockout, they’re going to have a hard time convincing anybody that this is actually true.
One of the people they don’t need to convince is Matt Moore from CBS Sports’ basketball blog Eye On Basketball. He’s not really blaming the actual lockout itself for the loss of these 114 livelihoods. He’s taking a completely different angle.
Unless you started covering it from the beginning, which removes your frame of reference, spend enough time around the NBA and you'll learn the real meaning of "opulence." It's everywhere. From the cars the players drive, to their jewelry, to the locker rooms where they spend a grand total of about four hours every night. It's in the banquet halls and the hotels reserved and the equipment used. It's in the gift bags for friends and media, the free food, the superstar (or Lenny Kravitz) performances, the pyrotechnics, everywhere. It's astounding. Everyone stays at the nicest clubs, eats at the nicest restaurants, travels in the nicest cars and buses.
It's in even the tiniest things. At the NBA Finals, along with All-Star Weekend, the NBA gives away gift bags for the media. A little thank you to say "We appreciate you bringing attention to our business, even though half the time you're jumping on our mistakes like cobras on an injured mouse." This year it was a simple wireless mouse and a mousepad that has the Finals logo on it. A schlocky little thing that was still pretty nice when you think about it being free. I kept it mostly because I wanted to give it to my newborn son when he is older to say "Your father got this at the first Finals he covered."
Tomorrow I'm taking it to the nearest charitable donations joint and dropping it off. Because now it's just a reminder of how opulence wasted has cost 114 people their jobs when it shouldn't have tonight. It's nothing but a guilty reminder of how the mismanagement of resources and revenue can wind up costing real people their jobs, jobs they need.
Professional sports are really all about opulence these days. Have the biggest and best stadium with the biggest and best team in the biggest and best market. Show everybody you’re better than them. Show them that they should want to be you.
There isn’t anything wrong with this in theory. Sports are about competition. Teams are competing to show they’re better than their opponent. Fans adopt that philosophy because you want your team to be better than every other team. Leagues want to show they have the best fans and the best product because they’re always looking to expand markets. Opulence ends up being a means to an end.
The problem with the NBA’s opulence over the last couple years is it may have led to these 114 people losing their jobs and joining the staggering unemployment ranks. Now granted, not all 114 people live in the United States. But the world economy isn’t exactly booming everywhere either.
There is nothing wrong with opulence unless your opulence surpasses your ability to afford it. If the league knew this lockout was coming (and we’ve been talking about it long enough to know they did), then it’s highly disappointing to know they didn’t plan for it better. They threw giant parties during their events and afforded the best accommodations for its employees. It’s an extremely nice gesture and a good business practice until it ends up costing you actual employees.
The people that were laid off this week by the NBA, the 114? They're out of a job, now. They didn't have to be, but here they are. Maybe they deserved to be. Maybe their positions were utterly useless. If that's the case, why not just reassign them? Have them work on creating efficiency plans or, I don't know, creative ways to end the lockout. Maybe they were just lazy. Maybe 11 percent of the NBA's total workforce really was just lazy and redundant. But doesn't that reflect the people at the top and their organizational structure more than it does the people who were actually affected by this?
The NBA has a right to run its business towards profit and to act in its own self-interest. But to trot out their opulence time and time agian, to splurge on so many little things that when you add them up it looks like one of those trash mountains from "Wall-E," it's not only off-putting, it's downright nauseating.
Ultimately, the league can do whatever they want because it’s their business, not ours. We’re the consumers and we choose to enjoy it to our fullest capabilities by choosing which teams to root for and how personally we take the product they put out there. The NBA isn’t really about catering to everybody in the world. It’s about running a business the best way they see fit for their own gain (which isn't a bad thing, just a reality). If everybody ends up enjoying it like people have over the past couple years, then that’s probably the best-case scenario for the NBA. Enjoyment leads to consumption and consumption leads to making money.
However, when they’ve been warning people about the impending (and now current) lockout and then the story of layoffs comes out, it’s hard to believe they did everything in their power to prevent affecting their employees' lives like this.