The Peak of Professional Sports

colts-fan

by Charlie Tweeder

This post was written on July 3, 2016

I don’t love the NBA like I used to. I prefer College basketball, but even that has taken a dive in quality since players started leaving early for the big bucks in the NBA. I felt the early departure trend has watered down both products and coincides with a “get my money” culture that perpetuates the world of celebrity and its outputs. Nothing feels genuine in the NBA anymore. Players are all buddy-buddy, they all want to play with each other rather than against each other. There are no real rivalries and no real struggle. Players play well in a contract year, get their big contract and then promptly begin to stink up the gym.

So, full disclosure, I do not monitor the NBA much at all these days. I watch the playoffs if there are interesting matchups and I enjoyed LeBron winning a championship for Cleveland. That’s where it stops. I don’t make too much time to watch the games or schedule my life around it.

That said, I am disturbed by the contracts I am reading about during the most recent free agency period. Contracts such as:

  • Bradley Beal – 5 years, $128 million
  • DeMar DeRozan – 5 years, $145 million
  • Andre Drummond – 5 years, $130 million
  • Nicolas Batum – 5 years, $120 million

Let’s take Shaquille O’Neal’s contract with the Lakers in 1996. He signed a 7 year contract worth $121 million. The guy was the king of basketball and the biggest free agency prize, arguably, in the history of the NBA. For simplicity sake, let’s divide that into an annual figure of roughly $17 million. In 2016 dollars, that would be roughly $26 million per year, for one of the NBA’s greatest players. At the time, a number that was enough to make me barf. Yet it pales in comparison to what we are seeing players get signed for in 2016. Each of the named free-agent players above is making roughly the same annual figure as O’Neal, from a simple standpoint (contracts are not always divided equally in every year).

During the first five years of Shaq’s time with the Lakers, he led the NBA in player efficiency rating.

Here is a table of where the above listed free-agent names are ranked in terms of some efficiency stats during the 2015-16 NBA season:

Player Name Player Efficiency Ranking* Est. Wins Added Ranking** True Shooting % Ranking*** Rebound Rate Ranking****
Bradley Beal 127 101 146 263
DeMar DeRozan 24 11 136 221
Andre Drummond 30 16 288 1
Nicolas Batum 123 70 147 159

Source: Hollinger’s NBA Player Stats, ESPN

* Player Efficiency Rating is the overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production. The league average is 15.00 every season

** Estimated Wins Added – Value Added divided by 30, giving the estimated number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ would produce

*** True Shooting Percentage – what a player’s shooting percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers. True Shooting Percentage = Total points / [(FGA + (0.44 x FTA)]

**** Rebound Rate – the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds. Rebound Rate = (100 x (Rebounds x Team Minutes)) divided by [Player Minutes x (Team Rebounds + Opponent Rebounds)]

Those are some pretty average rankings for the kind of money being tossed around. Rebound stats are obviously more relevant for an Andre Drummond, but his average efficiency and value rankings cancel out rebounding stats as any justification for his enormous contract. Anyways, last time I checked, there’s still value in swingmen such as DeMar DeRozan being competent in rebounding – he is 25th among all shooting guards in that category. In any case, you can isolate a decent number here or there in the above table but, in the context of the money these guys are now being paid, these are not acceptable collective statistics.

NBA contracts have been getting out of control for a long time, but usually there was one or two top signings that made some sense, given the market. These are the top signings in this free agency period and they all look like stinker contracts to me. If things were just out of control before, the inmates are now running the asylum.

It amazes me that the NBA and other pro leagues can be immune from the real world. The country can go through a financial crisis in 2008 and suffer huge unemployment, but these NBA clowns and their contracts just moves in a straight upward trajectory? If another financial crisis hits, which will be bigger, will this continue?

I am reading about more and more fans that are actually checking out of pro sports. Whether it’s the small minority that are just sick of the amount of money these guys make, or being tired of social justice commercials and marketing tactics being forced down the sports’ viewers throat, or just general malaise with the quality of the product – there are signs these leagues are running out of room to grow. Perhaps that is why they focus so much of their marketing towards women now – pro sports only chance for growing revenues outside of charging even more exorbitant ticket prices.

I believe a combination of paying contracts like these with another financial crisis will be the death knell for leagues such as the NBA. It sounds crazy right now, but if the country undergoes a long enough financial crisis that is not able to be rescued by central bank action (which will be the case the next time the Grim Reaper arrives) – corporate sponsorship will drop dramatically and there will be no fans that can afford to pick up the slack in buying those tickets. Combine another major recession with the optics of dozens of pro athletes making $25 million a year while people are fighting over bread, and you have a recipe for disaster.

PostScript

In the months since the above was written, the NFL has announced one franchise will be relocated, with another franchise also likely to relocate. The San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles (the 2nd franchise to move to the city in as many years) and the Oakland Raiders have announced they might move to….Las Vegas?

If this isn’t a sign of the decline of the much-vaunted NFL, then I don’t know what is. Props to San Diego for refusing to have the city and its taxpayers held to ransom by the NFL and its greedy owners. As this phenomenon of “building sports stadiums provides economic benefits” grew over the last few decades, this is slowly being disproven as recent data shows.

The NHL and it’s owners chased the money and moved teams to horrible locations for hockey. Moving teams to cities such as Atlanta and Phoenix have been disasters. It appears, if the NFL is anything to go by, the lessons aren’t being learned. Las Vegas, are you serious? You are going to move a team away from one of the most rabid fan bases in NFL history to Las Vegas? It’s a sport first, not a business first. Chase the money and you will be ruined.

The resistance of cities like San Diego do have a lot to do with economics and the poor state of local finances, but I believe there is also a slow realization that sports are not that important. People are waking up. If the major professional leagues don’t make changes, they could be in a heap of trouble over the next decade. A financial crisis could just topple everything over.

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