More Notes on a Lockout

Benjamin Polk —  August 11, 2011 — Leave a comment

Last week I made the point that the league has been semantically unclear as to whether its real aim is financial parity or competitive balance. So yesterday in the bullets Henry linked to a really excellent Wages of Wins piece by David Berri that digs very deeply (using like stats and research and stuff) into the relationship between the two.

Berri concludes first that “salary caps, payroll caps, luxury taxes, and revenue sharing don’t seem to have much impact on competitive balance.” But they do have the effect of driving down player salaries. And second, changes in the league’s popularity have been independent of changes in parity. As he puts it, “fans don’t seem to care much about competitive balance,” which reinforces what we’ve already begun to suspect. (As a corollary to these findings, he finds that market size does not have a significant impact on wins, something else I’ve been suspecting.)

Berri takes the same approach here as he does when discussing (accurately, I believe) the idea that scoring is overvalued and overcompensated by NBA teams. He implies that the owners have misunderstood the evidence, that they don’t understand that structural mechanisms like salary caps do not meaningfully effect competitive balance.

Let me suggest again, though, that this lack of clarity is not actually a misunderstanding, that financial parity is itself the key issue, and that talk of competitive balance is simply a rhetorical strategy.  I mean, do you really think the league is willing to waste a season to bring you a Memphis/Milwaukee final? The owners’ goal, it seems to me, is not making bad teams competitive, it’s making them profitable–no matter how poorly run they are.  And they mean to achieve this goal by using those mechanisms (the ones that supposedly induce competitive balance) to radically reduce salaries.

I’ll let Beckley Mason, righteously indignant at Hoopspeak, have the last word:

A part of me just wants to players to cave so we can have a season next year. Another part, the part that hopes the fantastically skilled and entertaining laborers can get a reasonable deal, wants a world governed by transparency and rationality. That part can just barely stomach the NBA owners leveraging all they have to get a revolutionary new deal, but not the misrepresentations about why they want it, or how they’re going about getting it.

 

Benjamin Polk

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