Despite a flood of new national television cash, 14 of the NBA’s 30 teams lost money last season before collecting revenue-sharing payouts, and nine finished in the red even after accounting for those payments, according to confidential NBA financial records obtained by ESPN.com. The gap between the league’s most profitable teams and its weaker siblings will be addressed at the league’s Board of Governors meeting on Sept. 27-28 in New York. Owners have planned a half-day review of the league’s revenue-sharing system, sources said.
According to this argument, the Lakers are a cash machine but need to play teams like the Grizzlies to keep the money rolling in, while revenue sharing helps the Grizzlies stay afloat. Still, some teams have bristled about the current scale of monetary redistribution. “The need for revenue sharing was supposed to be for special circumstances,” one large-market owner told ESPN.com, “not permanent subsidies.”
At least one owner raised the idea of expansion in a recent Board of Governors session, citing the massive expansion fee the 30 current teams would split, sources say. The concept of an expansion fee of potentially more than $1 billion can be tempting because it is not subject to splitting 50/50 with the players. Adam Silver, the league’s commissioner, has repeatedly said the league has no short-term plans to expand, though he labeled expansion at some point “inevitable” during a recent interview in The Players Tribune.
Despite a league-low payroll, the Nets lost $44.3 million last year, according to confidential league documents obtained by ESPN’s Zach Lowe. That’s the league’s second biggest loss, behind only the Pistons who lost $45.1 million. The Pistons’ losses were actually much greater. The Nets did not receive revenue-sharing money from the league and their profits from Barclays Center are not included in the analysis. The Pistons, on the other hand, lost $63.2 million before collecting revenue sharing last season, “the largest loss by a wide margin,” Lowe notes. Detroit doesn’t own its own arena, unlike the Nets.
The Nets, said the league source, have never made money in Brooklyn and didn’t make money their last years in New Jersey under Bruce Ratner and before that under the late Lewis Katz and Raymond Chambers. Ratner, in fact, ran up record debts financing the Nets losses. When he sold the team in 2010 to Mikhail Prokhorov, the team had $200 million debt, nearly identical to the team’s value at the time. Lowe notes that the materials he obtained did not discuss the profit-and-loss picture for teams like the Nets who own their own arena.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver arrived at July’s board of governors meeting hoping to appeal to his owners’ sense of partnership. Let’s pursue a gentlemen’s agreement on policing ourselves, he said, sparing the brunt of the burden from falling upon the league’s head coaches. In the Wynn Hotel ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip, Silver told the gathering, which included owners, team presidents and general managers, what they shouldn’t want this season and beyond — an implementation of “draconian rules” legislating the legitimacy of real or imagined injuries, especially in marquee television games.