By John Greenburg, Special for USDR
The recent scandal surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has thrown the spotlight on the issue of how many or how few rights owners of professional sports teams actually have. Pro sports are conducted through associations. An individual can become an owner by being granted a new franchise or by purchasing an existing one. In both instances, an aspiring owner must be approved by the league.
If the owner conducts themselves in a way that does harm to their league, there is precedent for a league to take over a franchise. In the case of professional basketball, there have been instances of that happening. When it did occur, the problems were caused by the owners running out of money, no longer paying the operating expenses and being unable to pay the players. In these cases, the leagues involved took over the teams and ran them until they could find new owners.
Nothing like the Donald Sterling situation has ever happened before. The harm that his actions have threatened the NBA with is indicative of how the huge amount of television money the league receives has changed professional basketball. The customers of the pro teams are no longer simple those who attend the games in the arenas. They now also include every customer of any company that sponsors telecasts. Each owner of an NBA team, as well as any professional sports team for that matter, must maintain the trust of tens of millions of people, many of whom may never actually attend a game or even have an interest in basketball. The enormous role television plays has made professional sports just like major retailers in the sense that the owners can’t afford to have opinions. They cannot offend any of the masses. Once they have lost the trust of the general public, they will have lost everything and it is doubtful that they will regain that trust.
This is the reason NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acted so swiftly and why the league is going to try to force Donald Sterling to sell his team. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.