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Sports biz: Hoop dreams, deferred

To you, me and every other fan who looks forward to the start of a new National Basketball Association season, the NBA's announcement that it would cancel the first two weeks of the 2011-2012 season was but a minor buzzkill in the full-court press of life.

But to people who make a living in and around the $4 billion-a-year NBA economy, the league's labor problems create a ripple effect that touches a wide range of jobs, companies and individuals. From the waiter who takes your order at Brooklyn's to the Pepsi Center usher who didn't punch in for what would have been the Denver Nuggets home-opener against the Timberwolves, the league's labor impasse is a millionaire-vs.-millionaire standoff that's infuriating, and particularly painful in a lousy economy.

In a normal season, there are 41 regular home games for each NBA team. The two-week truncation knocks off three home games for the Nuggets that probably won't be rescheduled. For those who work the fringes of the sport - wait staff, bartenders, ushers, parking lot owners - the anticipated income tied to the regular season just dropped by 7 percent (not counting two preseason games that were canceled). The Nuggets also lose two road games, including a Lakers matchup that might have accounted for at least a bit of added traffic at area sports bars.

"The real losers are the league, arena and hospitality employees who depend on the NBA for their source of income," wrote Nuggets season-ticket holder Andrew Feinstein on the blog site DenverStiffs.com. (Feinstein is a partner in the Denver hospitality investment firm EXDO Management Group that owns Jake's Food and Spirits and the Tracks Nightclub.)

NBA commissioner David Stern, in announcing the cancellation, rightfully acknowledged that dropping two weeks from the season would create hardship. "I'm sorry to report - particularly for the thousands of people who depend on our industry for their livelihood - that the first two weeks of the season have been canceled," Stern said.

Of course, it could get worse. By the time you read this column, it's entirely possible the entire season could be erased. Let's hope not. But the vanquishing of two weeks' worth of games alone has a significant economic impact. The cancellation will drain away roughly $83 million in ticket-sales revenue across the league, according to an Associated Press report. All teams are refunding ticket-holders for the lost games, with interest. For each month without games, the league at large is expected to lose at least $700 million, much of it tied to pricey TV-rights deals.

Reconstituting a schedule, or attempting to squeeze back in a few games, is one possibility the league may consider, although there are complications involved.

Few people know that better than Arthur Steiker, the managing director of Denver-based Bortz Media & Sports Group. Since 1985, Steiker has worked with the NBA as a consultant who helps to devise the software that determines nightly matchups across the 30-team NBA. From an office in the Denver Tech Center, over the years Steiker has created, modified, tested, refined, re-input and delivered to a league the complicated labyrinth of matchups that takes into account everything from arena conflicts to network TV rights to travel requirements for teams.

When the NBA announced its early-season schedule disruption last month, the first person we thought about wasn't LeBron James or George Karl. It was Steiker, who patiently explained the mind-boggling task of creating sports-league schedules in a 2005
ColoradoBiz interview.

Although Steiker affirmed that he's still involved with the NBA as a consultant, he had no comment on the cancellation of the first two weeks of the season or details surrounding Bortz Media's current engagement with the league. "I still provide consulting services to the NBA. I can't say anything more than that," Steiker said.

At this point, with the NBA season in flux, nobody else can, either.
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Stewart Schley

Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at stewart@stewartschley.com

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