The big story from yesterday is the fining and the suspension of Robert Sarver – principal owner of the Phoenix Suns – by the NBA for overseeing an unacceptable workplace environment. I will not spend time here itemizing the findings of an extensive NBA sponsored investigation into this matter; you can find those details in dozens of different places.
The punishment for Sarver is that he will be fined $10M and will be suspended from the league – – meaning he cannot be associated with his team – – for one year during which he will have to take part in “treatment/training” in proper workplace behaviors. Two things struck me when I read about that punishment:
- This is just about the same thing that the NFL handed down as punishment for Danny Boy Snyder after its investigation into the Washington Commanders’ “toxic workplace culture”.
- The NBA did not move to force a sale of the Suns’ franchise even though it very recently reached that level of punishment for a previous owner. Presuming that Sarver completes his “treatment/training” and is appropriately outwardly penitent, he will continue to own his team unless he decides he wants to sell it to someone else.
I want to focus on those two issues today. Regarding the parallelism between the punishments for Sarver and Snyder, I think the similarity is coincidental and not purposeful. I believe the league bylaws for both the NFL and the NBA set $10M as the maximum fine that the league is allowed to levy against an owner or a franchise. That being the case, the conclusion that I draw here is that both leagues found enough “dirt” in their investigations to allow the league to virtue-signal and appear to be as tough as possible on such improprieties.
A Google search says this morning that Sarver has a net worth of $800M. I think that is hugely underestimated simply because if he sold the Suns’ franchise, that transaction would probably net more than $2B; since he owns “about 35%” of the franchise, that asset alone is worth more than $800M. My point is that a $10M fine for him is not nearly crippling to whatever lifestyle he enjoys or seeks to enjoy. As for his banishment from running the team, that really means he cannot be physically present in the team HQs – where he perpetrated those actions that got him punished in the first place – but does not preclude him from any and all contact with other folks who are indeed running the franchise on a day-to-day basis.
In the end, the effect(s) on both Sarver and Snyder are consequential but not harsh. Neither “bad boy owner” is going to lose his favorite toy – – his sports franchise.
And that leads me to this conclusion about why Snyder’s and Sarver’s behavior fell short of the mark that made the NBA choose to kick Donald Sterling to the curb. This is my opinion – and you know what they say about opinions:
- Opinions are like armpits; everyone has them; lots of them stink.
I believe that what Sterling did – and it was caught on audio and video recording – was bad for business at the NBA level. I do not think the league gives a fig if a team owner runs his team such that the individual team does not maximize its revenue potential. If all Donald Sterling did was to reduce the live gate revenue for Clippers’ home games, he would probably still be the owner of the team. But that is not all that Sterling did…
His comments and his behaviors toward women and Black people went beyond individual team revenue damage. The NBA has been courting women as a growth area for its fanbase both for the NBA itself and then hopefully as an increased fanbase for the WNBA. Sterling’s behavior toward women would not help that effort even a little bit. However, much worse than that was the potential alienation of part of the Black fanbase the NBA enjoys, and that is important because the NBA TV audience has a large Black representation – – larger than the percentages of the US population as a whole. That is important because the TV audience drives the TV rights fees that the league can charge and that is the biggest revenue stream the league has. Donald Sterling’s behavior(s) might have put some of that revenue stream growth in jeopardy.
- [Aside: Do not extrapolate what I said here. Sterling did not put the NBA on the brink of financial ruin. He threatened an important segment of the NBA fanbase that might have reduced potential revenue growth league-wide.]
We do not know the detailed findings of the NFL’s investigation, but we do know from a lengthy report released by the NBA what it found about Sarver’s conduct. What Sarver did was crude and improper and juvenile and stupid and hurtful; it would be difficult to deny any of that. And at the same time, his conduct poses no threat to the league’s revenue growth plans and practices. And so, he will keep his admission credential to the NBA club after he serves his year in Purgatory.
If and/or when the Danny Boy Snyder hijinks ever become public, I suggest you use the yardstick proposed here as a way to understand how and why the NFL decided to punish him in what seems to be a harsh way but does not drop him like a hot rock. Their assessment is that Snyder may not be the poster child for the warm and fuzzy prototypical NFL owner, but he is not costing the NFL any part of its TV audience. And that, folks, is The Bottom Line.
- [Aside: If you really want to know what the NFL found in its investigation, you should root for Jon Gruden’s lawsuit regarding the release of his emails that cost him his job with the Raiders to proceed. Absent that event, I doubt that anything in that report will ever see the light of day.]
Finally, if you take the time to go and read about what the NBA found in its investigation of Robert Sarver’s behavior, you might conclude that he should be ashamed of himself. Therefore, I will close today with this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Shame: The realization that nobody else thinks the thing you were caught doing was as wholesome as you thought it was.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………