With NBA Season in Jeopardy, Mobile Vendors Scramble for Alternatives

The NBA Players Association’s decision to reject the league’s latest proposal for a new labor deal Monday has forced the mobile-production industry to confront the distinct possibility that there will be no NBA basketball to cover this season. All signs point to a protracted legal battle that will result in the loss of a large chunk, if not all, of the 1,200-plus regular- and post-season dates on the 2011-12 NBA schedule.

Although no further game cancellations have been announced yet (the league previously canceled all games through Nov. 30), broadcasters, venues, and technology vendors are scrambling to find alternative programming and rebook dates that had previously been filled by NBA basketball.

The mobile-production business is expected to be among the industries hit hardest by a prolonged lockout, which would result in millions of dollars in lost revenue. However, many continue to express optimism that they can weather the storm, regardless of how the NBA stalemate turns out.

“I am obviously disappointed that the NBA and the players have not yet been able to reach an agreement,” NEP Supershooters President Mike Fernander said on Monday. “We are working closely with our partners and are confident that we will all be able to manage through this as we have through similar challenges.”

On Monday, the NBAPA began the process of disbanding the union, paving the way for a lawsuit that will likely result in basketball-less arenas across the country for the foreseeable future.

At this point, any NBA season now would have to start later than Dec. 15, the date the owners had targeted when they submitted the latest proposal to the players. That could mean that the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando on Feb. 26, the most lucrative day on the NBA calendar for broadcasters and mobile vendors alike, is in danger of being canceled.

“It will get severe for us if it proceeds into the All-Star break, the postseason, and the larger events,” Fernander said in October, after the NBA announced its initial cancellations. “There is a lot of other business that can replace those early dates that won’t be around [later in the season]. However, we do not see this being a catastrophic event for NEP. Our partners — ESPN and Turner — have been very willing to work with us in talking about [alternative] events.”

An extended lockout is likely to result in large-scale layoffs throughout the numerous markets that rely heavily on NBA basketball, including the mobile-production sector. In addition, an army of freelancers previously slated to work a full season of NBA basketball productions for ESPN, Turner, and regional sports networks could find themselves grasping for gigs.

Although Mobile Television Group has pledged zero layoffs to its employees, owner/GM Phil Garvin says, “I am very disappointed and feel terrible for the many individuals all over the U.S. who will suffer [as a result of the lockout].”

After two years of bargaining, NBA Commissioner David Stern urged players to take the latest deal, saying it was the best the NBAPA would see and that the league would scale back its concessions in all further proposals. However, on Monday, players chose instead to dissolve the union, giving them a chance to win several billion dollars in triple damages in an antitrust lawsuit. Although the sides still can negotiate during the legal process, the road back to live NBA basketball in arenas and on television looks to be a long and arduous one.

With approximately 450 games canceled through Nov. 30, sports-production providers have already lost approximately $11.5 million across the board (based on current production-unit rental rates and a crew of 20) and stand to lose a lot more following Monday’s developments. Although many mobile-production vendors hope to rebook their trucks on alternative events for these future dates, they cannot act until the NBA officially cancels games.

“Until they cancel the whole season, you have to hold those trucks for scheduled dates,” Garvin said last month. “You always have to be ready because you can’t tell your NBA clients, sorry, we booked your truck on something else. That is not an option. That means that, if NBA doesn’t come back, then we have a lot of trucks sitting for hundreds of dates until we get the official go-ahead [to rebook trucks].”

Stay tuned for more of SVG’s coverage of the NBA lockout and its effect on the sports-production industry as the situation unfolds.

Additional reporting by Ken Kerschbaumer


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