LeBron, Players Union Look to Jefferies for Ammo in Labor Talks

  • Investment bank says it’ll identify current and future revenue
  • Owners, players can opt out of labor contract this year

The National Basketball Association players union, in talks with the league over how to share about $6 billion in annual revenue, hired Jefferies Group as an adviser.

The players asked the New York-based investment bank “to identify all possible current and future revenue streams on behalf of their members,” said firm spokesman Richard Khaleel.

It’s the first time Michele Roberts has led labor talks since she became executive director of the NBPA in 2014, and turning to an investment bank signals new strategy for the union, which in the past sought counsel of academics and economists.

The players currently receive about half of basketball-related revenue, which includes TV deals, ticket sales, merchandise, down from 57 percent under the previous contract.

Today almost everything about the NBA is worth more. Franchise values have tripled over the past four years, according to Forbes. And next season is the first year of a new TV contract with ESPN and Turner, which will pay $24 billion over nine years -- about triple what the the league currently gets.

Meanwhile, superstars such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have begun to make and sell their own media, taking advantage of basketball’s global audience. James’s multimedia venture “Uninterrupted” last year received a $15.8 million investment from Warner Bros. Entertainment and Turner Sports.

The changing landscape calls into question just how much the players and their likenesses are worth. The NBA currently pays the union a lump sum for the right to use them -- to put players’ names and numbers on fan jerseys, for example, or to sell them to video game companies. With Jefferies, the players are likely to review the value of those rights and whether the union could manage that business by itself.

NBPA spokesman Daren Jenkins declined to comment. Some of the league’s biggest stars, including James, Curry, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul hold executive committee positions, meaning they’ll play an integral role in talks with the league.

Jefferies might also assist with team audits. The union has the right to examine the books of as many as five teams and the league office. According to Forbes, the average NBA franchise is worth $1.25 billion, buoyed by TV deals and sponsorship. The league last month agreed to a three-year test program for ads on uniform jerseys. So far, only the Philadelphia 76ers have sold the ad, getting $5 million a year.

The collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021, although both owners and players have the right to terminate the contract after next season. Each has until Dec. 15 to exercise its opt-out right.

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