Internet

NBA settlement scorned by Netizens

Web sites spring into action to report news of the NBA settlement, but if cyberspace is any indication, the league will struggle to win back disgruntled fans.

Web sites sprung into action to report news of the NBA settlement, but if cyberspace is any indication, the league will struggle to win back disgruntled fans.

Relying heavily on Associated Press reporter Chris Sheridan, news sites ranging from FoxSports to the Washington Post quickly reported the details of the breakthrough. Later in the day, in-house reporters and columnists began to weigh in.

In what may be a sign of indifference, "fan pages" dedicated to NBA teams straggled behind, with many remaining unchanged from the end of last season's action. Meanwhile, newsgroup sentiment trended toward cynicism.

After a secret nighttime bargaining session between league executives and players union representatives, the two parties this morning agreed to end a six-month-old lockout, salvaging the 1998-99 season with a truncated 50-game schedule. NBA players already have voted to approve the agreement, according to Sheridan's updated account on FoxSports, but the six-year deal still must be OK'd by the league's board of governors, which had been set to meet tomorrow to consider canceling the season.

The two sides had fought over dividing some $2 billion in annual revenues, with negotiations hinging on salary caps and the proportion of revenues to be paid as players' salaries. The drama came to seen by the public as out-of-touch bickering over million-dollar salaries, since NBA players enjoy the highest salaries in U.S. (and thus probably worldwide) professional sports.

ESPN treated the story with a neutral banner headline--"Lockout over; season on"--but its user poll was more revealing.

In a three-hour time span beginning after 9 a.m. PT, more than 18,000 of 32,000 respondents (some 56 percent) answered the question: "Now that the NBA lockout is over, how do you feel about the upcoming season?" by saying they had "no interest at all." Another 8,800 respondents (27 percent) said they were only mildly interested.

In rec.sport.basketball.pro, Preston Crawford went further. "I'm mad the lockout ended. I was hoping all these losers would take it in the shorts. Now the best I can hope for is that the fans are smart enough to stay away."

To be sure, though, many fans are anxious for the game to resume. As Bryant Durrell put it in the same newsgroup, "The next four weeks are going to be entertaining to watch. Free agent mania!"

Sites like the league's official NBA.com and Broadcast.com, which Webcasts pro games, are certain to be busy in anticipation of the season's expected February 2 opening. Meanwhile, sports fans on the Web, typically among the more fervent, may provide a good indication of whether and when fans return to the game.