I’ve read a few posts lately from some celebrities like Mark Cuban as well as friends of mine via their FB and Twitter updates or comments. The theme of the ones I am referring to go something like this:
“Sterling is a horrible person. Racism is despicable and cannot and should not be tolerated.”
After that, a few different types of arguments come up. Some include references to the Constitution, First Amendment and the right to free speech. Something along the lines of Sterling is an idiot, yes, but in the USA that type of speech is protected and even though deplorable, it’s not illegal. A few others talk about privacy and how his comments were recorded without his knowledge. What is the legality of such recordings some ask? Shouldn’t his comments in private be allowed to stay private and not impact his business dealings? A final grouping talks about how this is America and property should not be allowed to be taken because someone has an intolerable perspective.
I’ve read all of these and I keep coming back to the same thought over and over again.
The Los Angeles Clippers basketball team is a FRANCHISE. As someone that has owned, operated and invested in many franchises over the years, I am sure this is why I keep thinking about this amidst the discussion. Why? Because when Mr. Sterling purchased the franchise rights for the Clippers, he signed a lengthy legal agreement with the NBA outlining what that meant. While I’m not privy to what an NBA franchise agreement looks like, I am very much in tune with what other types of franchise agreements resemble. A franchise is a unique type of investment and business. The franchisee, in essence, pays up front and ongoing fees in order to rent the brand that the franchisor has built. They get support and they often get to make a lot of money. But, at the end of the day, the brand and the business are owned by the franchisor, not the franchisee. My guess is an NBA franchise agreement is probably more in favor of the franchisor (NBA) than just about any other franchise agreement in the world.
Because the NBA really is selling the rights to it’s brand and reputation. The fees paid and shared are about building and protecting an entertainment brand. Since that is such a fickle and public thing to do, I’m pretty sure the NBA has the right to do whatever they want when an owner acts like Sterling did.
So spare me the first amendment, free speech, privacy arguments. This is about business, plain and simple. No one made Sterling sign the NBA franchise agreement. He’s a big boy and put his money at risk. He acted in a way that hurts the NBA brand and now they have told him they don’t want him to represent their franchise anymore. This happens every month around the world in franchise businesses of all shapes and sizes. It just so happens this is a much bigger stage, with much bigger stakes, and with a much bigger jerk.
He got exactly what he deserved. His freedoms nor privacy were trampled. He simply violated the terms of his franchise agreement and now has to pay the price for it. Good job, NBA.