The owners and the players in the National Football League dispute are just $250 million apart in a $9 billion seasonal purse. But they have already lost more than that in TV revenues, lawyers' fees and other costs in their 2-1/2 month fight with each other.
So why would they cut off their noses to spite their faces? The answer is they are too emotional, too ego-driven, too personal and not focused on their goals. As a result, everyone suffers: the public, the fans, the communities, and the principals themselves.
The NFL debacle is another example in a world of failed negotiations: whether it's health care, Libya or a dispute with the local merchant. Most people have in their minds a conflict model, which gets only 25 percent as much for the parties as collaboration. The parties need to understand that a business negotiation is not like a football game, where you try to break the other party. My book, Getting More, describes how to do it better and differently. The NFL could benefit from this immediately.
Here are 10 ideas:
1. Separate Negotiation Track. Even if the parties litigate, they can be negotiating separately. There is no risk: settlement discussions are not admissible in court. This would increase the chance that they might agree on something.
2.Other Negotiators. The existing principals are too emotional to negotiate. How do I know that? Because they are acting against their own interests. That's what people do when they're emotional. So other negotiators are needed: either third parties such as mediators, or retired players, hall of famers, commentators or others that each side trusts. This process would likely produce better, and workable, ideas.
3. Keep Season While Negotiating. There is no reason to penalize fans and the public for the NFL owners-players flap. They should agree on the non-disputed portion -- more than 95 percent of the revenues -- and hold the season while negotiating or even litigating over the rest. Not holding the season shows a cynical, or at least non-caring, attitude toward the sport. Commentators should castigate players and owners for this.
4. Additional Revenue Sources. If the parties collaborated with each other, chances are good they could come up with additional revenue sources to close the financial gap in the negotiation. An additional game, an additional ad per game, a lottery of some sort, better marketing of logo material, a ride at a theme park: there must be thousands of ideas. It just takes a "can-do" attitude. Have a contest among fans to think up new sources of revenue.
5. Lunch! It will be impossible for the two sides to have a good long-term deal unless they trust each other. And they can't trust each other unless they have a relationship. Owners and players' reps need to get to know each other better as people. This means lunch, even watching football tapes together. Family outings. Demonizing each other in the heat of battle, or fighting for leverage, will not produce an effective long-term deal. Effective negotiations are mostly about the people, not the facts or the substance.
6. Communities. Local communities around the U.S. have provided $8 billion to the NFL. The communities should say that the tax breaks were in exchange for a season every year. If there is no season, there should be no tax breaks. Also, any future tax breaks should have stiff penalties for disruption of football, and clauses barring lock outs or strikes. It's time for the public to step up. Also, communities should get involved in resolving the current dispute. Their involvement should be mandatory for future disputes.
7. Incremental. The NFL players' association has rejected an offer by the NFL owners to provide summary financial information about the league. The players said they wanted to see detailed information on each team. This rejection shows a lack of negotiation skill. Effective negotiators are incremental. The players should have accepted the summaries, examined them and then made further requests if necessary. Now, the players have nothing.
8. Intangibles. The average career for an NFL player is only 3-1/2 years. As such, there are many intangibles that could be put into the mix, including better pensions, advice for long-term careers, financial advice, etc. If the NFL owners thought about the players more -- or if the players thought about intangibles more -- they could get off a debate just about money and add more value to the mix.
9. Standards. Trying to get leverage or power over the other party, either in court or through other moves, is unstable. Power keeps changing hands and solutions take longer, if they are ever reached. The lock-out was followed by the players dissolving the union. Court battles have seesawed. Better to use criteria developed by experts as fair. There are plenty of accountants and financial experts with experience on what profit splits or revenue sharing is fair in enterprises such as this. Indexing and other criteria can handle changes in expenses or revenues. This is a better system than continual haggling.
10. Alternative Stadiums or Players. If either side is extreme, that is, won't negotiate, the other side could pursue an alternative season. The players could try to play at college, baseball or other stadiums and strike their own media deals. The owners could use other players. These are extreme measures. However, the parties owe a season to the fans and public. If one side won't play ball, the other should try to.
The underlying need overall is a better attitude. The two sides should stop, take a deep breath, and remind themselves that they love the game of football. This common feeling could be a basis for the players and owners to treat each other better. They could then solve their problems more quickly and easily.