So, it is official, the NFL is in lockout, the NFLPA is trying to end the lockout in court, and we are in the throws of a labor crisis. However, we need to stop and think about the situation objectively: this is not the fault of ownership or the players, rather both sides deserves the blame for this situation.
The NFL and NFLPA failed to address this situation at the junctions when they truly should have: this time, last year, with continued discussions every month to try to reach a new agreement. Had they done this, they might have reached an agreement at a more proper time. For instance, could you have imagined the fervor if Roger Goodell, in his State of the NFL address, the night before announcing the 2011 Hall of Fame class and two nights before the Super Bowl, announced that a new CBA had been negotiated, approved, and implemented? The average NFL fan would have gone nuts, as suddenly the last remaining problem in the season would have been gone, and we could have gone into the off-season with more hope and excitement for the 2011 season.
The problem with both sides is that neither truly wanted to treat the negotiating deadline with the respect it truly deserved. The NFL realized that players would suffer financial fallout without money coming in after a while, whereas the NFLPA thought the owners would not want to risk a major lawsuit in federal court. The NFLPA was wrong, whereas the NFL’s strategy is going into effect.
The NFL’s strategy is better; it plays off the fact that players tend to overspend and not plan their finances properly. They also are using the NFLPA’s arrogance against them: the court case will take time to develop, and if the NFL delays the case long enough, their strategy will come to fruition. By contrast, the NFLPA’s lawsuit is short-term: if the NFL gets bad vibes in court, they might be more compelled to return to the negotiating table, but that is unlikely.
The NFL has one serious advantage: unity. Even if the owners have disagreements, they do not, and will not, share them in public; after all, there are only 31 majority owners (the Green Bay Packers are a publicly traded company), and other team executives, all of whom answer to them. By contrast, the players’ unity will fall when money becomes scarce, and DeMaurice Smith will be pressured to get a deal done.
Now, let’s face facts: these negotiations were more or less doomed before they started: the NFL tried to put together a plan that would give them the financial capability to survive, and the NFLPA had all their paperwork for decertification and the antitrust lawsuit done long before the deadline. What has transpired was not necessarily inevitable, but highly likely.
I took a class on negotiations my first term at CLU, and one of the most significant things in any negotiation is the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. Both sides viewed their respective BATNAs as being better than the options the other side presented. Of course, one of the other aspects of any successful negotiation is trust, and that was seriously lacking; I’m not even talking about the financial documents of the owners, I’m talking about taking people at their word.
Finally, the last issue is the pontification of both sides in the media. One of the greatest things about the mediation was that it nearly completely ended said pontification, but then when negotiations failed, the NFL gave a short, straightforward, and emotionally controlled statement. By contrast, DeMaurice Smith gave a passionate address in he outlined his views. Both sides openly blamed the other, but the NFL made one better move: they actually presented something on the final day. The NFLPA did not counter, they did not respond in the room, they didn’t do anything but say that any extension would require 10 years of financial records. While both sides tried to spin the offer, the NFL saying it would have paid more to the players, and the NFLPA saying it would have cost the players more, the NFLPA failed to address why they did not provide a decent counter, and went straight to decertification instead.