NFL labor negotiations and last minute tricks

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There is some debate amongst negotiators whether we should be doing things like slipping in last minute terms when it looks as if an agreement is about to be concluded. The thinking is that the other side won’t hold up a final agreement just to negotiate a small issue.

Generally, we at TPS report believe that these sort of tactics lead to a breakdown of trust, and should be used sparingly, if at all. We also believe that if they are to be used, it must be in a situation when all that is required is a one-time result rather than an ongoing business relationship.

We saw these tactics play out on a grand scale with the end of the NFL lockout. The owners, according to Mike Florio at, may have attempted to slip terms into the final agreement without the players noticing. At the very least, they voted to approve an agreement that wasn’t completely, you know, approved by the players.

The move may have been an attempt to build public pressure on the players to approve a deal they did not have time to fully digest.

Then, there was a bit of an issue around the process for re-certifying the NFL Players Association. After a bit of shenanigans on the owners side, there was apparently some concern that the players would respond in kind. Once the deal was approved by the owners, they needed the players to re-certify their union.

If the union did not re-certify, owners would be liable to anti-trust litigation since federal law generally frowns upon collusion amongst employers to hold down labor costs. Since the re-certification would not happen until after the agreement, in theory, players would have a short window in which they could sue. Or a longer one if they did not agree to join the re-certified union.

In the end, it all worked out and there will be football. However, with players and owners sharing revenue, they are a model of what should be a collaborative relationship. It was in both parties’ interests to work together to maximize revenue, yet they still lost the Hall of Fame preseason game to delays in finalizing the deal. They both did everything they could to build leverage throughout the process, including the threat of and initiation of legal action.

So, my takeaways from this include a question and a couple observations:

  1. Is it possible to have a truly win-win attitude in a negotiation, or is it more like WIN-win?
  2. I had to chuckle to myself when people would say things like “they have to do a deal, both sides stand to lose so much.” Those in the know understand that rationality has only a small place, if any, in our decision-making.
  3. Building on the previous point, there are some people who are better at making their decisions sound rational than others. There are some people whose words are so divorced from what they do and from reality that when they speak, it is hard to contain a sly smile. Or is that just me?

As always, we would love to hear your comments.


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