“Boy o’ Boy” (as the late Ron Santo used to say) do we have problems…and it is not just the pitching.

What we have here is more than a failure to communicate. We have a lack of trust. We have labeling and name-calling. We have short-term thinking at the expense of the long-term greater good. We have bullying behavior and a total disregard for unforeseen consequences generated from a lack of debate, “cherry-picking” issues that disregard the actual big picture, faulty research, and a true lack of understanding of the issues.

I’m not just talking about the Wisconsin budget and collective bargaining mess. (At the conclusion of this writing, this member of the “Wisconsin elite” will head outside to shovel dog crap from the yard, do laundry, clean my pickup truck …geez, don’t get me started.)

The National Football League is an entertainment conglomeration unlike any other. Cities and states, and the franchises they are affiliated with, have morphed into entities so intertwined that it is hard to separate the perception of the team from its fans and geographical area. Oakland…Green Bay…Pittsburgh…Philadelphia. Create a list of the key features describing these communities and within the first five items on the list will be a reference to the football team. No other entertainment business can do that.

The current lockout, enacted by the owners but with plenty of assistance from the players union, is not a disaster for communities, fans, DirecTV, and local economies…yet. No games are scheduled until August. The draft will still take place in April. What is disturbing is the tone and tenor of the negotiations. There is no financial crisis in the NFL…lots of money is available. Some of the issues, including player safety and health care, match collective bargaining conversations in all walks of life. Other issues, including how to divide new revenue streams, are unique in some ways to professional sports. The NFL business model is complicated and the length of a player’s career is very limited. However, arguments between millionaires and billionaires do not pull at the heart strings of most Americans.

The long term consequences of the NFL lockout extend far beyond the owners and players. The local Green Bay economy, already fragile, would be devastated by a prolonged NFL work stoppage. Assuming games would be cancelled and not rescheduled, income would be lost that could not be recaptured. While the effects in other cities might not be as dramatic, the economic impact of the NFL cannot be minimized. An extended lockout will negatively impact the greater economy in unforeseen ways.

I am no expert in collective bargaining, but I have been a negotiator for both the labor and management sides of negotiations. Some suggestions I would like to offer:

  1. Don’t try to “win” the bargaining. Rather, seek “Win-Win” solutions that benefit both sides.
  2. Quit negotiating in the media. All press conferences should be joint press conferences. If the parties are uncomfortable with that arrangement, then agree that no more press conferences will be held until an agreement has been reached.
  3. Take the issues one at a time. For example, surely it benefits both parties to ensure player safety. Come to agreement on this issue in isolation from the rest of the agreement. Tackle another issue after one issue has thoroughly been discussed and a tentative agreement has been reached.
  4. Look for mutually agreeable “rules” to put into place that can address the next revenue stream that becomes available, the next safety concern, or the next social media issue. Developing “rules of the road” can save time in future collective bargaining negotiations.
  5. Develop a personal relationship with one another. Roger Goodell is relatively new in his role, as is DeMaurice Smith. Get to know each other and develop trust in one another. There will be plenty of issues where the sides disagree, but that does not mean that a trusting relationship cannot exist that will benefit the process.

The phrase “collective bargaining” will be at the forefront of the news throughout the next election cycle. Coincidentally, the NFL, NBA, and MLB will be in the midst of labor negotiations during this same time frame. Think long term, think rationally, think unemotionally, and think “Win-Win”.


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