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The NFL Negotiation Game

Let the Chips Fall Where they May in NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement Negotiations

By Don Hutson and George Lucas, authors of The One Minute Negotiator

Are you ready for some football?  How about some football negotiations?  While the players are blocking and tackling on the field, there will be a good bit of blocking and tackling in conference rooms and meeting rooms around the country.  There is a strong desire to avoid any labor strife in 2011 by having a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in place between the players and owners before next year.  The owners opted out of the CBA in 2008 and the 2010 season is being played without the protection of a salary cap.

According to the authors of The One Minute Negotiator Don Hutson and George Lucas, it will be critical for both sides to work together using a collaborative (win-win) strategy.  “They have a great situation going, and it would be foolish to get into a competitive encounter where they are overly focused on the size of their slice of the pie.  With television and merchandise revenues strong, they can be smart and continue to watch the size of the pie grow,” according to Hutson.

Meetings in June and August have produced no agreement, and Lucas indicated none should be expected in the near term.  “This is a negotiation that will take a good bit of time and effort as there are 32 NFL owners/ownership groups, 32 player’s representatives who must meet with over 1600 players.  That is a huge number of what we call constituents for any negotiation, and there are as many opinions as there are noses.”  The authors indicate that while it will be tempting to engage in posturing by throwing negative comments via the media aimed at the other side, such actions accomplish little and often crystallize positions until collaboration is difficult or even impossible.

Lucas goes on to add that the issues for each side can be segmented into three camps.  “These are what we call chips.  The non-negotiable issues we call red chips.  These are issues that either side can’t move on.  Some sort of salary cap for the owners will likely be a red chip.  The issues where there is some flexibility but only with significant pain are called blue chips.  A blue chip for the players will likely be that no more than 20 total games are played in the preseason and regular season.  Issues where movement can be made without major pain are called bargaining or green chips.  If someone is to give on a green chip they will be looking to get help in return on one of their blues.  A bargaining chip issue for the players appears to be moving from a 16 to 18 game regular season.  The players have taken a stance against it, but for additional salary cap, roster size, or other concessions this is something that is likely to be included in the final agreement.  This is because the final constituency, the fans, is pushing hard for this change in order to get more value for their money.”

In conclusion, Hutson indicated that a driving force in selecting a negotiation strategy is the way in which the chips match up.  “If two sides have an inconsistent red chip, and no one backs down, there will not be a deal.  This is why these are often called deal killers.  When both sides have a fair number of the same blue chips, the negotiation will likely become competitive as it turns into a zero-sum win/lose game.  The key for effective collaboration is that the blue chips for one side are the green chips for the other, and vice versa.  In this way a small give for one side is in reality a big get for the other side.  For the sake of all us fans, lets hope that the negotiators for both sides find a way for the blue/green match ups to take place just like the exciting Bears/Packers and Chiefs/Raiders matchups.  In that way we fans will be winning for years into the future.”

For more information on programs, speaking & consulting and coaching, visit www.OneMinuteNegotiator.,com – email: or call Don Hutson/George Lucas @901-767-0000

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