Negotiation Blog

Not All Greek To Us: Multi-level Multi-party EU Debt Crisis Negotiations

By Marianne Eby

Few negotiations are more complicated than the multi-party wrangling going on now in Europe over the Greek debt crisis: it involves not only the Greek government and its creditors, but the European Union and public creditors like the International Monetary Fund. There are even negotiations going on within these separate entities, such as between France and Germany over the proper EU response. But it’s still possible to see within this tangled process familiar issues the parties would be well-advised to address through Best Negotiating Practices. 

When assessing a multi-party negotiation, you should break it down into its constituent parts; multi-party bargaining is actually a group of connected but still distinct one-on-one negotiations. In the case of Greece, the government is conducting one set of negotiations with its bondholders and a second with the European Union, its source of bailout money. The two are connected, since the EU is demanding certain outcomes from the first negotiation before discussing more emergency aid. But practiced negotiators can often exploit such multiplicity of parties, and therefore interests, to craft a creative solution.

While conditions often vary in the course of a negotiation, occasionally it’s the parties themselves that change. In a business negotiation, the change might come about as a result of a merger or acquisition. In political negotiation, the switch can be triggered by an election. Smart negotiators invest time and effort in preparation for their new counterparts by learning as much as possible about their motivations, tendencies and style. Greece held national elections in early May, and while the results were inconclusive, one of the leading contenders to form the next government is the leftist party Syriza. It’s made clear it will take a more aggressive approach to EU negotiations.

“Greece needs a leadership that can go abroad and not just say what foreign leaders are prepared to hear but say what the Greek people wants to be said,” declared Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras recently. “It has to draw red lines, to plan a strategy and to stand up for the rights of Greeks. Only a government of the left can do this.”

Meanwhile, negotiations between France and Germany about the right cure for Greece’s and Europe’s ills—fiscal austerity or economic stimulus—seemed to hit an impasse. But in his remarks following a five-hour bargaining session reported in today's L.A. Times, the EU president wisely aimed to avoid the impression of a deadlock. After describing the talks as “focused and frank,” Herman Van Rompuy explained, “Tonight's meeting was about putting pressure, focusing minds and clearing the air.” This well describes the information exchange that precedes actual bargaining, which he anticipated would begin in earnest at a meeting the following month.

As negotiators always should, the parties have devised Best Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA’s). In this case, everyone’s BATNA is a departure of Greece from the Eurozone common monetary system. This would reduce the obligation on the rest of Europe to save the Greek economy, while allowing Greece to pay off its debts with a national currency it alone controls. Even the creditor bankers might make out better from such an arrangement than they would in accepting too large a write-down on their Euro-denominated loans.

But the long-term ramifications of such an unprecedented event are impossible to predict with any certainty. So you should expect all parties to continue to try to avoid this dramatic step through more negotiation. And we should all take advantage of this very public display of bargaining to improve our own negotiating skills. 

Negotiating Tip

Try not to negotiate if you are in a negative emotional mood. Research shows you will make inappropriate or unnecessary concessions.


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Film Award for Best Negotiating Practices

By Thomas Wood

The lead up to the Academy Awards always gets me excited about seeing great films. This year Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” were fabulous, and received 10 and 11 nominations respectively. But will they win at the 2012 Academy Awards? I hope it's not deja vu of the 2011 Academy Awards, when brothers’ Ethan and Joel Coen’s “True Grit” received 10 nominations but didn’t win. Well, True Grit definitely won Best Picture for Negotiating Practices among our team of professional negotiators here at Watershed Associates.
True Grit tested the “grit” of every character’s negotiation moxy in the various negotiations that transpired in this movie, and there were many.
 
The story is tried and true:  Teenage girl seeks revenge on her father’s killer, and pairs up with two strong willed lawmen-for-hire to chase down the killer in Indian territory of the 1880s. There’s an opening scene with Dakin Matthews playing a tough and crotchety old businessman and trader, Colonel Stonehill, and Hailee Steinfeld playing the vengeful teen, Mattie Ross. As Mattie prepares to set out on her adventure, she needs resources, and she comes to the trader to negotiate for them.
 
Before he died, Mattie’s father had purchased and paid for two ponies from the trader. Her father had paid for the ponies, but the ponies had not yet been delivered to him and are still in the custody of the trader. Mattie’s father also had his saddle horse boarded at the trader’s stable. Along came a thief who, upon murdering Mattie’s father, stole her father's saddle horse, and left behind the saddle, the two ponies, and the less valuable horse Mattie's father had lent the theif.
 
When Mattie approaches the trader, her astute preparation becomes apparent. The trader is quick witted from years of experience (and a great script), but has to determine whether Mattie has a strong BATNA (plan B), or is bluffing. Mattie uses just enough friendliness and legitimacy to her advantage, while also showing she is prepared and goal oriented (a picture perfect example of Watershed’s mantra: be firm, fair and professional). The trader is caught off guard by this shrewd teenager, and to his disadvantage underestimates her negotiation skill and determination.
 
There are lots of negoiation missteps, mostly on the part of the experienced trader. There are things the trader could have learned about Mattie’s need for resources if he wasn’t caught off guard and had asked better questions. Simply by using sincere curiosity and probing more effectively, the trader could have landed a much better deal. He focuses only on dollars instead, missing low cost/high value trades he probably could have made with the girl. He also makes other common erros in his haste, such as
  • responding to her offer in a way that makes it difficult to explore Mattie's interests,
  • negotiating against himself without waiting for a counteroffer when faced with Mattie’s various BATNAs/bluffs, and
  • declaring multiple times that this is his final offer.
And yet, the trader held all the cards from the start. At the opening of the negotiation, Mattie has nothing and the trader has everything – the ponies, the payment, the saddle, the less valuable horse, and the expertise. Mattie doesn’t beg or play the victim who needs charity. She uses many Best Negotiating Practices, among them
  • an assertive but defensible opening offer,
  • legitimacy,
  • persuasive analogies,
  • a strong BATNA, and
  • a tapered concession pattern.

Mattie has almost no power in this negotiation, but she leverages something much more potent – her skill as a negotiator – her true grit.

And that’s only one of many negotiating scenes in the Oscar nominated movie from 2010.
 
See True Grit again or for the first time, and test your “grit” as a negotiator by spotting all the missteps and Best Negotiating Practices interlaced in this great film.

 

Negotiating Tip

Prepare. Identify Most Desirable Outcomes, Goals, Least Acceptable Agreements, and Best Alternatives.


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Negotiating Salary: Tactics, Blunders or Best Negotiating Practices - Part III

By Thomas Wood

Let’s magnify the various moves Bill and Jen made in their salary negotiation that my colleague explored in previous blogs Part I and Part II. They reached a deal, but was it to thier mutual satisfaction? We’ll categorize the moves as Tactics, Blunders and Best Negotiating Practices (BNPs). Do you agree?

  1. Negotiating Tactics – moves made for short term advantage that risk losing credibility or trust;
  2. Negotiating Blunders – moves or approaches that fail to achieve their objective or any other positive outcome; and
  3. Best Negotiating Practices (BNP) – skills, strategies and behaviors that are designed to create and capture value in negotiations.
Tactic, Blunder or BNP?
 
 
Move
 
 
Response & Impact
Blunder
Bill relied on this part-time position and didn’t have a Plan B – other interviews or networking
Bill’s failure to continue to build his BATNAs (his Plan Bs) puts him at a disadvantage
BNP
Bill prepares an opening offer and support
He is ready when Jen asks
Tactic
Jen ignores Bill at first to make him feel unimportant
It works mildly, but Bill’s preparation keeps him confident
Blunder
Jill opens the conversation without any rapport building or excitement about Bill joining the organization
Jen misses the opportunity to build an alliance with Bill, which will make it more difficult for her to learn what matters to him. She also risks him deciding against the job.
BNP
Jen asks Bill what he wants
Hearing from Bill informs Jen up front if this conversation is worth her time. But it did come with the risk that Bill would anchor Jen by opening first.
BNP
Bill opens with his prepared opening offer of $127K.
Great opening offer – high, but justifiable, and therefore credible
Blunder
Jen says “Absolutely not” to Bill’s opening, which is the same as saying “No.”
Saying the word “No” or a similar negative response shuts down conversation
BNP
Jen opens with her opening offer of $78
Jen’s opening seems appropriate – she starts low but within a justifiable range
BNP
Bill asks “Why?”
Always a great probe, when said with sincere curiosity and not as an attack. Jen is so far from Bill’s preferred salary that he can only benefit from more information.
Blunder
Bill doesn’t wait for Jen’s answer. He starts defending his stature.
Jen is unfazed because Bill isn’t engaging her – he’s presenting to her. Bill is waiting too long to start asking questions – the best way to engage his counterpart.
BNP
Finally Bill realizes that he is not convincing Jen, and starts asking lots of engaging questions.
You can’t probe too much!
BNP
Bill next asks for Jen’s advice as to what he needs to succeed in this job.
Great open-ended question. Engaging the other side is critical. Jen’s inclination now is to help Bill, rather than to win against him.
BNP
Bill asks Jen to reconsider the salary given the information they have discussed about his background and fit for the position.
Bill needs Jen to move a lot, so his open request is a good strategy. He’s giving her a way to save face if she is convinced that his salary can go higher.
BNP
Jen makes a huge move from $73 to $103K.
Jen’s first move is big, but she saves face by having reconsidered the expertise required for the job and Bill’s fit for the position.
Blunder
Bill seems inclined to accept the offer.
Bill could have asked more questions about the new salary range, and further built the relationship. Jen probably had more to give. But Bill lacked confidence due to his non-existent BATNA (plan B).
Tactic
Bill asks about getting an alternative work schedule given the lower salary than what he had anticipated.
At least Bill asked for something to justify why he would move off his opening of $127K – the alternative work schedule. It was a “nibble,” but because he knew Jen could give it, there was little risk to the relationship in employing this tactic.

 

Negotiating Tip

Take a negotiating risk today: Ask, "Is there any flexibility on that?" where you usually don’t negotiate. Try at it work, at home, and in the mall. You will be surprised at how effective it is. What do you have to lose?

 


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Three Possible Next Plays in Deflategate

By Marianne Eby

Deflategate continues to enlighten us -- not just about American football, or alleged scandals, or even the science of air pressure in balls in cold weather -- but about what happens when parties can’t reach a negotiated solution to their dispute. Last week opened with an appeals court reinstating New England Patriots' quarterback, Tom Brady's 4-game suspension, and ended with a court filing by the Brady team. The many plays that have occurred and the ones yet to come demonstrate the perils of litigation, the power of having a Plan B or BATNA, and that there is still benefit to and time for a negotiated solution.

When my colleague at Watershed Associates, Leslie Mulligan, wrote about Deflategate in July and again in September 2015, she quite rightly predicted that we have not seen the last of the NFL v. Brady case. She exposed the various stakeholders and their potential interests – why they might want what they are demanding. She also talked about the parties’ Plan Bs, or BATNAs (best alternatives to a negotiated agreement) – what moves they might make if no agreement is possible.

What Leslie couldn't know then was how the 2015 NFL season or the appeal of a lower court decision would ultimately play out, and what would be the next moves by parties who so far had not found common ground on which to negotiate a resolution of their differences.

The parties in court are technically the National Football League (NFL) Management Council, and the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA). The parties who everyone talks about are NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the star quarterback Tom Brady.  Brady’s football team, the New England Patriots, are involved as they certainly care about winning games (and the revenue) that could be impacted by a suspension of Brady for his alleged role in the scandal. Roger Goodell is under great pressure to keep the League’s owners satisfied with his leadership decisions and equal treatment among teams, so the other teams’ owners are major stakeholders. And of course the NFLPA needs to demonstrate that it will protect the rights of the players, like Brady.

These parties chose to execute their litigation BATNA to resolve this dispute rather than negotiate a solution. As a former litigator myself, I know well the perils of litigation. Negotiation can be win-win or win-lose, but litigation is almost always lose-lose, and it has played out exactly that way in Deflategate.

The parties’ BATNAs in and outside the courthouse have continued to unfold. Last week a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reinstated the 4-game suspension issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell against the New England Patriots' star quarterback, Tom Brady. This is probably not the final play in what has been a drama filled game of questionable tactics.

Unlike litigation, negotiating a settlement of their dispute had the potential to put the solution within the parties’ control. They could have mutually determined how they would be perceived, their investment of resources (15+ months, lawyers fees, personal time and stress) and the ultimate outcome. Litigation, on the other hand, held the potential to declare a final winner and a loser, raising the stakes significantly. Sometimes implementing the BATNA of litigation is the only way to satisfy our interests, but it usually comes at great cost to both parties.

There are always winners and losers, but it’s the Interests that underlie the wins and losses that really matter.

With commentary from me on what really mattered throughout Deflategate, let’s review Brady's win-loss record on and off the field, and in and outside the courthouse, and what was really at issue in each stage of this game since January 2015.

Brady wins
Jan 18, 2015 - Tom Brady leads the Patriots to win 45-7 in the AFC Championship game.
​►What matters?  Brady is a star football player and key to the Patriots' win record. A defeat of this magnitude certainly doesn't come about from pure ball tampering, but it does leave others wanting pay-back.

Brady loses
Jan 23, 2015 – NFL announces investigation into allegedly deflated balls (or as it turned out, possibly one ball); Deflategate is born!
►What matters?  NFL’s interest here is ostensibly the integrity of the game.

Brady wins
February 1, 2015 - Midway through the 4th quarter of the 2015 Super Bowl, the Patriots are down by 10 points, but Brady isn't resigned to lose. Brady leads the Patriots to victory as Super Bowl XLIX champions.
►What matters? Brady and the Patriots don’t need deflated balls to win.

Brady loses 3 consecutive moves
May 2015 – NFL issues harsh penalties. Brady gets a 4-game suspension to take place in the 2015 season for his alleged role in Deflategate. The NFL also imposes a $1,000,000 fine on the Patriots and takes away the team’s first and fourth round draft picks.
►What matters?  The offical interests seem to be that the NFL won’t cover up even alleged complicity by one of its superstars and that it doesn’t “play favorites” with the teams. But there is a behind the scenes interest as well – that Goodell is beholden to all teams’ Owners and they haven’t forgotten past cheating by the Patriots.

June & July 2015 - Arbitration of an internal NFL appeal: NFL Commissioner Goodell, acting as the arbitrator, denies Brady’s appeal and upholds the suspension.
►What matters?  The NFL’s power to conduct the investigation as it saw fit and issue penalties as it deems appropriate are paramount to its leverage with the players’ association.

Minutes later? Beating Brady and the NFLPA to the courthouse door, the NFL files a lawsuit in US District Court in New York to affirm the arbitrator’s decision.
►What matters? NFL files in NY to avoid ending up in a Minnesota federal court that has been more friendly to players.

Brady wins 3 consecutive moves
book of law with judge's gavel Brady is unstoppable throughout the 2015 NFL season.

Sept 3, 2015 – Federal District Court's Judge Berman vacates Goodell's decision and rules in favor of Brady. The Judge urged the parties to settle. Berman finds legal deficiencies that were fatal to the NFL’s suspension (inadequate notice to Brady of the possible punishment, lack of access to investigative files, and not letting Brady examine the lead investigator). 
►What matters?  Goodell’s conduct (rulings and decision) at the hearing are deemed unfair and in breach of the collective bargaining agreement.

The NFL didn't try to stop Brady from playing in the 2015 season, and the Patriots ultimately secured the AFC East Division title.

Around the same time, the academics finally weigh in. MIT professor John Leonard releases his study of the data – the math and the football – and he concludes that “no deflation occurred and the Patriots are innocent. It never happened.” It’s all over YouTube: MIT Professor Debunks Deflategate. And Harvard Business School has around a thousand students grapple with a case study about Deflategate, developed by professors Marco Iansiti and David Sarnoff. Iansiti comments:

“The data are the data. A lot of the proceedings are now frankly more about the power relationships between different stakeholders in the whole environment, and less about what actually happened with the bloody footballs.”

►What matters? Brady and the Patriots have multiple moral victories that no court can erase. It’s clear that Deflategate is all about the power of the organizations involved, and litigation, as is often true, is only a vehicle to increase or avoid losing that power.

Brady loses
December 22, 2015, the NFL files an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. And in January Brady and the Patriots lose the AFC Championship to the eventual 2016 Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos.
►What matters?  The NFL’s power to enforce its decisions is paramount to its leverage with the NFLPA, regardless that the facts favoring Brady are mounting. On appeal, the law matters (not the facts), and winning on the field is as unpredictable as court.

Brady wins
March 2016 – Brady renegotiates his salary to include a $28M signing bonus for his $60M multi-year contract.
►What matters? Brady reduces his year-1 salary to $1M and thereby ensures that he protects a large portion of his earnings with a signing bonus the NFL can’t touch in the event that the 4-game suspension is reinstated on appeal, after the questioning at the hearing on March 3 didn’t bode well.

Goodell hedges on whether the NFL will enforce Brady’s suspension if the NFL is successful on appeal.

“That is not an individual player issue,” Goodell said then. “This is about the rights we negotiated in our collective bargaining agreement. We think they are very clear. We think they are important to the league going forward and we disagree with the district judge’s decision.”

►What matters? The NFL’s real interest is in protecting its rights under collective bargaining agreements; the facts aside and well beyond the implications for Tom Brady.

Brady loses
Apr 25, 2016 – US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York issues decision overriding Judge Berman and reinstating the Brady’s suspension, with one dissenting opinion. 
►What matters? Judge Berman’s improper application of the law in overturning Goodell acting as arbitrator of his own decision. The NFL’s power in collective bargaining is re-established. 

Brady wins
Brady holds the #1 spot for sales of NFL players merchandise for the 2015-16 season.
►What matters? Since his initial suspension, Brady surpassed both Quarterback Peyton Manning’s merchandise sales even though Manning led the Denver Broncos to be Super Bowl champs in 2016, and the merchandise sales for Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, who held the #1 spot for the previous 2 years. The players get 2/3 of the money from the merchandise sales. One could conclude from this that Deflategate improved Brady’s reputation rather than hurt it.

What are the parties' next moves?
Who wins or loses next?  More importantly, what really matters?

The NFL wants happy fans, the assurance of power in its collective bargaining agreements with the players’ union, and increased revenue. The NFL has lost a great deal of respect to protect those interests. Tom Brady is by all measures a star football player, but he wants to go down in history as an honest football legend, not to lose income, and as a winner on and off the field.

Will the parties rely again on the strength of their BATNAs, or will they finally see that their interests can be addressed in a negotiated agreement – that they can move from lose-lose to win-win?

Here are the 3 possible next plays in Deflategate:

  1. Goodell and the NFL retreat
    Goodell and the NFL could reduce the suspension or choose not to enforce it against Brady, having adequately secured confirmation of Goodell’s power and the NFL’s rights under collective bargaining agreements.
     
  2. Brady and the NFLPA advance
    Brady and the NFLPA could ask for a stay of his suspension and seek to get a majority of the 13 active judges in the 2nd Circuit to agree for all 13 judges to review the 3-judge panel’s ruling.  Or Brady and the NFLPA could seek an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Neither option has a great chance of success.
     
  3. What if the parties negotiate a solution and regain control over the outcome of this dispute.
    The mere threat of filing an appeal could act as leverage to get the NFL to negotiate a settlement that releases the suspension. Brady and the NFLPA have just strengthened their leverage by showing a willingness and ability to execute their BATNA of filing an appeal; they officially added Theodore Olson to their legal team, a former U.S. Solicitor General who has argued before the Supreme Court 62 times.

The NFL has won the legal issues at this juncture, and may want to avoid any risk of a further appeal, given the strong dissent by Judge Katzmann, who found the Commissioner breached his authority.

Brady doesn’t have much more to gain even if he wins the next court decision, given that his popularity actually increased during Deflategate, the Patriots re-signed him and helped him avoid most of the financial hit a suspension will impose, and there are many experts who question not just the NFL’s actions during Deflategate, but the evidence itself, leaving Brady’s integrity largely intact.

Of course Brady and the Patriots want to win football games, and the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs in the upcoming season are increased if Brady plays those first 4 games. But that outcome is attainable in a settlement, and does not need a court decision. We don’t know what are the parties’ next moves, but we can be pretty sure everyone wants to see more of Tom Brady playing football, especially when he may not have many seasons left.

Negotiating Tip

What does it mean to be an emotionally intelligent negotiator? It means your brain controls your mouth, not your-out-of-control emotions.


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Tom Brady's BATNA Prevails in Deflategate

By Leslie Mulligan

Famed quarterback Tom Brady will take the field this Thursday in the NFL's season opener when the New England Patriots play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady will no doubt demonstrate his prowess in the game, but unlike other seasons, he'll step on the field with one victory already in hand. It turns out that in the pre-season battle of the BATNAs, Brady had the winning strategy.

In July Commissioner Goodell denied Brady's appeal of the NFL"s (US National Football League's) May 2015 4-game suspension for alleged cheating -- involvement in or covering up deflated game balls -- and upheld his own decision. Brady and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) went to court to fight this battle, as intense competitors will do. Ultimately, Judge Richard Berman ruled in Brady’s and the NFLPA’s favor, vacating the 4-game suspension that the NFL had levied.​

When I wrote about the situation in July, I was keeping an eye on the stakeholders, the parties' interests, and the available BATNAs. Now we know that victory in the battle of the BATNAs led us to the finish.

BATNAs are your Best Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement, or plan B. The other side doesn't have to agree with your BATNA, because it's the plan you will execute if negotiations don't produce a desirable result.

Knowing the strength of your BATNA relative to your counterpart, and being willing to execute it, is essential as you enter any negotiation, as the NFL regrettably realized this past week. We can all learn from the NFL's missteps.

Every successful negotiator knows that you are more powerful at the negotiation table if you have a strong BATNA, preferably more than one. But remember - your BATNA is your back-up plan, your Plan B. In fact, your Plan A should be to reach a mutually beneficial agreement through dialogue, without having to execute BATNAs. This is paramount, especially if you will need to work together in the future.

Clearly the NFL and the NFLPA have an ongoing relationship and must work together going forward. Executing BATNAs can be risky because you don't know the fall out, unlike the greater certainty that comes with a negotiated agreement. Executing BATNAs can also damage relationships, as we have seen play out in this situation. To that end, Judge Berman urged both sides to negotiate a solution rather than do battle in court. 

But each side evidently thought that its BATNA was the stronger BATNA.

As you enter a negotiation, one critical step is to assess the relative strengths of each side’s BATNA. This assessment is done in the Exchange stage of negotiations, while you are measuring your opponent’s position, understanding their interests, and assessing their trustworthiness and credibility. Depending on the strength of your BATNA and your assessment of the other side, opening offers are made. In Deflategate, both sides had strong opening positions: Brady refused to accept any ruling that included missing a football game because of cheating, and the NFL seemed to require Brady to bear some level of responsibility by accepting the NFL’s Deflategate investigation led by Ted Wells.

These seemed like aggressive opening offers at the time, but both sides must have felt that they had strong BATNAs. If you are confident in your Plan B, you can afford to be very assertive with your opening position. As no negotiated settlement was reached, each side apparently believed that they had the superior BATNA. Clearly, Brady and the NFLPA made the right assessment.

Although the NFL under-estimated the strength of Brady’s BATNA, the NFL did do one thing well. The NFL immediately sought to improve its BATNA by filing a pre-emptive lawsuit against Brady in a New York federal court, rather than the players-friendly venue of Minnesota, where recent trials had been held that went the player’s way.

A good negotiator constantly works to improve short and long-term BATNA’s, before and during negotiations, and certainly when agreement can't be reached. Roger Goodell and the NFL clearly had that on their minds, as they filed the NY lawsuit to reaffirm the NFL's ruling on the same day the ruling was issued – July 28th.

For more on ways to leverage your BATNAs, check out an earlier Watershed blog, the Negotiator’s Keys to a Powerful BATNA.

We have likely not seen the last of the NFL vs Brady case, as the NFL recently stated that it will appeal Judge Berman's decision. But this move should not stop Tom Brady from joining the New England Patriots on the field as the NFL opens its season. Let’s hope that both sides reassess their negotiation strategies to find a way to address their interests and appease their stakeholders. While the battle of the BATNAs has a victor, nothing's certain about who will win the season opener. Let the games begin!

Negotiating Tip

Three easy ways to build trust: Listen as an ally, show sincere appreciation for your counterpart’s efforts, and make (but link) concessions.


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3 Key Negotiation Issues to Watch in Deflategate

By Leslie Mulligan

Will Tom Brady or Roger Goodell come out the winner in the NFL's DeflateGate? Who has the skills and strategies to win the next round? Get your tickets because this negotiation is a game everybody is watching.

NFL camps are opening this week all over the US, and football-hungry fans are getting excited about watching their teams – and favorite players – on the gridiron again. One huge problem hanging over the start of the season: what will happen to much-beloved Tom Brady, locked in battle with NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell and the "ownership powers that be," over DeflateGate? Did Tom Brady break the rules with football deflation in the AFC championship game, and if so (or even if he just “covered up” potential evidence), what punishment fits this crime?

The NFL handed down a 4-game suspension back in May 2015 and the players' union, NFLPA, appealed in June. Just this week, Commissioner Goodell upheld his decision: the 4-game suspension stands. But the questions may linger - what is fair in this situation, and what will be accepted by those football-hungry fans, especially when Tom Brady was just announced as the #1 seller of NFL merchandising for Q1 this year, from the NFLPA’s Top 50 Player Sales list.

How can Roger Goodell and NFL ownership keep fans happy, while retaining control over league activities? The balance of power is intriguing.  – can a win-win be reached between the NFL and Tom Brady’s camp, especially now that Goodell has solidified his position with his latest ruling? Here are the issues to watch.

Stakeholders are Issue #1 to Watch

An essential concept in negotiations is to manage your stakeholders, in part by recognizing and hopefully meeting their interests: Goodell has a number of stakeholders, and their interests are not necessarily aligned. The NFL (and NFL Owners) makes close to $10B in revenue a year, with an aim of reaching $25B by 2027 – the top professional sports league in the world.

And they pay Goodell handsomely; in 2012, Goodell’s salary was $44M (this is the last published salary, as after 2012, the NFL relinquished its tax-exempt status and closed ranks on disclosing salaries). Goodell clearly wants to keep the owners happy! In fact, at least two of these very powerful owners lobbied hard to uphold the 4 game suspension – Jim Irsay (Indianapolis Colts- the team that lost to Brady in the infamous game) and Steve Bisciotti (Baltimore Ravens). So it is no surprise that Goodell doubled-down on his decision this week.

Tom Brady’s last contract was $57 million over 5 years – orders of magnitude lower than NFL revenue and less than Goodell’s own salary, but in the court of public opinion, Brady’s power is significant.  The NFL assuredly wants to keep all of those jersey-buying fans happy too, as their zeal fills the owners’ cash registers. It seemed as if the majority of fans wanted Brady’s suspension lightened if not lifted – that will play out on the airwaves in the coming days, as we see how fans react to Goodell’s decision.

Interests are Issue #2 to Watch

Both sides of this conflict have myriad interests in play. It is essential to understand and prioritize your interests, and determine what is driving the other side, in order to attain a win-win outcome in any negotiation. Goodell clearly wants to keep the NFL owners and the fans happy, but he has a self-serving interest too: he wants to preserve his reputation and legacy as an outstanding Commissioner. His reputation has taken repeated hits lately with various league scandals. As he ponders next steps, surely he wants to avoid second-guessing in the media, questioning his leadership. How his decision to uphold the suspension preserves, or sullies, his reputation remains to be seen.

Tom Brady is also very interested in self-preservation – he values his earnings potential both as an NFL player but as a champion endorser too! If he is viewed as a cheater, his short-term income from promotions, commercials and other sponsorships may dry up. In 2013, Brady's endorsement income was $7M, not too far below his NFL annual salary.

But probably more important to Tom Brady than his marketing potential is his legacy as one of the best, if not the best, quarterback to have played the game. He went on record in January to proclaim he was not a cheater. The new information that he had his cell phone destroyed after the investigation began raises the stakes for him. He wants to be in the pantheon of immortal NFL players, and with 4 championships under his belt already, he was on his way. It is no surprise that Brady wanted the entire 4-game suspension wiped away – with the recognition that he did not cheat. So his interest is clear, but how to best achieve it?

BATNAs are Issue #3 to Watch

Tom Brady and the NFLPA have one major lever – their BATNA! In this case, their Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement, or Plan B, is to take the NFL to court. And they have been clear that they are willing to do just that: they are willing to execute their BATNA and go to court. BATNAs are most powerful when the other side believes you have a strong Plan B (or more than one alternative, even) and are willing to execute it. Back in June during the initial appeal, Brady’s defense attorney publicly stated that they have a strong case, and many in legal circles agree.  

The NFL has a lot on the line; some recent NFL investigations did not go so smoothly (remember the Ray Rice case), but Roger Goodell has shown that he is also willing to execute his BATNA. The last thing that Roger Goodell and the NFL probably want is a protracted legal proceeding, including all that might come out in the Discovery phase of litigation, but that seems to be the path we are on. Just a few days ago, Forbes published an article that suggests Brady and team will prevail in court. If that's an accurate assessment, Goodell's priority must be keeping his stakeholders happy at this stage.

End game?

One hope is that cooler heads will soon prevail, as an underlying, common Interest in play for both parties should be a speedy resolution. Brady assuredly wants to get on the field – he only loses $2M if he misses all 4 games, but he would snap his 13-year record of season opening starts. And Goodell would like to open the NFL season with happy fans (and happy owners). But for the moment, we are at the stage of litigation threats. It will be fascinating to see how this unfolds.

We will know soon enough if they are able to pull back from their BATNAs and negotiate some form of a win-win solution. Interests and stakeholders are now well understood; opening and counter-offers have been made and BATNAs revealed. Let’s hope they focus on Best Negotiating Practices rather than legal tactics in the near term, and close the books on this rapidly, so that the start of the American football season can kick off happily for all parties - especially the fans!

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Negotiation Blog

MLB Negotiations – Who has more to lose?

By Leslie Mulligan

All of us want to see professional sports up and running again, and MLB could be the first post-Covid-lockdown. But only if the Major League Baseball (MLB) with its powerful, moneyed owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), a seemingly united players union, can bridge their financial divide on players’ salaries. But deadlines force concessions: if Opening Day does not come by early July, there is no hope for a season this year. Which means we MUST be in the final stages of a 2020 baseball negotiation!

On March 16, the baseball season was formally postponed by MLB due to Covid-19, till at least mid-May, but with hopes of still playing a full schedule, as documented in this CBS Sports timeline.

Both sides were eager to plot a path forward and so convened at the negotiation table on March 26 to define what opening up again would look like. At that moment, the owners and the players were willing to tackle the health and safety challenges ahead, and also agreed to pro-rated player salaries on whatever might remain of the season. After all, no one wanted a repeat of the 1994-1995 season where the US national pastime stopped abruptly on August 11, when Collective Bargaining Agreement talks broke down. Public sentiment for baseball took a hit that year with no World Series;  both sides want to avoid reliving that history as a result of Covid-19.

Owners and players were “on the same page” on March 26, trusting each other to forge ahead together. Normally, major leaguers trust MLB owners to ensure their livelihoods with generous salaries, but with Covid-19 looming, players now were trusting MLB with their lives as well. Trust is crucial to any successful business partnership, but most certainly to the negotiations that serve as the foundation of an alliance.

Since late March, MLB and the players union seem to be successfully negotiating health and safety issues for the athletes as they take the field again, both in spring training as well as on the field, although some open issues remain. But one financial element became a significant obstacle -- player compensation. MLB expected that when the season started, they could play in front of their fans, and their initial proposal was based in part on the expectation of stadium revenue.

Without fans, the owners realized they could lose more than $640,000 per game, with no gate receipts or merchandise/food & beverage sales. That March 26 agreement was swept off the table with this new premise, as it was clear that baseball stadiums would not soon be filled with cheering fans. It’s not unusual that mid-negotiation, assumptions about the future change -- raw material prices rise, mergers occur, markets collapse, and in this case, a pandemic shuts down the gathering of fans – the crucial element to profit. Both sides went back to their camps to reconsider. The players expected to ensure that their salaries remained “whole,” but were willing to pro-rate their overall income, depending on the number of games played. And of course they want a longer season as a result. The owners insisted that with their revenue cut due to empty ball fields, they expect the players to share that loss by only earning some percentage of their pro-rated salary – the % to be negotiated.

The next MLB Proposal came in early May:  “MLB and the owners will seek additional pay reductions from the MLBPA to account for the revenue lost by not having fans in the stands. MLB will propose a 50/50 revenue split in 2020.” The players were NOT having it – a 50% cut when they had anticipated 100% of their per game salary. Any trust that existed in late March eroded quickly – as Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote on May 26:  “Trust, on the other hand, is hard to come by, and if this thing falls apart -- if the absence of a good-faith negotiation dooms the 2020 baseball season -- it won't be directly because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be because of the erosion of trust in recent years among the leaders on both sides poisoned and polluted the landscape to an extent that a deal never was going to happen in the first place.”

The MLBPA challenged the owners to produce the data showing the financial losses that the owners claimed. In any negotiation, each side more easily comes to an agreement when they feel the offers are fair. Challenging data is often key to one side accepting an offer. Already the players felt disadvantaged, stressing that the health risk falls predominantly on the players taking the field, so the data needed to be reviewed and assessed to show more games produce greater losses.

But neither players nor owners want to be painted as the villains in this play, so discussions have continued, with the clock ticking loudly. 

A number of proposals have gone back and forth since that first MLB offer; fortunately, the health and safety challenges are being collectively and successfully tackled by both parties. However, financial hurdles persist. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight.com provides a deep dive into the MLB financials yet concludes “it still seems like all parties involved have too much to lose not to come to a compromise.” Some creative solutions have been introduced, with the potential deferral of salaries in the event the post-season is canceled, but owners pushed back on that. Even wealthy team owners are nervous about an uncertain future, and some have voiced concerns about already being maxed out on credit lines.

So for a 2020 season, what alternatives does either side really have, if any? In the lexicon of negotiation, what are their Best Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNAs)? MLB and the owners believe they can unilaterally implement a shorter schedule season, but they risk the wrath of the players if they do. How the players react to that will be telling. Will they walk away and forego all 2020 salaries, citing health risks? Or will they file grievances that would take months to work through in arbitration and still may not conclude satisfactorily for either party? BATNA’s are never ideal!

So where does that leave the baseball fan now? The reality is that in negotiations deadlines force concessions! And MLB wants to get a 3-week spring training underway as soon as possible so that they can target a July 4th Opening Day. Why is that? Oddly enough, it is with the end in mind!  The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin writes “MLB believes it needs to complete its postseason, its primary driver of industry revenue, by the end of October to guard against a potential second wave of the coronavirus.”

As of June 8, the latest MLB proposal was for a 76-game season, with 75% of pro-rated salaries, but not all of it guaranteed. Only 50% assured, based on the regular season; if the post-season is canceled, the remaining 25% disappears. Once again, the players have pushed back. But the MLBPA response is due June 10, ironically the day they had hoped spring training might begin. Who has more to lose? Owners or players? I think it’s the stakeholders – baseball fans. Let’s see if some trust can be regained in these final weeks, as July 4th is not that far off –  that looming deadline should push both parties back to the negotiation table in earnest.  Let’s hope we all hear “batter up” soon!

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