Negotiation Blog

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!

Negotiating Tip

"In one of our concert grand pianos, 243 taut strings exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. It is proof that out of great tension may come great harmony."  Theodore E. Steinway


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Negotiation Blog

Negotiating Covid Relief – Politics in Play

By Leslie Mulligan

Businesses had to sharpen their negotiation skills as markets and supply chains endured enormous pressure in 2020. Now it’s the U.S. president’s turn to demonstrate his negotiation expertise in passing the $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Relief Bill. Is he willing to collaborate with Congress, or will he take on a competitive approach? And how will the Republicans respond?

President Biden has made it his mission to tackle the devastating pandemic – it is the very first priority listed on the White House website.  Specifically, he has vowed to get the massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in U.S. Congress and ensure Covid vaccines are distributed as rapidly as possible. Time is of the essence as the economy remains weak; many still face desperate times. Yet President Biden has also pledged a bipartisan approach to governance and wants to unite the country – so how do you negotiate effectively with Congress in this still polarized landscape to deliver on these promises; or do you?

Bipartisanship Approach?

Will a collaborative (win-win, interest-based) or even compromise approach produce bipartisan approval, or will the Administration have to take a competitive approach (win-lose) to get results.

Emerging from the last presidential election, the USA is seriously divided, no doubt about it. Yet President Biden is on a quest for unity, including in his Congressional relationships. As a long-serving alumnus of the Senate, he underscored the need for bipartisanship: “I think I can work with Republican leadership in the House and Senate. I think we can get some things done.”  But will Republicans reciprocate – will they work with the president and their Democratic colleagues?  We don’t know what is happening behind the scenes, but the president has only publicly met with 10 Republican senators in early February to discuss the Covid relief bill. And Republicans have felt rebuffed by their 

Congressional colleagues: “…they were frustrated that their views weren’t being considered as Democrats pushed the legislation forward without GOP support”. This may foreshadow a competitive stance.

And yet, President Biden has the support of the American public writ large – even Republicans: “Half of all Republicans believe that President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package should be passed because of the proposed round of $1,400 stimulus checks, according to a new poll.” 73% of all Americans support this bill, according to a Navigator Research poll last week.  Bipartisanship can be achieved in the public domain – that has certainly been realized in the run-up to the passage of this bill. But will any congressional Republicans come on-board?  Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, put this question succinctly when asked about Republican support: “Obviously, Republicans in Congress will have to make their own choice about whether they support the final package.  But the vast majority of the public supports it, including the vast majority of most members’ constituents.  So it’s really a question for them.”

But will Democrats entice them to support a negotiated bill, with a willingness to compromise by giving in on some of what’s been proposed, if not collaborate by finding new solutions that satisfy both parties? Or simply use a heavy-handed competitive approach to get what they want. The overriding negotiation strategy used here may set the tone for the next 4 years.

Time

Time is almost always a factor in negotiations. There is an adage in negotiating – “deadlines force concessions”. And President Biden feels the pressure of a looming deadline. On March 14th, over five million people will lose their weekly $300 federal unemployment benefit. The PPP program runs out for small businesses on March 30th, and the airline industry may take a big hit as $15B in federal funds that subsidize payrolls also expires. But will Congress feel the same pressure of this deadline? Assuredly the Democrats largely will. But Republicans may resist the pressure, advocating that previous stimulus bills have set the stage for recovery - the trajectory is positive. Could Republicans use time as leverage to get more of what they want? All politicians have a political calculus even while making policy decisions – how will these deadlines impact their negotiations across the aisle and with President Biden?

Policy vs Politics

Great negotiators know that their positions are driven not just by what they can conceivably achieve, but by a greater business or overriding imperative. The same is true in negotiations over legislation. Politics are the quintessential overriding imperative that drives what each legislator is willing to do.

“Negotiation in Congress is never solely about policy; politics and policy are always intertwined”, per the Task Force Report published in December 2013 by the American Political Science Association (APSA), Negotiating Agreement in Politics, which sheds light on the challenges of American political negotiations. There are valuable lessons in that report, with pragmatic advice for all parties at the Congressional negotiation table. One truism comes from former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): “Nobody pushes for unpopular policies.” And it appears that the Covid relief bill is popular!  But elected officials manage their politics to keep their constituents (and donors) happy - they must justify their policy votes. Those up for reelection in 2022 will weigh their policy decisions now against a potentially different political landscape one year hence. In fact, news reports indicate that Republicans believe they are better served to deny President Biden a “bipartisan win” – and so are working to keep their own party cohesive, and plan their own PR push to paint this Bill as “bloated”, disparate and not well-aimed.

Stakeholders 

When defining any negotiating strategy, it is paramount to assess who your stakeholders and what their Interests are, and how they impact your plan. When it comes to legislation, there is no shortage of competing stakeholder Interests to address.

President Biden is banking on the American public as the most important stakeholder in this landscape. Most of them enthusiastically support this bill, and the timing is such that now is the opportunity to strike. Big business also supports quick passage of this Bill. Just this week, 150 of the country’s most powerful executives penned a letter to President Biden urging action: “Congress should act swiftly and on a bipartisan basis to authorize a stimulus and relief package along the lines of the Biden-Harris administration’s proposed American Rescue Plan."

Republicans may take the longer view, and assume that their stakeholders, their constituents, will accept resistance to this bill.  After all, it may get passed even without Republican support. Then the subsequent policies will help everyone, without Republicans having to go “on record” as supporting a democratic presidential priority.  “In short, explicitly partisan political considerations condition the opportunities for deal-making on policy issues,” suggests the learned authors of the ASPA report mentioned earlier. 

BATNA’s

No seasoned negotiator enters negotiations without a back-up plan, known as a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement or BATNA. That means both sides of the political aisle have BATNAs in play that they are willing and able to execute.

Can the Covid relief bill pass without Republican support?  Does President Biden have an alternative to a truly bipartisan bill, a BATNA in the lexicon of negotiating? Absolutely – after all, the Budget Reconciliation tool is available to him, now that Congress passed the Senate’s budget earlier in February. As long as the Democratic party stays cohesive, this enables passage of the Covid relief bill with only Democratic support. If Democrats prove each item in their reconciliation bill has a direct budgetary impact, this tool can be used to prevent Republicans in the Senate from filibustering and blocking the floor vote. So inasmuch as President Biden would like Republican support, it is not necessary for passage of this bill. His BATNA is strong, and he is willing to execute it, to ensure the needs of the American public are being met. Republicans too have their BATNA – they can decline to support this Bill, counting on their supporters to look positively on that decision down the road. This is a risk, but will they be willing to take it?

Trades

Negotiators come to the table prepared to trade. And President Biden has indicated some willingness to trade on the minimum wage – its inclusion in the Bill at all, a phased-in timeline to protect small businesses, and maybe even the new wage rate. 

There are two factors that complicate this element of the bill. First, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) has said he does NOT advocate for the full $15/hour – although he would support a reduced rate of $11/hour. Second, couple that with the fact that the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that as written, the minimum wage hike does not meet the threshold of having a “direct budgetary impact” – thus eliminating it as is from inclusion in the Budget Reconciliation Bill. This bargaining chip may come off the table entirely when the Bill reaches the Senate, or it may become a viable bargaining chip. The president has said he is open to negotiating the minimum wage. But cohesion among the Democratic senators will still be crucial on other elements of the bill, and keeping Senator Manchin in the fold may be a challenge that President Biden faces beyond just this particular legislation.

Final Thoughts

This bill will get passed, but probably with Democrats taking on a competitive approach ultimately and driving passage without any compromise. President Biden is willing to execute his BATNA and believes that his primary Stakeholder – the American public – needs the relief that it will provide, and will reward his Administration for it. Bipartisanship will have to wait, as the president feels the pressure of the March deadline. The Republican political calculus indicates that they too can take a competitive approach and won’t be penalized by their supporters. But this first interaction between the president and Congress may not bode well for collaboration between the two parties in the future. Time will tell, so stay tuned. 

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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