Lessons Learned of the NFL Lockout


With the 2011 season creeping up on us and the threat of “real” money being lost soon, the CBA talk has, not coincidently, turned optimistic.  It appears that there will be a player vote on the CBA proposal this week, as well as an owner’s meeting to approve the deal.  If everything gets signed and approved with no last minute hiccups, the 2011 NFL season can commence, freeing fans to discuss free agency and training camps battles (you know, football stuff) instead hearing terms like “litigation” and “lockout”.

Several lessons can be learned from the past lockout; lessons hopefully that won’t have to be repeated in 8 or 10 years when the next CBA expires.

Nothing gets done until there is a deadline.
A real deadline, with real money involved, is the ultimate impetus to negotiating.  Until then neither side is willing to put forth their best efforts or their best deal.

Football is a year round enterprise.
Professional football has created a 365 day a year business cycle, where fans are used to daily news updates and discussions about their team – even in the offseason.  From discussions on the draft to free agents to OTA’s, the news never stops coming about your favorite team.  Take away any part of this cycle and the fans start to get antsy.   If there was any doubt of this go back to the 2011 draft and listen to the crowd shouting “we want football” approximately 5 months before any games were slated to be played.

The court system giveth, and the court system taketh away.
Players were excited by the initial ruling that the lockout was illegal.  Legal experts touted how the statement by the court was written in such a way as to be an ironclad rebuttal to a potential appeal.  Of course, the appeal was heard and the ruling was overturned, shifting leverage back and forth between the players and owners on a monthly basis.  In the end Roger Goodell was right; the only true solution to the labor impasse was through negotiation, not litigation.

Much like making sausage, crafting a CBA is an ugly, messy business.
As the CBA negotiations heated up, players were insulted and owners were lambasted. Insane analogies were made (“playing in the NFL is like modern day slavery”), and scathing Tweets were exchanged across the web by grown, rational men. Regular employees were laid off or furloughed, all in the name of the almighty dollar.

Beware of lawyers with ulterior motives.
The key word for any legal team engaged on a case is “billable hours.” The longer the process stretches out, the more money they make. One overlooked news item in the past month was the renegotiation of the legal fees from billable hours to a flat fee for completion of the deal, meaning the lawyers now had every incentive to get a deal done as soon as possible rather than stretching out the process and wasting resources that could be spent bilking other clients.

Players are not robots.
One recurring theme from multiple players is how refreshed and healthy they feel, after having spent a summer working out on their own. We will see in the fall if there are more injuries as a result of the lack of team sponsored training events and off season workouts, but going into training camp the majority of players have stated they seen fresher than in seasons past.

Nobody cares about the fans.
Both sides claimed to have the fans’ interest at heart. Both sides created web pages explaining their viewpoints and issued letters to the public and waged a PR battle for months solely to get the fans behind them. In the end the only thing that mattered were the players, the owners, and the money lying on the table between them. I have no issues with this. The owners own the business; and the players are the employees. Fans have no seat at this table – except that the 9 billion dollars they were dividing up is our money. So forget your PR war and just make the deal. Don’t claim that the fans support one side or the other side – we just want football to be played.

Hopefully now that this war has been fought, we can forget we ever learned words like litigation and lockout, and re-learn words like “shoulder” and “MRI” and… oh wait. We don’t want to learn those words either.