Focus on the fans
Question: At the center of the labor dispute between NFL owners and professional football players is George Cohen, a federal mediator known for his work in helping Major League Soccer come to a resolution over its own labor battles. Mediators have no power or authority to compel either side to do anything, but they still have the capability to influence the outcome in nuanced ways. What must Cohen do to bring the more uncompromising members of both sides together to make a deal?
As his top priority, George Cohen must provide constant reminders that what matters most to both the owners and the players is fan loyalty. Without the millions of tickets and jerseys sold or the billions of dollars that record television ratings rake in, the multi-billion dollar pie currently being sliced up among owners and players simply wouldn't exist. If a resolution isn't reached before the 2011-2012 season kicks off, that pie could shrink dramatically. Just ask the bean counters at Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League how fiscally damaging even a brief work stoppage can be.
Right now, the economic reality most fans are confronting is far bleaker than it was when professional baseball and hockey players last took to the picket lines. As such, fans could very well have far less patience for what most of them see as bickering between millionaires and billionaires. Even an institution as popular as the NFL isn't immune to backlash. George Cohen needs to ensure that all parties understand this fact and act accordingly.
One way Mr. Cohen could help both parties to weather even a prolonged lockout would be to suggest concessions on both sides that make being a football fan more affordable. These days, taking a family of four out to FedEx field for a game means paying for tickets, parking, concessions and more--and the investment is significant. Finding ways in the collective bargaining process to show that the fans really do come first--such as lowering ticket prices for certain stadium sections--would send a powerful message that the NFL isn't about greed; but rather providing quality entertainment for all.