In business disputes, customers can be collateral damage

In business disputes, customers can be collateral damage.

As we head into the second Sunday of the NFL season, fans, players and coaches remain disgruntled because the games will once again be officiated by unseasoned replacement refs, due to the referee lockout.

“Fittingly,” Friday was the 18th anniversary of the day when the owners of Major League Baseball officially canceled the 1994 season, as a result of a players’ strike.

I’ll never forget that fall. Steiner Sports was just starting to take off; the Rangers had won the Stanley Cup a few months prior, and with captain Mark Messier as our first exclusive client, I was finally feeling like I could make some actual money in this business.

But not having October baseball was a real downer, especially since the Yankees had been in first place when the strike began in August!

It didn’t matter that I knew better than most how complex the business of sports really is; the idea that my favorite players and coaches would be so stubbornly frugal as to walk out on a season in progress was incomprehensible. Didn’t they care at all about the fans who supported that business? And what about the men and women who worked at the stadiums to support their families?

Yet this happens over and over again. Since 1994, we’ve seen the NHL cancel an entire season. Last summer, we were tortured for months with the idea that the NBA and NFL might do the same. And now, almost 20 years after darkness descended on baseball parks across the country, we watch scabs officiating on Sunday, compromising the most popular game in the country.

There’s no doubt that athletes, referees and their bosses have every right to be concerned about their livelihoods. That’s a universal issue, and one that shouldn’t be marginalized no matter how much dough someone is making. And each of these labor disputes, depending on your perspective, has featured different villains: in some cases, the owners have been greedy; in other cases, the players have asked the owners to operate under models that weren’t feasible for long-term financial health. (It seems to me that the NFL refs are being reasonable in their demands, but to be honest, I don’t know enough about it.)

But while each of the disputes has featured different villains, they’ve all featured the same victims: the fans, and the lower-level employees who don’t have a say in these matters, but who depend on the games being played (stadium employees, for example).

Those are the people that get pinched every time, because they have nowhere else to go. They’re the victims every. Single. Time.

Maybe these disputes are unavoidable sometimes, but it sure seems that if the leagues and players stepped back a bit, they’d gain some perspective and see the forest for the trees. They’d keep the fans and other people that depend on them more in mind. And with that priority as a guide, these work stoppages would happen a lot less.

Because frankly, the way these groups usually operate during strikes reminds me of two parents screaming at each other while standing over a confused child.

At work, disputes are inevitable. Haggling with suppliers is inevitable. Employee arguments are inevitable. When money is involved, bickering is inevitable.

But if each party along the chain of command and the assembly line keeps in mind the people who really depend on them – the customers, the clients – cooler heads prevail. These disputes become much easier to solve.

When you have work disputes, are you keeping your clients as much in mind as yourself, and the people you’re disputing?

Buy my new book, You Gotta Have Ballshere.


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