Home Thinking Aloud 4 Lessons Learned From Successful Sports Negotiations And Contracts

4 Lessons Learned From Successful Sports Negotiations And Contracts


by Andres Lares, Managing Partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute

Lamar Jackson is leading his own negotiation for a contract extension with the Ravens, challenging the norms and relationships between NFL players and executives, and raising questions about the role of agents in the future. While his decision is bold and newsworthy, it is important to remember sports agents, like any other agent that acts as an intermediary in a negotiation, can impact the outcome of a negotiation. At their best, they bring expertise with respect to negotiating sports contracts. At their worst, there are conflicts of interests and questions around the compensation they deserve for the roles.

By tapping into their experience, relationships, and objectivity, agents help their pro-athlete clients secure multimillion-dollar salaries and specific terms in their contracts. For a player, a contract negotiation can quickly and naturally become personal. For an agent, it is one of many contracts the agent is responsible for negotiating, and as such, for better or worse, they are less emotionally invested. 

Either way, there are quite a few lessons that we can draw from these high-dollar public sports negotiations that can be applied to our business transactions and career:

1. Negotiating more than one aspect at a time

Lamar Jackson will be looking for total dollars, guaranteed money, skill/injury/cap guarantees, a certain number of years, individual and team-based incentives, etc. That makes it easier to collaboratively negotiate, the team and player work together. This comprehensive strategy can be easily applied to business-related negotiations. Whether you’re negotiating a new business contract with a client or hiring a freelancer to help grow your business, try your best to discuss more than one aspect at a time. By including multiple factors, it doesn’t feel like a fixed sum negotiation; Instead, you’re working together to reach an agreement that works for all parties.

2. Keep things private

In the case of Jackson and his fame, his contract will be all over the front page news. However, during a business negotiation, you should avoid making things public during the negotiation process. Discussions around salaries, mergers or acquisitions should always be kept under wraps until an agreed upon release or announcement date. By both parties keeping things private, you build mutual trust in one another. Not to mention, when negotiations go public (even if they do not get as much attention as Jackson’s), there are many stakeholders and influencers involved. The end result is pressure to satisfy more than just the two parties negotiating, which further complicates the situation.

One of the most powerful components of building trust and relationships is consistency. This is why an agreement by both parties to negotiate privately can create another source of momentum. If both parties agree on the negotiation rules and follow them, it leads to further developing trust. In business, the public aspect likely plays a smaller role than in Jackson’s case, but the same principles apply for any aspect of the negotiation. For example, if you suggest, “Let’s meet once per week to advance this negotiation” and you follow through on your statements, that will create momentum for trust. Not only are you setting the bar for expectations but you’re also showing to hold up your end of the bargain. 

3. Prepare

Take a couple minutes to think about precedents – like Mahomes, Brady, Allen, and Prescott for Jackson. What did we learn from these past successful negotiations? What was the biggest takeaway from these negotiations?

Also, think about alternatives and what other deal structures you could consider. Do you consider a 4-year deal or contract and then try to get another bigger one, like Prescott? Or a 10-year deal like Mahomes and stay for life on the same team? Work through all your options and the other sides’ alternatives. 

4. Interest.

What do you care about and what do they care about? Always ask the other side about their wishes and demands, don’t assume. There are many approaches to contract negotiation but when you are negotiating more than one factor, you should always work toward accomplishing a win-win outcome from the very first interaction with the other party. All too often one party attempts to maximize their best interests at the cost of the other party and without any empathy. That is how you quickly damage the relationship and erode trust. 

There are, of course, competitive aspects. Every additional dollar the Raven’s pay Jackson, the less they have within their cap. However, there are a lot of factors in a negotiation. For example, Jackson may care more about his earnings over the next three years while the Ravens may care most about their flexibility after the next three years. This type of interest-based negotiating only occurs when there is trust, empathy, and the two parties are working together to reach a solution rather than competing over headlines and who wins at the press conference. 

When negotiation partners enter into a contract negotiation with the goal of reaching a win-win outcome, they will respectfully cooperate, share relevant information, creatively solve problems together, and engage in other types of cooperative behavior. Unlike the other approaches, which only focus on your own best interest, the win-win or collaborative approach takes the objectives of both parties into account and works to create a contract that offers value to both parties. A collaborative approach typically has a higher success rate and both parties leave feeling satisfied. Don’t forget this approach the next time you are trying to reach an agreement with a vendor, partner, or client. 

Deadlines and Timelines.

Finally, consider your deadline and try to create a timeline accordingly. In Jackson’s case, there is a hard deadline, which is when his current deal expires. But, we see lots of players or teams create a deadline of the start of the season to avoid distractions and have parties lose focus on winning.

Similar to sports deals, reaching agreements in any industry requires negotiating and doesn’t happen overnight. Working through the steps takes time and effort. But by making sure you prepare, probe into the other side’s interests, and develop timelines, you increase the likelihood of coming to an agreement that maximizes your objectives while still satisfying the other side, leading to a successful agreement.


Andres Lares is the Managing Partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute, where he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the global training and consulting firm. Andres’ expertise is in deal coaching live negotiations, and has focused on sports clients such as the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, Milwaukee Brewers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Brooklyn Nets. Andres co-authored “Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions“.



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