written by Keith Philips
America’s National Football League (NFL) has had an interesting start to their new football season, with the NFL’s regular referees on strike for the first few weeks of the season and a group of “replacement referees” filling in for them. The regular referees are now back on the job after reaching an agreement with NFL management. SSI’s Keith Phillips considers the impact.
The NFL did not need to conduct a research study to know how their fans felt about the replacement referees. After a long weekend of missed calls and poor calls the replacement NFL referees created quite the stir, when they blew a call that cost the Green Bay Packers a win on a Monday night football game. Twitter immediately began a conversation on Monday night’s injustice. A Senator from Wisconsin (home of the Packers) tweeted out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s phone number and Goodell (head of the NFL) reportedly received 70,000 voice messages from fans.
Although the fans of football have been complaining about the replacement refs for weeks, the full time NFL refs on strike seemed to have had very little leverage in the negotiations, because TV ratings for the game have never been higher. ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame player Steve Young made a comment on ESPN that the demand for the NFL was inelastic, thus giving the real referees no leverage in the negotiations. In fact, one could argue that the replacement refs have added a viewership factor to the sport. Football players were behaving worse than normal, because they knew they could get away with illegal hits. The question became, what will the replacement refs do this weekend?
Following Monday night’s dramatic Green Bay Packers game the US national news media (not just the sports media) reported on the story of the replacement referees in the NFL. Following the “any press is good press mantra” one might believe the controversy of the NFL replacement referees would only fuel interest in watching this weekend’s games. But the NFL is not concerned with next week’s ratings; they already know they will be great. They are more concerned with next year’s ratings, and the year after that, and so on. They sit on top of the mountain when it comes to entertainment in the US and it is their desire to remain there that forced them to come to the table and get a deal done with the NFL full time referees. Sure, many NFL team owners probably do not feel the replacement referees were that much worse than the regular ones, but it’s public perception that matters.
When Budweiser beer airs a commercial during the Super Bowl Game, there is an understanding that it will not immediately increase Budweiser sales, but that it will keep the perception of Budweiser as the mainstream American goto beer, intact. This is what the NFL has done by bringing back the real referees. They have moved forward in an effort to protect their brand. We will never know what the ratings would have been for another weekend of replacement refs after the debacle that was last weekend, but I’m certain that the NFL has made the right move for the future of the sport.