SBD/September 24, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Are Replacement Refs Affecting The NFL's Business Operations, Bottom Line?

Referees play a role in the pacing and rhythm of NFL telecasts
As the NFL enters Week 4 of the season amid a lockout of the NFL Referees Association, the N.Y. TIMES' Sam Borden asks if it is fair to wonder whether the replacement officials are “diminishing the entertainment value of the games.” From a “bottom-line perspective, the television ratings for NFL games have been stable.” But "ardent and casual football fans alike have noticed a change in the pacing and rhythm of the games -- a slowing that is almost surely because of the games’ being run" by the replacement refs. NBC “Sunday Night Football” Exec Producer Fred Gaudelli said, “The officials are essential to a smooth telecast” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/23). In N.Y., Gary Myers asked, “What happens if business is good but the product is suffering? The NFL seems intent to find out.” A league that “cares so much about its image has turned the game over to a bunch of amateurs running around in striped shirts” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/23). In Boston, Ron Borges wrote fans now are “watching the way some watch NASCAR,” as they are “waiting for the next wreck.” But fans “keep watching, so who cares?” For NFL owners it is “not about the game anymore; it’s only about the money, of which there is plenty but never enough” (BOSTON HERALD, 9/23). In Miami, Dan Le Batard wrote, “Up in their skyboxes, NFL owners have turned off your air conditioning down below. Where are you going to go? Here’s what you are going to do: Complain and sweat. Here’s what you aren’t going to do: Leave. And that’s why the refs have no real leverage.” All they can do is “hope that the replacement refs keep getting worse as the owners bank on them getting better” (MIAMI HERALD, 9/23).

REALLY A BIG DEAL?
GRANTLAND’s Bill Simmons wrote the “biggest failures” have been the players. If the players are “as disenchanted about the officiating as they claim, then why not threaten to boycott games until the real officials come back?” They could say “it's a safety issue -- that they don't feel safe playing a violent sport when it's being overseen by incompetent officials.” But as long as ratings “aren't affected and players aren't getting needlessly hurt, is there really that much of a downside here for the NFL?” It is “hard to remember a sports commissioner needing a diversion more than [Roger] Goodell heading into the 2012 season, actually.” Unless one of his “signature players foils this little ruse by getting seriously injured … he probably pulled it off” (GRANTLAND.com, 9/21). In L.A., Sam Farmer wrote if “enough team owners complain -- or the most powerful ones -- the league will do what's necessary to bring back the regular officials.” Farmer: “This boulder won't be rolled away until the 32 bosses of Commissioner Roger Goodell insist it must be” (L.A. TIMES, 9/22).

LOCKOUT ACTUALLY GROWING THE GAME? ESPN's Bob Ley: ”The average locked-out regular NFL game official has already lost about $50,000 so far. That’s about a third of his annual officiating income. ... The substitute teacher analogy was officially recognized when the NFL peered into the classroom like a vice principal, sending all hands a memo this week mandating respect for the game. ... There is a growing, disturbing tone to the reaction. ... In a vacuum, the NFL is pushing for a smart business deal, trying to roll back pensions for part-time officials, in an economy where full-time private sector employees rarely have them. Perversely, all this chatter about sub-par officiating is growing interest in the game, this $10 billion industry. So, we have benign neglect, as not only art form, but an NFL financial strategy, and it’s working” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/23).
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