Quick Takes: NFL Referee Lockout

Lockout Ultimately Paid Off By Increasing Viewership

After two days of ongoing negotiations, the NFL and the officials’ union have reached a tentative eight-year agreement to end a labor dispute that began in June. While the NFL lockout frustrated hordes of fans, coaches and players, it ultimately paid off for the owners because of an increase in viewership.

Before the start of the latest season, the union officiating crews demanded the NFL pay them an extra $60,000 per team annually. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially declined to pay, instead hiring less experienced replacement officials. Naturally, this inexperience made them more prone to making refereeing mistakes. Fans and teams were shocked, but many casual observers tuned in to chuckle at the confusion and indecisiveness of the amateur referees — and to see some of the worst calls in football history.

The lousy officiating of the ‘scab’ referees, or workers who refuse membership in labor unions, gained the NFL lots of attention from unlikely spectators. In fact, the games’ ratings went up as much as 8 percent from last year’s and topped all 30 NFL markets over the past three weeks. Last Monday’s Packers-Seahawks game — which caused an uproar because of a bizarre last-second win for Seattle over Green Bay due to a false touchdown call — averaged 16.2 million viewers, ranking as the most-watched cable program in the last eight months. As viewership soared, ad dollars and TV licensing agreements poured into the NFL.

Eventually, the NFL had no choice but to take the officials’ union back in a last-ditch effort to protect the brand. The union referees have returned and the football connoisseurs have been satisfied. Meanwhile, the management is laughing all the way to the bank.

— Arik Burakovsky
Senior Staff Writer

Replacements Damaged Integrity and Reputation of NFL

The referee lockout has officially ended with union officials and the NFL signing an eight-year deal promising higher wages and pensions. However, the first three weeks of the regular NFL season with the replacement referees has exposed just how detrimental the replacement referee miscues have been to the integrity and sanctity of the NFL.

After the missed-call debacle in which a game-ending interception was wrongly ruled a touchdown, the media, especially Twitter on Monday Sept. 24, exploded with many hateful tweets — even by the players themselves — toward commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners who have been refusing to pay the referees a seemingly minute amount of money.

The final amounts of the increase in wages, according to ESPN, show that the average referee salary increased from $149,000 in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, to as much as $205,000 by 2019. Considering the combined salaries of all of the referees, we are talking about millions here.

For a billion-dollar industry that holds the most ratings — nine out of the top 10 most broadcasted sporting events are in the NFL according to Nielsen Media Research — paying the referees a couple thousand more a year is a million dollar problem. Seems silly to quibble over a small raise when the commissioner himself has claimed to uphold the league’s badge with honor.

When the final blown-call was announced in Seattle, the NFL’s integrity was compromised. An asterisk, which is noted in the record books to indicate to the public that results were not clean, was set upon the season. This three-month long lockout became about much more than the replacement referees — it became about the NFL not being able to protect its brand.

— Andy Liu
Staff Writer