Despite yielding 256 regular season games (a total Major League Baseball surpasses after a few weeks), the NFL generates the most revenue out of all major professional sports in the US. The multi-billion dollar industry is facing perhaps its most criticized season ever, due to the replacement referees.
It’s been a trend that has been ruining the NFL brand since the preseason. Players, analysts, and the coaches have spoken about the issue. But, the NFL, as a business, is failing to reach its consumer fan base when addressing the issue of replacement refs. This is the ultimate goal of a business: produce a quality product for the consumer. And this, essentially, is the NFL damaging the NFL.
What goes into a quality product of the NFL is some formula of players, salary caps, owners, game events, stadiums, promotions, amongst possibly hundreds of other factors. The outcome of the product is why fans continue to go to games and why television broadcasts are reaching billion dollar deals. Sundays, for the sports fan, are designated for football—and football only. Kids know to get their homework done before the 1 o’clock game and adults know to mow the lawn Saturday so Sunday is free.
The referees are something that greatly impacts the product of the NFL. Maybe last year this was not obvious, but this year it certainly is. Roger Goodell has failed to deliver the NFL product that consumers want. The referees have distracted fans (as consumers) from the game. The referee issue goes beyond the Saints winless start, or annual power teams like the Patriots and Packers going 1-2 (I believe this is actually good for the league in general). The issue is that the NFL has decided to cheapen its product, while the profits of the NFL are increasing. According to Mike Ozanian of Forbes SportsMoney, the NFL could earn an extra $1 billion in extra revenues through the Thursday package (http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2012/09/21/nfl-could-get-1-billion-a-year-for-thursday-package/).
Though I am personally against adding a Thursday game to every week of the NFL season, as long as it brings in money, it will most likely stay implemented. The Thursday game can be unfair to teams travelling, but its ultimate weakness is that the players will be much more injured and bruised by the last quarter of the season that the beginning weeks. We have not seen the true representation of an extra billion dollars in the league yet. I forecast, however, that injuries will increase even more in weeks 13-17 than ever before because of the shortened recovery time for players.
But again, we must ask, what is the product Goodell is trying to deliver? Are driving revenues worth the criticisms that follow the replacement referees? Or on a lesser note, is a Thursday night game asking too much for a fan, at the expense of the players? If the replacement refs haven’t justified the value of the actual NFL refs, than the NFL must re-evaluate its goals in producing a quality product to consumers. The referees shouldn’t be the discussion at the end of games, nor should the league be making an estimated $1 billion and remain holding out one of the biggest components of the NFL product. The consumers, not the NFL, need their refs back now more than ever.