Roger Goodell says the NFL is committed to maintaining the integrity of the game. Well Roger, it’s time to defend those words! About 13 months ago, the players, owners, and executives ended another lockout and narrowly avoided deserting the fans that helped build the NFL empire. Fans supporting the other major sports leagues have been less fortunate. It took MLB years to recover from the ’94-’95 strike. The NHL has barely recovered from the ’04-’05 lockout and now faces the same uphill battle.
The NFL is convinced that replacement referees do not have a significant impact on the outcome of games, nor do they impact the integrity the league seeks to maintain. Tell that to the coaches who will be fined this week for arguing with officials over bogus calls. Tell that to the players who vent via Twitter, making themselves and the league look foolish. Tell that to the fan who just paid $1000 for 4 tickets only to see their team lose because of a botched call. The NFL’s brand is not immune to the damage being caused by their failure to reach an agreement with the officials.
The league knows there is an easy fix to the problem so the long-term impact on the brand will be minimal. But what happens next time? Thanks to modern media, fans will be reminded of the disasters caused by replacement referees. Recurring incidents over a short time span will expose the league to a greater risk of long-term damage. Fans will move to support college teams or other major sports organizations. Quick – somebody call Vince McMahon and tell him it’s time to bring back the XFL!