Even though the highly controversial touchdown call on the field was upheld last night at the end of Monday Night Football, social media data today confirms that the National Football League’s reputation has been intercepted. Though the hand-wringing among fans and sports reporters won't likely affect TV ratings during the coming weeks in a national consumer marketplace that may as well be called the United States of Football.
According to social media firm NetBase, the NFL’s negative sentiment rating during the last 24 hours has come in at 76 percent (2:30 p.m. E.T. press time), compared to 27 percent it averaged this month through Sept. 23. The data-point entails millions of messages on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other sites.
The pro football league was already under a lot of scrutiny for failing to come to financial terms with its regular referees. During the first two weeks of the season, the replacement refs were not getting the job done, screamed sports blogerati, talk radio hosts and legions of fans.
Things got truly bad last night when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson flung a 24-yard pass into the air that was seemingly intercepted by a Green Bay Packers defender. The officials, however, called it a simultaneous-possession touchdown. The Seahawks won, 14-12, due to the decision.
That conclusion fell flat among football pundits, fans on Twitter and almost anyone else who wasn’t a Seahawks diehard. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews reportedly tweeted out NFL commish Roger Goodell's office phone number in protest. According to NetBase data, negative sentiment around the terms “NFL” and “refs” lifted from 65 percent before last night’s game to 88 percent today.
At the same time, it's unlikely that the latest “scab referee" controversy and the ensuing social media backlash will meaningfully tarnish the NFL business, per Ken Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax.
“While social media helps cultivate and expose the amount of frustration, the reality is, the NFL brand is so strong, it is unlikely we will see a negative backlash of fan support in the coming weeks,” Wisnefski told Adweek via an email on Tuesday morning. “That is, it is unlikely that ratings will immediately suffer from this. I agree that it is a major mistake to have a wrong call especially in this fashion, thus there is an opportunity for the League and [NFL commish] Goodell to express their support for the quality of the product and work to resolve this immediately.”