Everybody Hates the NFL Replacement Refs

In case you haven’t heard, last night’s football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks ended on a call that was, at the very least, dubious. And the tainted result has fans across the U.S. (not to mention high rollers in Vegas) seeing red.

On watching and re-watching the video, we can see quite clearly that the Hawks’ receiver not only shoved one of the defenders out of the way before making his “catch”; he never even had proper possession of the football.

To make things worse, the two refs couldn’t even agree on the call! The one who was closest to the action ruled the play a game-ending touchback but appeared to succumb to peer pressure (or something other unspoken force) and turn it into a touchdown. We’re still a little shocked that a call this bad was made by people who get paid to make calls—even if they are replacements.

One thing that even the (very lucky) winning coach can agree on: the NFL’s labor impasse needs to end.

Here are some quotes that NFL officials should read—from people with the experience to know:

  • Steve Young, Hall of Fame QB: “This is now affecting absolutely the competitive landscape of the NFL. It’s affecting the NFL that we all love very much.”
  • Trent Dilfer, ESPN analyst/ former QB for Tampa Bay and Seattle, “You get so frustrated with incompetence that it turns to anger. The NFL has insulted my intelligence. It’s tearing at the fabric of the game.”

The gambling industry isn’t too happy either! Apologies to those who see football as a pure, family-oriented sport, but the pigskin industry moves a whole lot of cash in Vegas, and none of the rollers like to bet on games made even more unpredictable by shoddy referee work. Tennis great Jimmy Connors even took the time to tweet that he would never bet on an NFL game again.

Why did the NFL hire replacements for the 120 members of the NFL Referees Association? Just a little thing called an ongoing labor dispute over pensions and “pay for performance” plans that has proven to be a big PR failure for the guys who run America’s most popular game. While both sides have looked unreasonable at times, the NFL’s decision to go hardcore and accept no compromises clearly hasn’t helped the organization avoid suffering damage to its public image.

In related news, we just learned of a thing called the Lingerie Football League—and we can’t quite decide whether to call it magical or disturbing. Turns out the LFL fired some of the very same replacement refs for general incompetence, so this is not a new development. In other words, the NFL should have known better.

When the integrity of your product is crucial to your public profile, you might just have to accept some less-than-ideal conditions to keep your tens of millions of fans happy. The fact that NFL attendance and profits continue to rise only makes the labor dispute look more ridiculous.

We don’t need to say it, but we will: The NFL needs to do some damage control. Like now.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.