Bad Refs Won't End the NFL Lockout—but You Can, if You Stop Watching

More

Last night on Monday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception in the endzone to lose the game to the Green Bay Packers. Then he gloriously threw up his hands, celebrated with ecstatic teammates, and watched his kicker put the extra point through the uprights, sealing a Seahawks victory.

Wait, what?

Yes, exactly. With the league's officials locked out due to a labor dispute with the NFL, the replacement referees called the interception a touchdown. Basically, the defender caught the pass, but the wide receiver put his hands around the ball to make it look like a shared catch, and under the tie-goes-to-the-runner principle, the refs called it a touchdown -- even after a video review. The TV announcers were apoplectic. Several appeared on the verge of tears. The Packers looked vaguely murderous. Even the prudish ESPN ran the indignant headline "Replacement refs decide game."

So, out with the scabs? Not so fast. The broad assumption is that this fateful play will hasten the end of the lockout. Maybe it should, and maybe it will. But from a business standpoint, the NFL doesn't have much more reason to budge than it did 48 hours ago. TV ratings are at record-highs. Sunday night's ratings were up 8% over a year ago. Viewers are furious, but they're also viewers, and the fans' indignation is more fleeting and harder to measure than ratings or ad dollars and TV licensing agreements.

"The NFL has essentially identified its product as being inelastic," said Eben Jose, a sports business analyst at IBISWorld. "They have no reason to really push a deal with the refs because TV ratings are better than ever."

Of course, the NFL has a keen interest in protecting its brand before it suffers a backlash (they already fired last night's referees). But the league is also making a business calculation: If NFL fans keep watching replacement-ref games, how much do they really value the more expensive referees? Why should we pay more money for the same financial returns?

I don't know any football fan who thinks the current NFL "product" is superior to last year. But collectively, we're consuming more of it. If you want the real refs back, the best thing you can do isn't to root for more errors. It's simply not to root at all. The loudest and clearest way to ask for a change is simply to change the channel.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In