In case you haven’t heard, there was a big controversy on a football field last night. The CliffsNotes for non-football fans: the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers in a game that was decided in the final moments. Seattle threw a desperation pass that referrees ruled as a touchdown. Most of the rest of the world disagrees, and instant replay makes it look a lot like a Green Bay player intercepted the ball instead. Aside from ticking off a lot of Green Bay Packer fans, that one call could cost a whole lot more.
With only 16 regular season games, every game counts. According to Michael McCann, Director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, losing just one game could impact the Packers’ chances of making the playoffs. Even if they do, the team’s season record will determine whether it gets to host the game on home turf. McCann says hosting a playoff game can bring in millions of dollars in revenue, from “luxury boxes, concessions…local sales, the benefits of selling parking spots.” That is millions of dollars that Green Bay may have lost last night.
And there’s another dimension to last night’s call. The guys who made it are replacement refs. The NFL has locked out the regular refs as part of a big labor dispute. Robert Bruno, professor of Labor Relations at the University of Illinois, says moments like last night’s can remind people how valuable experienced refs are to the game. “For those folks who feel supportive of the referees, this is exactly what they’ve been waiting for,” says Bruno. “An NFL game being blown by a call.”
On the other hand, the NFL brand is so strong and viewership so high, the team owners still may not have any financial incentive to give the locked-out refs what they want. “Whether or not people want to admit it, they’re still watching the games,” says sports industry analyst Eben Jose. And ratings are better than ever.