NFL Referees End Lockout: Guess Who's Back, Back Again

  on September 27 2012 11:57 AM
NFL Referees End Lockout: Guess Who's Back, Back Again

It seems like so long ago.  Just prior to the start of last season, the National Football League and the Player's Union were locked in a drawn out battle.  The owners locked out the players.  The players decertified their union.  The NFL dug in and prepared for a heated battle.  The players filed an anti-trust lawsuit.  The lawyers were feasting like lions on the endless supply of litigation.  Meanwhile, the fans got sick of hearing about the battle between the millionaires and billionaires. 

The NFL's Hall of Fame game was cancelled.  Owners were in danger of losing concessions and parking revenue.  Players were in danger of missing game checks. Fans were in danger of missing real games.  Suddenly, at the 11th hour, all of the pieces fell into place and a deal was done.  It was done so quickly, in fact, that players showed up to training camp even before the official agreement was signed.  The world breathed a collective sigh of relief as football would live to see another day.

Fast forward one year and the NFL found itself in another labor dispute -this time with the Referees Association/Union.  The NFL wanted to convert the referee pension plan to something similar to a 401k plan.  They also wanted to create a pool of "replacement" referees that could be used if a referee was underperforming.  They wanted to add these additional refs without increasing the collective money pool.  This meant more refs would be dividing up the same size pot of gold.  As you would expect, the referee's union was not on board with these changes.  But this labor dispute had one major difference - the level of tolerance of the fans.

Football was never in danger over this dispute.  The NFL would simply hire substitute referees in place of the locked out refs.  While the quality of the product was going to suffer, the long-term financial viability of the league was at stake and the owners were not going to budge.  They didn't budge with the players union, even when fans were losing their minds during the offseason.  In fact, more than one owner stated that they were willing to lose the entire season if necessary to reach an agreement with the players.  Is there anyone on earth who believes the referees have more bargaining power than the players?  Of course not.  That means the NFL was going to get its way one way or another.

So now all is well in the football world.  The players are back and have agreed to a 10 year collective bargaining agreement.  The referees have also agreed to a 10 year agreement.  But is the NFL better for winning these disputes?  The answer is yes.  It is the most profitable sports league in the United States and one of the most popular in the world.  Its fan base continues to grow as the football experience has evolved significantly over the past 15 years.  Revenues are at all time highs and it doesn't appear they'll be shrinking any time soon.  And with 10 years of peaceful labor on the horizon, the NFL can now concentrate on expanding its domestic and global brand with few obstacles to stand in its way.