By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
September 28, 2012
We’ll never know how critical of a role Monday night’s debacle in the Seahawks-Packers game played in resolving the NFL referee lockout. However, now that the real refs have returned to action, the NFL can shift its focus from negotiating a new labor deal to repairing the tarnished image it sustained over three weeks with replacement officials. Throughout the dispute, one group of NFL stakeholders remained particularly quiet – the sponsors. Despite the negative PR surrounding the league, sponsors escaped the replacement ref saga unscathed.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from controversy, it’s the NFL is an inelastic product. Neither the league nor sponsors lost any money while the regular refs were locked out. In fact, nearly 75 million viewers watched last week’s NFL games despite them being officiated by replacements. NFL sponsors including Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, and Verizon, pay tens of millions of dollars annually for the rights to associate with the NFL shield. Since sponsors didn’t see a negative return on their investments, they didn’t see a need to speak up.