The debate and frustration over the NFL’s use of replacement referees reached a whole new level Monday night when a blown call arguably cost the Green Bay Packers the game against the Seattle Seahawks.
The continued usage of replacement referees as the result of a labor dispute with league officials had led to major frustration and disgust by players, fans, and patrons of the game, and while the NFL officially released a statement supporting the decision to not overturn the touchdown, this incident does not bode well for a league that is said to be diminishing the quality of their product.
However, these circumstances offer a valuable lesson to marketers and brand strategists — that is, that a brand can become so powerful that bouts of adversity can have little impact on a company’s bottom line. Frankly, at this point, it is highly unlikely that fans will stop watching the upcoming NFL games in protest of the usage of replacement referees.
We have seen instances like this in the past, where powerful brands have faced crises and leveraged their brand loyalty to emerge unscathed.
For example, McDonalds has built an intense amount of loyalty with their patrons. When the fast food giant ruins someone’s order, chances are, they will still come back and order again. When automobile manufacturers issue a recall for one of their products, consumers rarely change preference and switch manufacturers as a response.
So while the NFL appears to be blatantly ignoring the concerns of players, fans and other patrons for the usage of replacement officials, the reality is not many fans are going to stop watching games and impact the league’s bottom line in the near future.
Brand loyalty is powerful and can help companies and brands hedge against adversity in the marketplace. In this instance, the NFL is arguably one of the most popular sports in the world.
League officials are, however, missing out on a huge opportunity. They can make the decision to further strengthen their commitment to their fans by working toward a resolution with the regular referees and put effort toward ending the labor dispute with the referees. In doing so, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL can demonstrate to their patrons the importance of delivering a quality product and responding directly to their customers. It is of the upmost concern for patrons of the game that this issue is resolved as soon as possible.
Still, while there is overall concern and frustration from many involved, it is highly unlikely that the NFL is going to notice a negative backlash on its bottom line in the near future. Put simply, the NFL has done a tremendous job in the past in building and solidifying brand loyalty and it will take more than replacement referees to break that mold with players, fans and patrons.
Kenneth C. Wisnefski is an online marketing expert and founder and chief executive of WebiMax, an online marketing agency in Mount Laurel, N.J. His firm specializes in search engine optimization, reputation management, search engine marketing, pay per click management and social media marketing services.