Branding Lessons from The NFL’s “Replacement Referee” Scandal

The NFL season kicked off in early September—but it didn’t take long for fan excitement to give way to frustration and anger. The cause was the labor dispute that took place between the league and its referees. The sides could not agree on compensation and other factors, and as a result the NFL’s referees were “locked out” of the games. Instead, replacement referees officiated the games. And unfortunately, there were a multitude of bad calls which received national attention—and even cost at least one team a victory.

The public outcry was loud enough that it ultimately prompted the league and the referees to resolve their dispute—but the damage had already been done. Many analysts believe that the errors committed by the replacement referees caused severe damage to the credibility of the NFL—or at least the credibility of the results of the first three week’s worth of games.

What can your business learn from this situation?

1) Avoid compromising your products and services at all costs. The league apparently believed that its product wouldn’t suffer—but they were quickly proven wrong. As a business owner, the integrity and the quality of your products and services must always be a top priority.

2) Acknowledge mistakes. To the credit of the NFL, league commissioner Roger Goodell issued an apology to fans and made it clear that the league regretted what happened. This apology may have done little to make fans of teams who had been victimized feel better—but it did send the message to the general public that the league understood public frustration and was working towards resolution.

3) Fix the problem and move on. When the situation reached its breaking point in late September, the league took action. They reached an agreement with their referees and brought them in immediately. Since then, the league has focused on the future, steering conversation and media attention back to the players and the games. You can bet that they will do their best to avoid broaching the subject at any point in the future.

It’s highly unlikely that any of us will ever offer a product or service that is as popular as the NFL—but we can apply these lessons to our own businesses just the same. Please get in touch with me today if you’d like to learn more!