Bring Back the Replacement Referees?

Lance Easley is a Vice President of small business banking for Bank of America in California. Just over a week ago, he was merely a little well known employee in the financial services industry. After last week’s Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers game, however, he has infamously become a celebrity almost instantly overnight. Yes, we are talking about the same Lance Easley who served as a replacement referee for the game, signalling the highly controversial touchdown on the Hail Mary pass by the Seahawks.

No doubt we have all read our fair share of Facebook statuses and Tweets from angry NFL fans wishing for the quick return of locked-out referees. As Yashwant pointed out in an earlier blog post, the NFL is a clear loser in this situation due to compromise in the integrity of both the brand and the game. Believe it or not though, there is a hidden winner: the television networks. In fact, it can be argued that Lance Easley is merely fulfilling his duty as a member of capitalist America: providing the supply for the endless demand for professional football.

The controversial calls made by the replacement refs have created some of the most buzz in televised sporting events in recent years. ESPN has gone so far as to describe the popularity of current games using a concept we have all learned in the first few weeks of Microeconomics class: inelastic demand. Football is so heavily integrated into the American culture that demand will remain constant regardless of changes in price or perceived value. It may surprise many to know that viewership for ESPN’s Monday Night Football program drew a 29% year-over-year increase in viewership for the Seahawks/Packers game. Consumer behavior experts have claimed that the controversial calls have increased interest in the NFL by creating awareness among new spectators and building support for league teams among existing fans.

So as Stephen Colbert cleverly point out, “The free market has spoken.” Dare I say it? Could there actually be a reason which might justify bringing back the replacement referees?

- Yannan Qiu


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