What should the NFL do?

Before this past Monday night you might not have realized the National Football League was using replacement refs for all of their games. However, after this past Monday Night Football game, it would be hard for you to avoid the flood of comments and memes on Facebook taking stabs at the credibility of the NFL. The comments aren’t simply coming from the fans and spectators. Current players, former players and even President Obama have expressed their concern about the need for the NFL to bring back the regular referees.

Here’s a little background on the situation. The NFL referees went on strike because they couldn’t come to an agreement with the NFL about retirement benefits and pay amongst other things. The negotiations grew stale, but the NFL did not want to deprive the fans of a season, especially after last year’s player lockout, and brought in replacement referees. Where did they get these refs? Did they take the best refs from college football? No. The NFL found referees from the low college ranks and even one from the Lingerie Football League for the 2012 season. While they had preseason to prepare for the speed of the game, there have been quite a few publicized blunders. But, none bigger than the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Everyone, even the Seahawks, know they only won because of the blown call by the refs that night. You can click here and see the play that the refs called a Seattle touchdown with no time left, while everyone else sees an interception by Green Bay.

Personally, I wasn’t watching the game, BUT is appears everyone on Facebook was and everyone thought it was completely ludicrous. Facebook and Twitter both blew up with people saying it was the worse call he or she had ever seen.

Fast forward to the very next morning.

It was reported that the NFL had 70,000 voicemails, that $120 - $240 million was lost in gambling and important people publicly calling out the credibility of the NFL. You think you’re Tuesday morning was bad? Two former league MVPs, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, both publicly stated they thought the NFL cared more about money then the integrity of the game. Every sports talk show was talking about the call. President Obama was asking for the real refs to return.

If you’re the NFL, what do you do? Your $9 billion company is taking a huge image blow and fans are calling this season a joke. This is what I would do:

  1. Make the deal! (this might already happen by the time this is posted) - Obviously, NFL referees aren’t so easy to replace. Its three weeks into the regular season and there has been at least one complaint a week blamed on the replacements. Sooner or later fans will simply not want to watch. And can you really blame referees for wanting a good retirement plan and a little more money when they know the NFL brought in $9 billion last year? Come on.
  2. Apologize – This seems like common sense, but NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, needs to admit he was wrong about the replacement refs and make a public apology to the fans about how the games have been officiated thus far. Goodell needs to have a press conference and use social media to get his apology out there. He owes it to the fans and the players. Nowadays, with social media, there’s no reason he couldn’t personally apologize to a few fans, players and coaches.
  3. Promise – Goodell not only needs to apologize, but he needs to promise the fans and players this won’t happen again and tell everyone the precautions in play to make sure it won’t.

When dealing with a crisis, you need to make sure you own up to your mistakes if you made them. You might fix the problem, but your fans won’t fully believe you did it for them without you looking like a human. And guess what. No matter how important you are or how big your company is…we are all human – and humans make mistakes. The NFL can and certainly will come back from this, but they need to make the right decisions on how to handle it. The fans won’t like the NFL if its own employees, the players and refs, aren’t happy. The same way a brand can’t expect customers to like it, if its own employees hate it. You need to build brand strength from the inside out.

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