How pivotal are NFL refs?
Posted by Mark Bennett on September 27, 2012
Whatever your opinion on American football, player salaries, team revenues, and referee competence, the NFL referee story over the last few weeks provides some interesting insight into pivotal talent that would otherwise be easy to overlook.
Last week, I listened to someone on the radio comment on the NFL response when asked why they couldn’t come up with what amounts to an extra 100K per team to close the deal with the refs. The NFL response was, “People don’t watch games for the refs,” to which the commentator said something to the effect of, “Right, and it’s the ref’s job not to be seen.”
Exactly. Much of their role is to not be a distraction.
That reminded me of the now classic scenario described by Boudreau, et al in “Beyond HR” regarding the street sweeper role at Disney theme parks.
Customer experience and revenue
Imagine if you went to Disneyland with your family and your child stepped into gum/ice cream/unidentifiable or came up to you with a food wrapper stuck to their shoe. It would take away from the magic and delight of your visit.
Or say you needed to find the restrooms fast and there wasn’t anyone around to ask.
Or you wanted to take a picture of your kids with Mickey but Mickey was surrounded by people asking for directions.
Or that rare occasion when your child is hot, tired, and cranky and you are at your wit’s end.
You’d probably still come back, but maybe not as often.
Over the weekend and Monday night especially, the balance to many viewers of enjoying a game was tilted away from the contest between two teams by the distraction of questionable calls and delays caused by that extra time it took for refs to decide penalties and follow the right procedure.
Now, fans would probably still watch or go to games, but maybe not as often.
When you multiply even that small percentage change by the incredibly large numbers of theme park visitors and viewers/attendees, it’s a significant chunk of revenue. And once a slide starts to happen, companies get nervous about it accelerating.
To put it into numbers, not spending $100K was making a team’s multi-million dollar payroll less effective at generating revenue.
You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone
As recounted in “Beyond HR”, the role of street sweeper is invested with a lot more training than you’d think, especially in the art of being mostly in the background until needed and then when needed, delivering exceptional service.
Disney theme parks understood that while not glamorous, this role was “pivotal” – that by investing more into the role, you could still realize even more value from the role.
So they invested extra into making sure that street sweepers were well-trained in not only keeping the park very clean, but also knowing where important facilities were located as well as that delicate art of being aware of which visitors might be in need of assistance and knowing how to offer it.
So it was that the NFL found out about the value of well-trained and experienced referees. Their job is to observe the activity on the field and ensure that the rules are being followed, to take appropriate corrective actions when the rules are not followed, and to make those hard judgment calls under uncertainty.
But most of all, do all that in a way that keeps the game moving along and focused on the contest and the players, not on the referees. Don’t distract from fans enjoyment (or at least a reasonable fan’s enjoyment), because indeed, they came to see the contest and the players and not the refs.
In relatively short order, after fans’ vociferous disappointment with the games over the last week, punctuated by what some felt were “pivotal” calls that affected the outcome of heavily viewed games, the NFL came to an agreement with the refs.
Probably someone made the calculation that the supposed benefit of appearing to be hard negotiators with the refs in preparation for upcoming player negotiations was outweighed by disaffected viewers.
Perhaps also a lesson learned about how each role in an organization can be pivotal, even when and especially when it’s not in the spotlight.
Photo via RantRave