- Mike Ricamato
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End to the NFL? Referee Dispute Hastens Controversial Call
There was a quick turnaround in the NFL referee lockout after a replacement referee botched a call that turned a Green Bay Packers’ Hail Mary interception into a touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks during a pivotal “Monday Night Football” game. Thanks to the national uproar that resulted, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) quickly reached an agreement that ended the controversial four-month lockout. According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, “We’re sorry to have put the fans through that. Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement in the long term.”
Not surprisingly, money was a crucial issue in the lockout. Aside from salary, at stake was the referees’ pension plan, which the NFL wants to convert to a 401 (K) program. Under the settlement, current referees will see their existing pension plan remain in effect until after the 2016 season. That will change in 2017 when the NFL starts depositing $18,000 annually into a 401 (K) account for each referee, a figure that will increase to $23,000 a year by 2019. The pension plan costs owners in the neighborhood of $3.3 million a year. To put that into perspective, the average NFL team is valued at nearly $1.1 billion.
Then there’s referee pay. Despite being highly profitable to the tune of $9 billion in annual revenues, the NFL pays its part-time referees a starting salary of just $78,000 a year. Contrast that with the starting salary of a MLB umpire, which totals $120,000. According to Bryan Knowles, “Of course, you could argue that they (MLB umpires) officiate dozens, if not hundreds of games a year, while the NFL ref will top out at about 20 – a fair point. Yet, this doesn’t stop Peyton Manning from making more money than Alex Rodriguez, despite the difference in workload.” With the settlement, NFL referees will see their paychecks rise from an average of $149,000 in 2011 to $173,000 this year and to $205,000 by 2019.
As an aside, approximately $300 million in bets were placed on the Packers-Seahawks game internationally, according to RJ Bell, CEO of pregame.com. Nearly $150 million more was bet on Green Bay (who was favored to win) than Seattle. “Due to one call by the replacement refs, the bettors lost $150 million, and the bookie won $150 million for a total swing of $300 million on one debatably bad call,” Bell said.