Greensboro, NC -- The NFL's trouble with replacement refs hit a new level Monday night when a disputed call at the end of the Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers game directly impacted the outcome.
Fans have vented on social media that they are fed up with the replacement refs -- and many have threatened to quit watching the NFL altogether. But is the situation putting the league's brand at risk?
WFMY News 2 turned to local advertising, public relations and marketing firm Bouvier Kelly for some insight Tuesday. And the firm's vice president for public relations said the NFL is walking a fine line with its customers and fans when it damages its product with replacement refs.
"They are playing with fire," Steve Powell said. "That gets to the root of what ... their brand is all about, and that's the quality of the performance that happens on the field."
Powell puts the NFL's brand in the same category as Mercedes-Benz and Apple. They're all responsible for tightly controlled, premium products. But the NFL's hold on that is slipping when the conversation shifts from how great the players and coaches are to how bad the officiating is.
But while Apple and Mercedes have aggressive competitors, the NFL doesn't. And Powell says that's where it's brand will be protected.
"You're still going to watch," he said. "You want to know the outcomes of the games. You want the games to be real. You want them to be real, quality NFL football product. And right now they're just not. And that can't be a good outcome for the NFL."
Powell's bottom line: the NFL needs to get its regular refs back on the field as soon as possible to safeguard the brand's value. But he equates the situation to Toyota's "unintended acceleration" issues from a few years ago. It hurt the brand for a little while, he said, but the company still makes a great product people will want, no matter what.
WFMY News 2