The NFL's official statement on the call has been added to the story.
Be thankful you don’t work in the National Football League’s PR department this morning.
During last night’s Monday Night Football game, the league’s much-maligned replacement referees—the current refs are
locked out by the league—made a ruling so controversial that fans raged, Twitter exploded, media pounced, and politicians went to extremes to express their displeasure.
And the NFL, in a series of moves to presumably quell the online fervor, deleted or tweaked a number of social media posts late Monday.
This is a public relations disaster for the league.
“The NFL's success, and its ability to overcome challenges to its reputation, is rooted in the quality of its product,” PR professional (and NFL enthusiast) Jackson Wightman said. “Last week and throughout Sunday's games, the media made noise about the effect the replacement refs had on player safety, and the choppy style of play exhibited during the games.
“Monday's debacle was the culmination.”
In a statement posted to its website
, the NFL is standing by the call.
“The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review,” the league said.
It added: “The result of the game is final.”
As time ran down during the Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game, the trailing Seahawks fired a 24-yard pass into the end zone. A Packer defender jumped and caught the ball, but on his way down the Seahawk receiver appeared to wrestle it away from him. The call on the field: Touchdown. After a review (by a fulltime NFL official, not a replacement ref) confirmed the call. Seattle wins, 14-12.
“That was the biggest horsesh*t thing I’ve seen,” Packers vice president of marketing was overheard saying as he left the game (according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Seconds later, Twitter exploded with activity, as tweets about the call poured in, pushing it onto the trending topics list, where several conversations about the game remain.
Among those topics is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s phone number. In a bizarre move
, Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach tweeted Goodell’s number after the game. Meanwhile, another prominent Wisconsin politician, Gov. Scott Walker, fired off a tweet this morning
, saying: “After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers
game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs
President Obama and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan share this opinion
Various media outlets are piling on the criticism, with Sports Illustrated insisting
that the replacement refs have “significantly impacted the NFL’s product on the field.”
“The bottom line is the NFL's product is beginning to suffer,” he said. “Fans are noticing, players are prattling on about it, and the media are reporting on the story. From here on out the replacement refs are going to be under even more intense scrutiny.”
Fans also noticed a few questionable social media moves on Monday night. Most notably, the NFL posted a picture to its Facebook page of a Seahawk catching a pass with the caption: Seattle wins on Hail Mary.
Thing is, the picture wasn’t of the controversial catch, but of another one that happened during the game. Later, the NFL changed the caption, but took that picture down as well. It also deleted a tweet that said: “Touchdown or interception?”
(CNBC’s social media manager Eli Langer chronicled the social media action
Despite the howls of “worst call ever,” Kenneth Wisnefski, a brand strategist and founder / CEO of WebiMax, thinks “the NFL brand has not yet felt a negative backlash due to the incredible amount of brand loyalty from fans and patrons.”
Not so, according to Wightman.
“Yes, the NFL's rep is beginning to take a hit,” he said. “The issue needs to be resolved, and fast. This is the era of social media after all. Soon enough people's tolerance for ongoing negotiations between the league and the (real) officials union will wane and lead to a more generalized frustration, which is bad for the NFL.”
We’ll see how the league addresses the situation.
[RELATED: Despite PR setbacks, NFL continues to thrive]