Ed Hochuli, whom Jeff Kravitz has worked with (as a lawyer not a ref), reads “Rules. Lots of Rules.” This year, during the lockout, Hochuli even held a boot camp during the NFLRA’s negotiations with the NFL. So, the professional officials will likely be ready when they return tonight to don the zebra stripes in the Ravens v. Browns game. The NFL no doubt values its referees, but this labor dispute begs a larger question: How does a sports league, worth billions of dollars, valuate referees in the marketplace?
Referee valuation poses a set of issues distinct even from player strikes or lockouts because referees gain value when they lose prominence. When a referee or umpire calls a “perfect” game, they rarely do or should get mentioned. Their “invisibility,” however, challenges their sports league employers to come up with a workable economic model for their market. Perhaps sports leagues now have the information they need to appropriately evaluate the market strength of invisibility.