In the good old days when the NFL was better at selling and not so interested in bullying its customers and employees, it would have found a way to make its officials lockout more . . . well, fun.
Celebrity officials would have been the start, or lucky fan officials, or Vote For Your Favorite Ridiculous Call. They might even have had one game where the players and coaches called their own penalties, although Jim Harbaugh would not have been involved in that because he would be too busy trying to swindle the other side on every play.
In short, they would have monetized their labor problem by making it interactive, and monetizing the hell out of it. And because they are the best at doing those things, theyd have been great at it.
Instead, they have done what is the hallmark of the Goodell-Taking-Orders Administration. They have decided their marketing campaign would be him frowning and snarling, This isnt about what you want. Its about what we want. Bow to your corporate overlords.
Thats not the message you, the customer, wants to hear, but it is the message his 32 bosses want to give. In fighting so stridently and arrogantly for so little money, they are upholding a principle that is near and dear to them -- their right to win everything, every time.
Hey, its a nice philosophy if you can pull it off, but in America, where the culture runs on the myths and whims of entertainment, the audience likes to be jollied along while its being taken for its walk. They want the purveyors of the entertainment to pretend they care, and theyll buy almost any stupid premise if they think the boss is at least trying to play along.
But the NFL in the Goodell-As-Front-Man Era is defined by the notion that the owners entertainment comes first, and their entertainment is not about anyones fun but their own. And their fun seems mostly to be derived by letting everyone know that their fun crushing employees who want a raise, mostly -- comes first.
Thus, the latest spate of officiating failures will be filed away with all the others, wrapped in a nice press release that says, Theyre doing a GREAT job, damn it, and thats an order.
As always, inflexible, bullying, and tone-deaf. The three things that sell poorest in a consumer economy.
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What happened to the good old slap-and-tickle the NFL used to be so good at? The warm and fuzzy feature about this line judge who used to sell insurance and work at Kinkos to put his kids through high school? A Rich Eisen essay on the Lingerie Football Leagues officiating school? A Football Follies episode on Ed Hochulis guns in repose?
What happened, in short, to the NFLs willingness to laugh at itself while still having the wit and reach to find your wallet? Its gone, replaced by two middle fingers and a Take It Or Leave It, And Then Get Screwed On The Other Side motto. It has replaced the game on the field with the game in the boardroom as its raison-detre. Its given us months upon months of Whats best for the owners in their constant struggle to make more money than God?
They have, in short, embraced the idea that the owners are the reason for the season, and owners are notoriously poor at finding the humor in anything that involves labor relations.
So Goodell gets his twice-monthly check and juts his jaw out, reminding everyone that what they are seeing every Thursday, Sunday and Monday is actually not bad officiating, but good officiating, and then trying to bully compliance with fines or other punishments.
This wasnt his M.O. when he took the job. He was going to be warmer and fuzzier than Paul Tagliabue, an admittedly subterranean bar to clear, and he is somehow managing to fail at it. Not because he is having an argument with officials over compensation, but because hes been so deadly dull, dry and humorless about it.
Roger Goodell has committed the unforgivable sin. In being the front man for the owners, he decided to model their behaviors rather than soft-focus them. He has become a dean of students. Hes turning the NFL into a drag, and himself along the way.