What people are talking about this week: Referees

What people are talking about this week: Referees

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Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you know that the NFL® has been embroiled in criticism over its hiring of temporary referees to officiate at games, due to a lockout of the regular refs due to contract negotiations. The situation came to a tipping point on Monday night when a controversial call handed the Seahawks/Packers game to the Seahawks. Two days later, the regular refs were back, and so the controversy has ended. Of course, as some have noted, there will inevitably still be arguments over calls. That's just how things roll, I guess.

At TN.com, we have been wondering how this referee kerfuffle has affected ticket sales. Did the call make fans who otherwise would be clamoring for tickets leery of buying, lest they have their time at the stadium marred by bad calls? Or did it have no effect?

Sales for the first 23 days of the 2012 and 2011 NFL seasons. Normalized.
NFL® tickets sold at TN.com for the first 23 days of the season. Data is normalized.

The data is somewhat inconclusive. As you can see above, there have been a bunch of peaks and troughs for most of the season. Then starting last Sunday, sales dropped precipitously. Although there were sales made yesterday (the data is normalized), they were at some of their lowest levels so far. The problem is that they've nearly been there before, back on Day 9. Furthermore, precipitous drops have happened before, such as the one between Day 12 and Day 16 (though it wasn't a straight drop).

Thinking that maybe this is just the way things always happen during the season, I took a look back at the same period in 2011. Immediately I noticed that the two graphs were very similar. Indeed, when I lined up the two high peaks in the middle, the trends generally matched up (note that this season started on the fifth and last season started on the eighth). That suggests the sales trend is always this way, and that what we saw this week is an anomaly caused by the referee controversy.

That said, I think it's too early to say anything for sure. As I noted above, the graphs only match up in a general way, so what looks like an anomaly now may simply be differences in spending habits between the seasons. More data is needed; specifically, more data than we currently have 48 hours after the ref lockout ended. So I'll keep my eyes on the sales numbers and return with a followup next week.

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