So imagine this as the world’s most extravagant country club. These wealthy elites don’t mind the exorbitant membership fees or the overpriced cigars. It is part of why they joined, the exclusivity that others can’t afford. But they’ll bare those teeth even in this exclusive club if they see the help rummaging through their lockers trying to steal a single dollar out of their wallet.
The fan is always inclined to side with the little guy in squabbles like this, but there are some things you should know. The real refs make an average of $150,000 a year, for a part-time job that comes with a pension and requires little more than 16 to 20 Sundays. There is film work and rule review they must do during the week, and more labor than just Sundays, but 121 refs split $18 million for their part-time efforts last year. They fly first class to games, all expenses paid, get half the year off, and most of them have lucrative second jobs as business owners or senior management. Just like the owners, this is all a hobby for them, too, something to do on weekends.
The ref isn’t the little guy in this fight. You are, in an America where pensions are being cut savagely or disappearing altogether and the median household income was $50,054. In other words, the average NFL ref, while clamoring for more, makes in his second job — a part-time job — three times as much as the average American couple working full time and watching this mess unfold in their living room at home because they can’t afford game tickets.
In general, you aren’t paid according to what you deserve. You are paid according to how replaceable you are or aren’t. So, to the owners, this becomes about the principal and the principle. They don’t want to give as much of a raise as the refs want, or the kind of pension, and they want to be able to replace refs who perform poorly like they can replace employees in any of their other workplaces in the real world. The refs want their part-time, $150,000 jobs to come with a pension instead of a 401k, their six months off and no threat of being replaced.
But it looks like they have to eat it. And we, the fans, have to eat it, too.
Because there is no restaurant in America quite like this one, and the owners know it doesn’t much matter who is bringing out our food.