Inelastic demand and professional sports

A quote from Steve Young regarding the replacement officials’ impact on fans’ willingness to watch games, courtesy of Cheap Talk:

The NFL is “inelastic for demand,” Young said, meaning that nothing — including poor officiating — can deter a significant percentage of fans and corporate sponsors away from the most popular game in the country.

It may be the case, as Sandeep points out, that the NFL has some inherent interest in promoting good officiating. But in terms of incentives, what motivation does the league have to negotiate with the referees’ union when fans will be just as willing to watch games which are poorly officiated? If it were any other television show, lack of viewership would force the NFL’s hand, but the NFL isn’t just some show. And besides, it may be the case that bad referees increase the entertainment value of watching the games, since anything can happen. Bill Barnwell seems to think that eventually fans will stop tuning in, but I think it is quite possible that the opposite happens.


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