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For NFL, Does a Blown Call by Referees Really Matter?

By now, you've heard about the NFL referee drama .

Unless you spent the last 24 hours meditating in the mountains. And even there, you may have heard the collective screams of a nation of football fans.

Wide receiver Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers on a controversial call by the officials at CenturyLink Field on September 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.
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Wide receiver Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers on a controversial call by the officials at CenturyLink Field on September 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.

On the final play of Monday night's game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, a Seahawks pass was called a touchdown when it appeared Green Bay had actually intercepted the ball.

In stunning fashion, the call was upheld, and the Seahawks won the game.

The morning after, the game of professional football has been tainted, but in the world of professional sports—money, sponsorships and television ratings—does it matter?

This all begins with the regular referees, who have been locked out in a labor dispute for months. The replacements have been part of a series of on-field debacles, culminating Monday with a play everyone in America knew was the wrong call.

The morning after, reality sets in.

Television ratings have never been better. Fans still pack stadiums, and advertisers are not complaining. Yet.

Think about it. On a night with a star-studded Emmy Awards ceremony on ABC , Sunday Night Football on NBC drew an average of nearly 20 million fans.

No sponsors are clamoring for lower rates because of the poor quality of the officiating or because of the erosion of the NFL brand because of it.

However, there are some short-term financial losers here.

First, Las Vegas and the betting beyond. The Packers were 3.5 point favorites, and the touchdown reversed the bet, from Green Bay covering to the Packers not covering. In one play — the final play — a lot of people went from winners to losers and vice versa.

Then, there's the locked-out referees. They're not working and not making money. Conventional wisdom dictates that their bargaining was strengthened Monday night.

But, perhaps not. And here's why.

The major sticking point in negotiations seems to be pensions vs. 401K. The league wants to move away from defined pensions, and the referees don't. This is a philosophical issue, and so far, the league has been steadfast.

The NFL can EASILY absorb any cost it takes to settle with the referees, yet they have not. Why? The league doesn't want to fund pensions in perpetuity for people they (previously) deemed as replaceable.

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That's where the vital financial component to this comes in. The ONLY way to exert pressure on the league is if the players and fans do something.

If fans boycott the games, the league would take notice. If the players found a loophole and could do something dramatic without recourse, the league would take notice.

Until that happens, the league isn't under as much pressure as you think.

When the deal is done, fans will actually CHEER the referees (when has THAT happened?), and two weeks later, no one will talk about it anymore...unless the Packers miss the playoffs by a game.

Twitter, as you might imagine, exploded on this issue—and from every walk of life. Here is a sampling.

Jimmy Connors @JimmyConnors : I love the action, but I will never bet on the #NFL again.

Frank Caliendo ? @FrankCaliendo : Personally, i'm so worked up I can't sleep because of the #MNF game. I might never sleep again if i were a @packers player. #nfl

Arian Foster ? @ArianFoster : Drama. Great for business. Godspeed, Ed Hochuli.

LeBron James ?@KingJames: I simply just LOVE the NFL to much to see these mistakes. I'm sick like I just played for the Packers

Troy Aikman ? @TroyAikman : These games are a joke.

Shactman's Sport Stocks:

-Nike

-Under Armour

-The Madison Square Garden Co.

-Manchester United

-Dick's Sporting Goods

-Foot Locker

-Callaway Golf

-Hibbett Sports

-Adidas

-Finish Line

-By CNBC's Brian Shactman
@bshactman

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