But the referee dispute went right to the heart of the NFL's reputation as a class act, with college-level and other replacement officials only able to look the part in their black-striped jerseys. Their embarrassing lack of experience was on full display on national TV Monday night, when the Green Bay Packers and its legions of cheeseheads were force-fed a bitter defeat to the Seattle Seahawks due to a botched, last-minute endzone call.
Most professional sports lockouts - including the ongoing National Hockey League's - mean the game never gets under way. The NFL owners' problem was that, in trying to make do with replacements, it was painfully obvious they were trying to sell customers an inferior product.
The understandable public outcry represented a powerful form of consumer activism that, fortunately, got the attention of both the NFL owners and the referee union's negotiators, who settled Wednesday night.
The lesson for all industries is that managers and employees alike need to stop short of harming products or services.
That's easier to do in the big-bucks NFL than in some struggling business sectors facing a stubbornly weak economy. Still, the idea that customers can't be fooled for long - certainly, not season ticket holders, or even armchair quarterbacks - should withstand any challenge.