Everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There's nothing they can do to hurt the demand for the game. So the bottom line is they don't care. Player safety—doesn't matter in this case. Bring in the Division III officials–-doesn't matter. Because in the end, you're still going to watch the game, we're going to all complain and moan and gripe and say there's all these problems, all the coaches say it, the players say it—doesn't matter. So just go ahead, gripe all you want. I'm going to rest. Let them eat cake.

There's nothing that changes the demand for the NFL ... It doesn't affect the desire for the game. If it affected the desire for the game, they'd come up with a few million dollars.

~Steve Young

That was Steve Young during the post-game wrap up after Monday night's Denver-Atlanta game regarding replacement officials in the NFL.

Let's back up a moment though. What is "inelastic demand", and what does it have to do with NFL referees?

Elasticity of Demand

Elasticity is a measurement of how much changing one variable in price, supply or demand affects another. For example, how many more units are sold when a given price is reduced, or how many fewer units were sold when a given price is raised. The amount of that change up or down is considered the demand elasticity. The more elastic demand is, the greater the change in behavior when other factors change. The less elastic demand is, the less it changes with a change in other factors.

NFL is Inelastic?

Elasticity doesn't apply to the referees directly of course, they represent just one input into the production of the product known as professional football. Steve's argument is that since professional football is so popular, that demand for this product is so great, there's very little the league could do that would hurt demand. And he's right -- even providing an inferior product has not caused any harm to the league's popularity.

Nothing Occurs In a Vacuum

The league is taking a gamble. They can't play hardball with the referees' union forever. At some point the product will be affected enough, or an alternative will present itself where it will start to affect demand for football. The question is whether the refs will cave before that happens, or will they tough it out and wait for the league to cave. Honestly, my money is on the refs caving before the end of this season.