Mar 2, 2024; Frisco, Texas, USA; FC Dallas forward Paul Arriola (7) is issued a yellow card by MLS referee Kyle Johnston during the second half against CF Montreal at Toyota Stadium. (Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

There’s a growing trend of announcers across sports openly criticizing officiating. They’re voicing their frustrations with calls they perceive as wrong, even with the technological advancements that should aid referees. Major League Soccer, in particular, seems to be facing a significant officiating crisis, with calls being a central talking point.

With that, the league seems to be limiting announcer commentary on the ongoing referee lockout despite mounting criticism of officiating. While announcers can still express their opinions, the league appears to be aiming for a more neutral approach during broadcasts amidst a current tense labor dispute between the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), the union representing MLS referees, and the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), their employer.

According to a memo obtained by The Athletic, MLS instructed broadcasters not to “belabor the point” on the lockout during broadcasts.

“Fans tune in to watch and listen to the game,” the memo read. “They aren’t focused on the officials; therefore, we don’t believe it is necessary to belabor the point during the match. It is best to mention the situation in the pregame and move on.”

This is an interesting development, especially considering how announcers heavily criticized officiating during the 2012 NFL referee lockout. The use of replacement officials during that time was highly controversial. It led to much discussion and frustration, including the infamous intertouchdownception on Monday Night Football, which saw the two sides come to a quick agreement in the aftermath.

Obviously, that was in the NFL, and this is over a decade later, but it’s quite notable that the MLS would take this approach to its commentary.

According to The Athletic, the obtained memo provides a summary of the negotiations and instructs broadcasters to refer to the replacement referees as “referees,” omitting any unnecessary descriptors. However, identifying information like their name, origin, and experience remains permissible, likely due to existing public availability.

The memo also includes “example language” for handling situations related to the lockout, such as the absence of in-stadium and broadcast VAR announcements. This technology, alongside other new officiating initiatives targeting time-wasting and other issues, faced rollout delays due to the ongoing labor dispute. While commentators can express their opinions on controversial calls, the memo emphasizes avoiding attributing them solely to the replacement referees.

As each entity seeks to navigate the current labor dispute, viewers shouldn’t anticipate widespread criticism of officiating from Major League Soccer commentators, especially with replacement referees in the spotlight.

[The Atheltic]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.