Recently the sports tourism industry has been discussing the issues surrounding securing and retaining referees for events. Two of our partners, Eugene Binda of Refrees Crease (EB) and Ryan Morgan of Soccer Management Company (RM), answer some questions to give their perspective.
- What is your current role and what was your career path to get there?
EB- I am the President of Referees Crease. I started to schedule referees in high school and then worked with multiple leagues outside of the city. I found there was a need for a central scheduler and started asking leagues if they wanted one central assignor to control the assignments. The company grew from that point on.
RM- I am currently the Southeast Director for Soccer Management Company. When I graduated college, I started working for a local soccer club in Virginia coaching a few teams and also running 2 tournaments. After 3 years, I started working for Soccer Management Company running multiple events throughout the country. Now I oversee all Southeast Events, managing 12-15 events per year, mostly in Florida.
- How long have you been working with and scheduling referees?
EB- Since 1976 for the South Boston Youth Hockey League.
RM- I have been working with and scheduling referees since 2013. From 2013-2016 that was just in Virginia. Since 2016 I have worked with referees from 10+ states.
- What is your process to secure referees?
EB- The process depends upon the levels.
For youth hockey, my main objective is to get new officials as many games without burning them out. The assigning process at the youth level also helps me with those who can follow simple tasks. For example, are they coachable, can the official make adjustments to improve their skill sets? Skating, rules knowledge, positioning, and communication are the key factors for advancement to the higher levels.
For the advanced level’s juniors, college, and professional rank, the selection for advancement there are a lot more moving parts, time commitments, and travel, are some of the keys to advancement. The good hockey is not coming to you, you need to go to it! And for some that is a commitment, they cannot make, family work and other commitments are key factors in some officials not wanting to advance.
Other key factors you must be an excellent skater and be in great physical condition to work at the college and professional levels. Skating is the key, you must be able to skate to put yourself in the next possible position to make the correct call.
RM - We hire a referee assignor that is often local to the area with an extensive knowledge and database of the local referees. We keep the referee assignor updated on expected number of teams/games so they can plan accordingly for the necessary number of referees.
- In past years, what challenges did you have in securing and retaining referees?
EB- Hockey has expanded at twice the rate of the officiating pool, in years past, past we had enough officials to cover the game. In the 1990s and early 2000s we still had ex-players wanting to join the officiating ranks to stay connected to the game and get a pretty good workout doing it. Not so in today’s game.
RM - Overall, the biggest challenge is just the number of referees needed compared to the number of referees available in a certain area. In some areas across the country, there is a large pool or referees, but in most areas, it is definitely a challenge trying to fill all the games with enough referees.
- Recently, have those challenges changed?
EB- Yes, there is more hockey and fewer people want to join our ranks for several reasons. There are more opportunities for the players to keep playing. When I came through the system you were done after high school for the most part there were not a lot of other playing opportunities like today.
There were not many junior and D3 college teams so playing at the next level was out of reach for most of us, you had to be an exceptional player to make it.
Now there are several minor leagues as well allowing players to stay in the game longer, and when they are done, they go into the real working world and start families. Most players do not come back until they have kids playing and coaching instead of officiating.
- If so, what are the most pressing issues?
EB- We need to make it easier for new officials to join our ranks, some of the current requirements are too time-consuming are overwhelming for some, then the start-up for equipment and fees does not make it attractive.
The system is going to crash, we have a lot of veteran officials leaving in record numbers and not enough new officials coming in. With the veterans leaving along goes the game experience these officials have. It takes about three years for an official to have the skill sets to make a difference in managing a game.
RM- Easily the most pressing issue is referee abuse. As the older generation of referees starts to finish their career, it is hard to get the younger generation of referees to stick with it due to the harassment that some officials receive. The number of tournaments/games that happen every year is constantly increasing while the number of referees available have not been able to keep the same pace, often times decreasing.
- What is your opinion as to why these challenges have occurred? What is your strategy to overcome them?
EB - Sportsmanship is nonexistent. Players, coaches, and parents are hurting the game, and the behavior goes unchecked, no one is willing from an administrative standpoint to remove them from their organizations. Allowing this type of behavior to go unchecked to me means it is acceptable!
We need to continue to drive more training sessions and opportunities for advancement. If there are and ex junior, college, or pro players we have the ability to fast-track them up the referee ranks.
As far as the behavior --- if the administrators do not figure it out soon, they will be doing the games!
RM - Obviously, it starts with the behavior of parents and coaches as far as respecting the referees. Treating referees better will keep them in the game. As far as getting more interest from younger referees, youth clubs can host referee courses and provide an avenue for younger players to become referees.
- What should tournament organizers consider when scheduling and working with referees?
EB- That is a loaded question, quality, service, price -pick two. Realistically outside of the players, the officiating is the next most important tournament directors need to figure out.
We all know subpar officiating can make or break an event. For the most part, I have a great relationship with the tournaments I am involved in.
However, there is a new quick-hit market for tournaments, and they shop around for the lowest game cost, and like anything else you get what you pay for. A lot of officials are not willing to listen to the coaches, players' parents for a minimal fee, that is a new reality.
RM- One factor a tournament organizer must consider when scheduling is the number of games per field. You have to schedule enough games for a referee to make it worth the time to come out, but also can’t schedule a referee for 8 straight games in the summer heat. Tournament organizers also have to consider keeping referees hydrated during the day and also providing them with snacks/lunch throughout the day. Tournament Organizers work closely with Referee Assignors to find the right balance of number of games and age groups for each referee.
- Closing thoughts? Any other information you want to share that would be pertinent to the sports tourism industry?
EB - Find a good referee scheduler and plan ahead to make sure you have enough officials to cover the event because the last thing you want is to have games go dark because you do not have enough officials
When all participants have an enjoyable experience at the tournament venue, they are more likely to come back and spread the word about what a great time they had at the event.
RM- Soccer is a growing sport, with the number teams and games being played increasing every year at a rapid pace. Especially with the World Cup 2026 approaching, which will be hosted in the United States, the sport will continue to grow. In addition to developing pathways for players and coaches , referees will need the same amount of attention to allow for the continuous growth of the great game of soccer in this country.