Sponsors React to Off-Field NFL Drama

Its likely impossible that if you’ve been following the news lately you’ve missed out on the slew of bad press the NFL has received these past couple months; the turmoil began with the news of Ray Rice’s physical assault against his then-fiancée, now-wife Janay Palmer and took off from there, featuring similar stories from Adrian PetersonGreg HardyJonathan Dwyer, and Ray McDonald.

Critics have called attention to the lack of impact these stories
have had on viewership, making it hard to anticipate much of an influence on the NFL’s comfortable $1.07B in sponsorship revenue. Where the viewers go (or don’t, in this instance), the sponsors will follow?

Several sponsors responded with lightly worded messages of concern, such as this statement from Visa:

“As a long-standing sponsor we have spoken with the NFL about our concerns regarding recent events, and reinforced the critical importance that they address these issues with great seriousness.”

One NFL sponsor used the trending topic as an opportunity to highlight its long-standing work against domestic violence; in an article posted on LinkedIn, Verizon’s CEO Lowell McAdam cited their 20-year-long commitment to raising awareness about domestic violence through their HopeLine program, which “uses the proceeds from recycling and reusing old wireless phones to benefit women’s shelters and other victim’s organizations.”

But the most interesting response from our perspective is Procter & Gamble’s recent disassociation with the NFL’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month initiative. NFL has received a lot of flak in the past for a lack of transparency around donations associated with A Crucial Catch, which amounts to just 12.5% of all monies spent on pink NFL merchandise. NFL credits A Crucial Catch with raising approximately $4.5M since 2009 for the American Cancer Society (briefly consider that, while an anomaly, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $100M in just a couple months time).

Meanwhile, numerous organizations are calling for the NFL to change direction with its philanthropic giving and focus on domestic violence initiatives, instead of breast cancer awareness. In an apparent effort by the NFL to respond to the outcry, the National Domestic Violence Hotline announced earlier this month a “long-term commitment of resources” from the NFL, but didn’t define the level of support, aside from “multiple millions of dollars over five years,” and awareness generating just kicked off on October 23rd with the NFL Player Say: NO MORE video now airing during game time.

Bloomberg News reports that the brand will “cancel on-field activation with NFL teams,” though P&G will follow through with its $100,000 donation to the American Cancer Society. This means that the awareness that P&G would have given the cause – through social media activations with players and pink mouthguards – will be non-existent “because P&G isn’t comfortable playing a part in the NFL’s efforts to appeal to women at a time when the NFL is facing criticism for players abusing women,” says Jason La Canfora of CBS. While it’s difficult to measure the impact of awareness campaigns v. actual donations, football attracts a lot of viewers, with Sunday Night Football alone drawing in more than 21M viewers. That’s a lot of eyeballs on ACS logos and pink ribbons.

While the majority of sponsorship deals haven’t been affected, P&G’s canceled on-field activation during Breast Cancer Awareness month is the first example we’ve seen of a sponsor taking a step away from the NFL, with the impact felt by a charitable organization.

A Crucial Catch

For more perspectives, check out the Chronicle for Philanthropy’s collection of opinion pieces on “Rethinking Pink” http://philanthropy.com/section/Rethinking-Pink/821/.