My Challenge to NFL Sponsors
With its fruitful $59 billion nine-year broadcasting agreement, decade-long collective bargaining agreement that it just negotiated with the NFLPA in 2011, and multi-billion dollars in licensing and sponsorship deals, the NFL exhibits itself as an invincible, confidently-operated gargantuan machine. It is no surprise, though, that the recent public attack concerning the domestic violence cases has caused individuals and organizations to question whether they should provide continued support to the League. The simple answer is absolutely not, but the the largest sponsors pulling out of current deals to create the greatest economic impact on the business of the sport is not realistic. For example, if Verizon cancelled its contract, who is to say that Sprint would not jump at the opportunity for its place on possibly the nation's largest marketing platform? So far, ten substantial sponsors - Anheuser-Busch Inbev, General Motors, Verizon, USAA, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Bose, FedEx, Marriott, and Campbell Soup - have communicated their concerns. Surely, something more can be done by these power-players to achieve what many would say are two imperative goals: changing the way we treat and discuss domestic violence generally and getting rid of the League's nuisance, Roger Goodell, as the NFL rules and bylaws could allow. Assuming they are included, the morality clauses, which in this case prohibit certain behavior with which sponsors do not wish to be associated, should allow the sponsors to not only cancel a contract completely but also partially where the clause is breached (i.e., where the NFL partakes in prohibited behavior and violates the contract).
An appropriate business decision would be to follow CoverGirl, who modified its "Get Your Game Face On" advertisements for its new NFL makeup line, and take some action apart from expressing dissatisfaction with the League's action, or rather lack of action. CoverGirl markets itself as the "official beauty partner of the NFL" and used its partnership to speak on the topic for women, a demographic that the NFL ironically has been trying to attract. We cannot know CoverGirl's true intentions for making this move, for it may have been to save its own skin from the wrath of its consumer base, but nevertheless, the image was powerful. It sparked more conversation and is benefiting groups dedicated to domestic violence victims and education. Unfortunately, sheer conversation is not a message that the conductor of a $10 billion ostensibly invincible gargantuan machine cares to sincerely listen to.
On Friday, two things materialized: (1) Roger Goodell's letter to the League's teams and staff sent the day before went public, which announced the NFL's brand new long-term partnerships with domestic violence and sexual assault clinics as well as some "educational efforts" for league and team personnel; and (2) Procter and Gamble, the entity that owns the Crest brand, declared that it will not be participating in the annual initiative to raise awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The company will not be supplying pink mouth guards for the players to wear for the league-wide initiative in October and also will not be taking part in any "on-field" marketing. My first observation is that while Goodell is trying to make the most of a bad situation that he personally may have gotten the League into in the first place, he is doing so in classic Goodell-style. Goodell, not NFL rules, runs the NFL (e.g., Goodell would not acknowledge a link between playing football and cognitive erosion that the retirement committee had recognized years before), and money, not the best interests of the sport, drive Goodell (e.g., his goal is for the NFL to see $27 billion in annual revenue by 2027), which may be why he does not have a favorable track record for follow-through. Second, Procter and Gambel are pulling out of a large-scale charity initiative because of the commissioner's definitive actions (e.g., Rice's initial 2-game suspension) and the commissioner's actions that are still under investigation with another large-scale initiative without even seeing if the commissioner will follow through implementing these new programs.
As a sidenote, is anyone else surprised that Goodell has yet to mention the Theodore Roosevelt story, where he saved football by inventing the forward pass, so that he can casually allude to how his own changes will carry football into the next era? Just curious.
Therefore, I challenge NFL sponsors to use October as a form of boycott. The main contributors to the NFL's "A Crucial Catch" campaign this year are Riddell, Gatorade, EA Sports, NFL Extra Points Card, Diet Pepsi, Under Armor, Nike, Tide, Wilson, and Ticketmaster. Imagine if each of these sponsors did not pay the League for "on-field" advertising. Imagine if each of these sponsors did not provide the adorable pink gear we see each year but rather raised money for breast cancer awareness apart from the NFL partnership. Since one big contributor has already dropped out, if the others refuse to provide the gear and provide the checks, the entire league will receive a blow that even team owners who have expressed support for Goodell cannot ignore. Last year, the League proudly bragged that it has raised over $3 million for the American Cancer Society since 2009, but only ten percent of funds go to the Society while the League holds on to the rest. Goodell revels in this kind of publicity, obviously trying to minimize the latter potion of that statistic, because it makes the League money. If he cannot get the positive public relations from the campaign and the sponsor funds, how can the team owners ignore the fact that he is not acting in the league's best interest by, at this point, purely staying in office?
Some have suggested that the only real protest can come from the League's loyal fans. Fans protesting would definitely be the most effective, but having enough fans with stamina for a protest may be as unrealistic as having all the sponsors drop their contracts on one of the largest platforms in the world. Admittedly, I sat through as many games as I could this weekend because in the fall, my weekends revolve around football. There is no way to keep fans from watching games on TV or attending the games when they have already subscribed to NFL Network or bet in their fantasy leagues or bought season tickets. These companies, on the other hand, have the opportunity to hit the League where it hurts. Regrettably, the whole league would suffer momentarily, but sometimes it takes a strong slap in the face to wake up and do what is right for the sport's integrity. This way, the NFL would no longer operated by an authoritarian but rather the rules, and something real, not just in terms of good press, can be done for the causes that the League says it wants to help.