The National Football League is prime territory for companies looking to sell their products, after all who wouldn't want to be associated with the most popular sport in America? Now those companies are sending a message to the NFL that a certain standard is expected by those who are footing the bill.
The actions of a few players are giving the NFL a black eye in front of the companies that contribute heavily to the profitability of the league and its 32 member franchises. Advertisers are hearing feedback from American consumers that the off the field conduct of some players is unacceptable to the American public. This is especially true with the female market, the segment of the buying public which has the biggest impact on how disposable income is spent.
Anheuser-Busch became the latest big budget spender to send a message to the league. The St. Louis based brewer spends tens of millions of dollars each season to purchase air time during the games. On Tuesday, they made their position abundantly clear with the following press release:
"We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league's handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."
Under the brewery's current deal, they are committed to a total of $1.2 billion over the next six years. In addition to its deal with the league, Anheuser-Busch and its independent distributors also have deals with over three quarters of the league's 32 franchises. While they have not threatened to pull the plug on the revenue just yet, they are getting some serious attention from the power brokers in the league.
It is not just the Budweiser family of companies that are taking a stand. The Radisson Hotel Group, a corporate sponsor of the Minnesota Vikings, announced that it too was fed up with the misconduct of players and the relatively soft stance the league has been taking. The hospitality company suspended its relationship with the Vikings until there is an acceptable resolution to the Adrian Peterson child abuse issue.
"Radisson takes this matter very seriously, particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children. We are closely following the situation and effective immediately, Radisson is suspending its limited sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings while we evaluate the facts and circumstances."
The league has had an opportunity to clean its own house, and in many cases it is failing miserably. Now those who pay the bills are fed up. As big as the league is, it still draws its revenue from a relatively small group of partners. The pool of companies who have the resources to invest in significant NFL advertising is small, and the league cannot afford to alienate anyone in that grouping. Those companies, in turn, cannot afford to disenfranchise their customers, especially women, either.
"The implications of that, in terms of the investment, not to exaggerate but it would be staggering over the years. It would be a very, very difficult process for the league to replace that because there just aren't that many brands that have that kind of money.
"They were probably waiting for everything to blow over. This is not blowing over." - Boston University professor and expert on sports marketing Chris Cakebread
This is one issue where the National Football League is behind the curve and struggling to catch up. With the initial light suspension of Ray Rice and the fiasco that ensued when the totality of his domestic violence arrest came to light, plus the refusal of the San Francisco 49ers to proactively address the Ray McDonald issue, the Carolina Panthers considering allowing Greg Hardy to return to the squad and the Peterson child abuse situation; segments of the football viewing public are becoming fed up. They are letting the advertisers whom the do business with know how they feel, and those sponsors are passing the word on to the NFL.
Those who make the decisions in on Madison Avenue are giving the powers that be in the NFL's crystal palace an opportunity to rectify the situation, but if things don't change and the advertisers start feeling the impact on their bottom line, there will be some changes made in how a few key players in the marketing world shell out their revenue. That is one thing that will get the attention of the NFL.
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