Criticism Of NFL From Brands Hurts But Won’t Sack League

Several NFL advertisers have criticized the league for its handling of domestic abuse cases, but it's unlikely the companies will cut ties.

Criticism Of NFL From Brands Hurts But Won’t Sack League
Getty Images / Warren Little

The National Football League’s brand has taken some hits following its handling of two high-profile domestic abuse cases — and NFL sponsors and advertisers are dealing a ton of those blows.

The list of companies that have spoken out against the NFL is pretty extensive: Radisson hotels, Wheaties, Campbell’s Soup Co., Visa, Covergirl, Nike, Pepsico, McDonald’s and more.

And Tuesday, one of the NFL’s largest sponsors — Anheuser-Busch InBev, the makers of Budweiser — weighed in.

A company spokesperson said in a statement, We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season.”

DARREN ROVELL ON ESPN: “This is $200 million a year. This is the exclusive advertiser for the TV broadcast to the Super Bowl for the last 28 years.”

The language is pretty much the same across the board: disappointment, concern, a desire for more action. It’s a PR thumping. 

While we aren’t exactly looking to representatives at Campbell's — for example — to give us their take on domestic violence, the NFL's definitely getting the message. A spokesperson said the league is taking action and people can expect more developments.

So far, Radisson has suspended its “limited sponsorship” of the Minnesota Vikings after the fallout from Vikings running back Adrian Peterson being indicted for child abuse.

Yahoo sports writer Frank Schwab writes, “Fans are well versed enough these days to know that the one thing that can actually move teams and leagues to action is sponsors deciding they might stop writing checks to them. Look at what happened to the NBA's Clippers earlier this year.”

But don’t expect other companies to follow suit… not immediately, at least. A Columbia University professor told Time the NFL’s major brands most likely have highly-lucrative, long-term investments with the league.

Jim Andrews from the sponsorship consultancy IEG told AdAge A-B InBev’s statement walks a tightrope. “Without disrupting any current investment in promotions and other NFL assets, and without abandoning its longtime partner, it aligns with and addresses the concerns of the many consumers who are disillusioned with the spate of recent events.”

Ultimately, these companies and the NFL are too valuable to each other to cut ties so soon. And one sports business expert told USA Today the NFL could turn this situation into a positive — if things don't get any worse from here.  

“The league actually has a great opportunity to turn this into something they can get behind and stay behind by taking a lead in addressing these issues. If they can do that, sponsors might want to even enhance their relationships with the league.”

This video includes images from Getty Images.