NFL’s Sponsors Quiet After Calls for Boycott
$F, $BUD, $MCD, $MSFT, $PEP, $UA
As NFL owners and players rushed to defend their right to protest in the wake of President Donald Trump’s criticism.
But, 1 group of Key stakeholders has remained silent, they are the league’s corporate partners.
The National Football League and its 32 teams made $1.25-B from corporate partners last year, according to sponsorship tracker ESP Properties.
The list includes some of the advertising world’s biggest spenders.
Visa Inc., Ford Motor Co., Nike Inc., Anheuser-Busch InBev, Microsoft Corp., McDonald’s Corp., PepsiCo Inc. and Bridgestone Corp. are among the NFL’s Tier 1 partners and almost all have remained silent on what was possibly the most political and polarizing Sunday in recent league history.
One of the few NFL partners that has mentioned the protests is Under Armour (NYSE:UA), a company that has already had a pair of Trump-related controversies this year.
The Baltimore-based sporting goods company tweeted Sunday that it “stands for the flag and by our Athletes for free speech, expression and a unified America.”
Even with such a statement crafted for maximum neutrality, the hundreds of replies to the Tweet reveal anger from both sides.
There’s little incentive for sponsors to pick sides under the best of circumstances.
While the National Anthem protests by players have turned off some fans, others have soured on football for wholly other political reasons, including solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the player who knelt during the anthem last year and is currently unsigned by an NFL team.
Fans in favor of and against the protests are sharing the same list of NFL sponsors, calling for a total boycott.
Hashtags #BoycottNFLSponsors and #PunchThemInTheWallet are circulating on both pro-Trump and pro-player social media.
Some fans are Tweeting directly at the companies saying they were no longer customers.
President Trump said that by walking out of the stadium, and not watching games on TV, fans can force the league’s hand. Implicit in that is the role played by sponsors, which in theory have the financial leverage to force change, though they almost never use it.
When the NFL bungled its initial suspension of Ray Rice, a Black player, over his assault of his then-fiancee, it drew public criticism from sponsors including Campbell Soup Co., Visa, Anheuser-Busch and McDonald’s.
All 4 are still partners with the league, which made $14-B last year and continues to outpace all other US leagues in TV ratings and media coverage.
If enough people start turning away from the NFL, its partners may rethink the utility of being associated with America’s richest league.