Major sponsors including Anheuser-Busch are adding to the chorus of disapproval over the National Football League’s recent scandals, but the companies are stopping short of pulling advertising.
Anheuser-Busch said Tuesday that it has spoken with the NFL about concerns related to recent incidents that are sparking outcry from fans, including an investigation into how long the NFL knew about a video that shows Baltimore Raven Ray Rice beating his then-fiancee; as well as the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to let Adrian Peterson play while he faces an abuse charge for spanking his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch.
McDonald’s, Visa and Campbell Soup Co. say they have also voiced similar concerns to the league.
The statements come after Radisson hotels said Monday that it was pulling its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings. No other brands have pulled sponsorships from teams or the NFL.
But the statements from sponsors are becoming increasingly strongly worded.
Only last week, several big sponsors like GM and FedEx said they were monitoring the situation or watching it closely. Others like Anheuser-Busch and Procter & Gamble stayed silent.
This week, sponsors are making it clear they have made the NFL aware of their concerns. A-B used the harshest language, saying it was “disappointed and increasingly concerned.”
The NFL responded to the sponsors’ statements late Tuesday with a short statement of its own:
“We understand. We are taking action and there will be much more to come,” the organization said.
As the NFL and various team executives navigate scandal, much is at stake: The money companies pay each year to be official sponsors –not including advertising and promotions– is worth about $1.07 billion for the league and all of its teams, according to sponsorship consultancy IEG. The NFL is a coveted partner for brands since an average of 17.4 million people tune in during a regular season NFL game, about 65 percent men and 35 percent women, according to Nielsen.
Experts say that brands are taking their cues by how upset consumers seem.
“It takes something pretty dramatic before those league sponsors who have invested in some cases hundreds of millions in their relationship with NFL seek to end their partnership or do something like that,” said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of content strategy at IEG. “They follow the fans. They will be constantly monitoring and testing the waters to see what the fan reaction to this is.”
For Anheuser-Busch, those sponsorship fees alone are worth an estimated $50 million. The beer maker said Tuesday that it is “disappointed and increasingly concerned” by the recent incident.
“We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code,” the company said in a statement. “We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”
Also on Tuesday, McDonald’s issued a similar statement, saying “we have questions surrounding these evolving situations and are closely monitoring as the appropriate parties investigate these matters,” The company added it has “communicated our concerns to the league, and we expect it to take strong and necessary actions to address these issues.”
On Monday, Visa said domestic violence in any form is unacceptable and has no place in the NFL and society.
“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.”
Campbell Soup said it had also spoken to the NFL about the Ray Rice video investigation.
“Upon completion of the investigation, we expect the NFL to take appropriate action,” Campbell Soup Co. said in a statement. “We have shared our views with the NFL.”
Also on Tuesday, Procter & Gamble responded to a fake Covergirl NFL ad that went viral on social media. The ad depicted a woman with a black eye. The company posted a statement on its Covergirl Facebook page saying “domestic violence is completely unacceptable”. The company went further, saying that it has “encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence.”