NFL Sponsors Rattle Their Sabers

Last week we jumped into the middle of the Ray Rice domestic violence controversy, and its implications for brand NFL. The League ultimately suspended the Ravens star who, in turn, filed an appeal via the Players Union.

Since then, disturbing photos emerged of the four-year-old son of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson who characterized the welts on his son’s body the result of parental discipline. An investigation has been opened, but the team, apparently cowing down to its fans, has decided to let him play this Sunday — given last week’s thrashing it took from the Pats without Peterson in the lineup.

Following the Ray Rice revelations, I was asked by The AP’s David Martin to assess its impact on fan attendance at games. My answer: zilch. Here’s the clip:

Frankly, I thought it was the wrong question. I explained that the NFL has other, more important constituencies to placate during this unfolding crisis. First are the team owners to whom NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell quickly penned a letter explaining the League’s position and the steps it will take.

Even more crucial than the owners are the corporate sponsors who comprise the lion’s share of the revenue that flows into the players’, teams’ and League’s coffers. Anheuser-Busch alone pays the League some $200 million a year, as part of its $1.2 billion advertising sponsorship deal it assigned in 2011. FedEx and Marriott also weighed in with public statements saying they were keeping an eye on the Rice situation.

Now, with the Adrian Peterson case shining an even harsher light on the NFL, some corporate sponsors have started to exert their influence. The AP reports:

“Anheuser-Busch, one of the league’s most prominent sponsors, said it was “disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this N.F.L. season.” Nike, which provides uniforms, jerseys and other gear to the N.F.L., has pulled Adrian Peterson jerseys from its stores in the Minneapolis area, though not online, The Associated Press reported.”

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-Press ConferenceRadisson Hotels severed its relationships with the Minnesota Vikings organization. ““Radisson takes this matter very seriously, particularly in light of our longstanding commitment to the protection of children,” the company said in a statement.

“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.”

I bet it was their logo in the step-and-repeat backdrop at the presser where team owner announced that Peterson will play on Sunday. McDonalds weighed in with this:

“Domestic violence and abuse are unacceptable behaviors and have no place in sports, or anywhere,” McDonald’s said in a statement. “As McDonald’s is a family brand, we’ve communicated our concerns to the league, and we expect it to take strong and necessary actions to address these issues.”

Pepsico, Campbell’s Soup and Visa were among the other sponsors expressing dissatisfaction with the NFL’s handling of these two cases. The Washington Post reports that Cover Girl, official beauty sponsor of the NFL, was forced to issue a statement following the appearance and social sharing of this photo-shopped image:

The beauty company posted this statement to its Facebook page:

“As a brand that has always supported women and stood for female empowerment, COVERGIRL believes domestic violence is completely unacceptable. We developed our NFL program to celebrate the more than 80 million female football fans. In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence.”

Typically, most crises are quickly washed away with incessant flow of new, more captivating headlines that usurp yesterday’s breaking news. This probably would have happened with the Ray Rice debacle. The emergence of another visually despicable episode of domestic violence by an NFL player has awoken the sleeping corporate giants who have the actual clout to effect change in League management and policies.

Let’s now keep an eye on whether this new round of corporate saber-rattling will be enough to get the NFL to do what it needs to do. As for the fans, I still believe these incidents will not affect game attendance. However, the fans of the corporate sponsors can force the NFL’s hand, i.e., Cover Girl.

Breaking: The Minnesota Vikings has now reversed its decision and will forbid Mr. Peterson from playing this Sunday.

Breaking #2: Nike suspends its endorsement contract with Adrian Peterson:


  1. Ending player sponsorships will have little effect, but a diminishment in League and team sponsorships certainly does not bode well for Mr. Goodell’s tenure.

  2. I wonder if the NFL started to lose major corporate sponsorships if the Commissioner would then lose his job. Not advocating that he does or not but I wonder what route would the owners take. Great post!

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