Sponsors doing everything but exiting deals with the NFL


Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Sponsors may not be dropping the NFL, but companies are asking media buyers to shift media buys in order to disassociate sponsor companies from the recent problems some teams have been experiencing. The Hollywood Reporter recently released an article discussing how some companies and sponsors have asked that its commercials not air during Ravens or Vikings games. One even specifically asked to be shifted away from the beginning of the Thursday Night Ravens/Steelers game because it was assumed that the Ray Rice incident would be discussed. It’s a pretty simple concept: companies do not want to be associated, even subconsciously, with the problems tied to the NFL/Ravens/Vikings.

But, fans aren’t leaving. The NFL draws consumers from too many important demographics for advertisers to just end the relationship. Especially when viewership hasn’t declined, and the fans are still coming out to games. Companies such as Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch can bluster all they would like with press releases demanding change, but change would really only come if financial support was pulled.

If sponsors pull out too quickly, companies may not be able to regain the deals they currently have. Imagine how quickly Miller Lite or Coors Light would react if Anheuser-Busch ended the current Bud Light/NFL deal. SABMiller or MolsonCoors may even be able to get a better deal financially by partnering with the league during a challenging time. What if the Mueller investigation doesn’t turn up anything new? It’s not hard to imagine that the NFL would hold a grudge against partners that jumped ship.

These companies aren’t dumb. They know that the NFL, even going through the problems it has now, is still the best way to reach the target consumer. As long as nothing new comes up, the NFL will still be the most watched show on television, Super Bowl ads will go for an insane amount per 30 second spot, and sponsors will pay in the billions to be associated with the league. Sponsors may be doing little things such as issuing statements and shifting ad buys, but even then, the advertisements aren’t disappearing. . . just moving.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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