The term “caught between a rock and a hard place” is one that is difficult enough for individuals. When you’re a billion-dollar corporation, the stakes are much higher and the rocks are boulders.
On Thursday, The Hollywood Reporter said that several NFL sponsors have asked for their ads to be diverted away from Vikings and Ravens games in light of the scandal created by the Ray Rice domestic violence incident and allegations of child abuse brought against Adrian Peterson.
The story detailed how unnamed officials from CBS said that for the Sept. 11 game between the Ravens and Steelers one advertiser pulled out completely and another asked that their ads be shifted away from any point where the Rice situation was mentioned on the air.
Several heavy hitters in the world of corporate advertising have expressed reservations from being associated with NFL teams like the Vikings and Ravens given their current unwanted spotlight for the actions of individual players. Pepsi, McDonalds, Anheuser-Busch, Campbell’s Soup and VISA have all publicly expressed concerns about the current state of the NFL. Proctor & Gamble pulled out sponsorship of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness drive that brings pink to the NFL in October. The Radisson hotel chain suspended co-branding with the Vikings as a primary sponsor.
The problem is that, despite its current warts, the NFL is such a marketing juggernaut – its revenue topped $10 billion last year – that the question becomes whether sponsors lose out on ad potential by either boycotting or reducing advertising. The NFL is shattering existing records for network prime time programming numbers – the life blood that feeds the advertising world – even with ratty games like the Atlanta blowout of Tampa Bay. Thursday night’s game between the Giants and Redskins could set a Thursday night record for viewership – and it comes on a night that was long known as “Must See TV Thursday.”
For the time being, The Shield is tarnishing because it’s been dragged through the mud. Ad rates aren’t going to go down, because fans will watch the players who are on the field regardless of whether they see a Bud Light commercial or an ad showing Johnny Manziel on Thursday that lasts longer than he is actually on the field. The NFL sells. In massive numbers.
Ray Rice may never play in the NFL again. Roger Goodell and his apparent lack of understanding that casinos tend to have working videotaping in elevators may see to that. Adrian Peterson will play again, but will likely do so after serving a suspension.
The court of public opinion is a funny court. It doesn’t enforce the law, but it sets the policy.
If the NFL can survive Rae Carruth and Aaron Hernandez, it will survive A.P. and Rice. Mainstream America loves the NFL. Advertisers on Madison Avenue in $5,000 suits laugh about feeding Mainstream America. Who feeds who?
Therein lies the conundrum. At the present time, the NFL is being put under the collective moral microscope. Few survive such up-close and overly personal scrutiny. It ruins political careers. It puts movie studios into exile for an appropriate period of time.
It appears advertisers joining former Vikings head coach Denny Green in the fast-pass lane on the high road. Despite the short-term poisonous nature of the NFL, the anti-venom is Nielsen numbers. Pure and simple.
Peterson and Rice will fade from the short-term memory of just about everybody. Many of those same consumers could see a Bud Light ad and be influenced in their beer choice. A lot more eyes will be on the product that the NFL is putting on in prime time than will be seen by network sitcoms, cop dramas or cliffhanger thrillers.
Mess with The Shield all you want. It’s taking some dents right now, but it will survive. It has to. Consumers wouldn’t have it any other way.
Holler: The Shield will survive
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