FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE/AP) – An area ad agency said the NFL’s off-the-field issues could eventually cost the league money if the league’s sponsors feel the league has upset fans, and hurt the image of the companies along the way.
“Endorsements can be incredibly rewarding for brands when you tie yourself to the right type of entity,” said Anthony Juliano, the vice president of marketing and social media strategy at the Asher Agency. “However, the opposite can be true, too. It can be terribly expensive when things go wrong.”
The Associated Press reported that yearly sponsorship money is worth about $1.07 billion for the league and its teams.
Companies such as Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s, Visa and Campbell Soup Co. have said they’ve voiced concerns to the league about how the Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice stories were handled.
In response to the concerns, the league issued a statement saying, “We understand. We are taking action and there will be much more to come.”
One company, Verizon Wireless, has backed how NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell has dealt with the players’ legal problems.
“I know Roger Goodell quite well, and he is a man of very high integrity and I will not believe that there is some conspiracy to cover this up,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said. “I’m at this point satisfied with the actions that they’ve taken.”
Juliano said the news over the last several days rethinking who they want to be associated with. “Brands as big as McDonald’s are saying, do we still want to be associated with the NFL in this climate,” he said. “The fact that they are questioning it is a pretty big thing. It means they’re asking serious questions about how this is affecting their bottom line.”
Radisson Hotels have pulled their sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings, the team Peterson plays for, and Nike stores in the Minneapolis area have taken Peterson merchandise off their shelves.
Forrest Lucas, who owns the naming rights to Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts, said its more common to see players lose sponsorships before a team or the entire league lose one.
“A lot of the media has given up on real world problems and has made a soap opera out of bashing stars,” Lucas said, who stressed he was not supporting the players’ behavior. “I just hate to see people’s lives ruin for what they’ve done.”
According to Forbes’ 2014 list of NFL teams value, the Colts are ranked 12th in the league, with a team value of $1.4 billion. In 2013, the team had $285 million in revenue and an operating income of $61 million.
Lucas said he has not heard any concerns from corporations who have sponsorships with the Colts or the stadium. Among the team’s sponsors includes Meijer, Huntington Bank, and HH Gregg.
Lucas recalled the team’s recent bad news regarding Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the Colts. “We had our little thing with Jim that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “That shouldn’t have been a news story, in my opinion. An ordinary person would not have had a news story about that. Nobody left the Colts over that, so I think we’re as safe as can be here.”
Juliano said all 32 NFL teams could be at some risk.
“Any team that has human beings on the field are at risk of this, including the Colts,” said Juliano, who added that teams conduct interviews with players before putting them on their roster to help make sure a player’s reputation doesn’t affect the reputation of the team. “Every team has gone through this in some facet throughout its history. Today there’s an increased scrutiny in these issues, the bar is set high for teams to watch these things.”
Juliano added that the NFL has historically had a good reputation, but if the trend continues in a downward spiral, the league could see a sponsor pull its deal and the money that comes along with it. And there might not be another company willing to step in place with the same dollars.
“If we start to see the NFL respond to these issues in a way that isn’t fan friendly, and isn’t friendly to brands, the NFL is eventually going to lose money over this,” Juliano said. “The NFL is going to need to take some action and respond in a way that is keeping with the public sentiment on these issues.”
In Juliano’s opinion, the NFL can take the negative publicity and turn it into a positive. He said that’s what the NBA did when Donald Sterling made headlines for making racial comments.
If things continue to progress in a negative way, Juliano said consumers may begin to boycott, and NFL leaders may make Goodell the fall guy, which would ultimately cost him his job.
Goodell was named the NFL Commissioner in 2006.