The start of the National Football League’s season has been more about incidents off the field than on.
Minnesota Vikings have placed running back Adrian Peterson on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list, telling him to stay away team activities while he faces child abuse charges. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is appealing his indefinite suspension after video surfaced of him hitting his then-fiancé.
Responding to these incidents and others, the NFL’s big-money sponsors are pushing the league to take a bigger stand against this behavior.
“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” Anheuser Busch said in a statement. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.”
Cover Girl and Pepsi also released statements expressing the desire to see more action from the NFL.
In turn, the league announced its taking steps to address its domestic violence policy. It also hired Cynthia Hogan to be the league’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs. Hogan was an aide to Joe Biden in the Senate when he wrote the Violence Against Women Act.
“This is one of the first times we’ve seen sponsors threaten to walk away from the entire league,” says Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of The Holy Cross.
He says sponsors typically rethink their contracts with the individual players in these types of circumstances. This time, it’s more about the league’s response, though teams can be targets too.
Raddison, the hotel chain, has suspended its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings, referring to charges against Peterson by saying, “Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children.”
The Vikings reversed a previous reinstatement and have now kept Peterson from playing.
“We want to be clear: we have a strong stance regarding the protection and welfare of children, and we want to be sure we get this right,” the Vikings said in a statement. “At the same time we want to express our support for Adrian and acknowledge his seven-plus years of outstanding commitment to this organization and this community.”
But for now, despite registering their discontent, most sponsors are staying put.
“For now, I think it’s just piling on,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. “[Sponsors are saying] ‘We’re good guys, don’t boycott us.’ And when the storm blows over, which I believe it will, then they’ll be back on board.”
Zimbalist says the NFL enjoys strong viewership, more so than other professional sports leagues, which is a big draw for sponsors.
Despite the backlash, fans are still watching. Over 22 million people tuned in Sunday when the Chicago Bears’ played the San Francisco 49ers, according to NBC.
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