After weeks of silence on the matter, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was forced to address the issue of recent off-field violence by NFL players (and the league’s inconsistent discipline) for one reason: sponsor pressure.
The final proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was an announcement by Anheuser-Busch just days before the press conference with Goodell. The brewer said in a public statement:
“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.”
Criticism from the media, women’s groups, former players and coaches, and the public in general didn’t elicit a response from the NFL; but once its sponsorships (i.e. $$) were in jeopardy, the league made a swift response. Good for Anheuser-Busch for coming out so strongly against Goodell’s lack of response to the public outcry. Yes, it may have been somewhat self-serving and a good financial decision for the brewer, but they nonetheless joined a coalition of corporations that finally got the NFL’s attention.
Being a sponsor means not only sharing in the goodwill and attention a partner like the NFL offers; it means sharing negative attention as well. And that close financial relationship means a company like Anheuser-Busch was in a unique position to pressure the league. The only other revenue sources that come close to sponsorship money are ticket sales and television contracts. Fans are too disparate a group to band together and cause a hit to the NFL’s pocket book, and TV partners know football is the last great revenue generator available in an age of Netflix and DVRs – no one records a live football game and then skips the commercials.
Fortunately, Anheuser-Busch’s lawyers had the good sense to include a moral clause in the company’s contract with the NFL, which gave the sponsorship threat teeth. I’m sure the company hopes the NFL will simply do the right thing and it won’t have to consider pulling very lucrative ($200 million per year) sponsorships of the league and individual teams. That would be the best solution for the league, as well as its partners, players and fans.
Below is a chart of consumers for AB Inbev’s top beer brands, broken down by gender. This data was collected before the NFL’s negative publicity, so it will be interesting to watch whether these numbers change in 2014.