The NFL is under fire for a wave of scandals regarding player conduct. But football remains America’s favorite sport, the NFL remains a mega money-maker, and that isn’t about to change. The league isn’t going anywhere and, for now, neither is its commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Big NFL sponsors are making sure of that.
On Tuesday, Radisson Hotels earned some headlines when it ended its partnership with the Minnesota Vikings, whose star running back Adrian Peterson has been indicted for child abuse. In a statement, the company said:
The company, headquartered in local Minnetonka, MN, got some good PR by being first out of the gate, so to speak, in taking action. Another Vikings sponsor, for example, New Era hats, has continued its alliance with the NFL.
Of critical importance, however, is that Radisson’s sponsorship was only with that one team, not the league. It does not have the same weight as a league-wide sponsor pulling out, which has not yet happened. Nike hasn’t done it—the apparel giant ended its sponsorships of Peterson himself, and of Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back who knocked out his wife in an elevator. But Nike has not ended its $1.1 billion licensing deal with the league. Beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has a similar gargantuan deal with the NFL (6 years, $1.2 billion, signed in 2011), has not ended its sponsorship, but instead issued a statement voicing concern:
Late Wednesday, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, following pressure from a number of women’s groups, weighed in with her own strong words – to potential applause from many, no doubt – after her company had put out only a short initial statement last week:
Notice that nowhere in Nooyi’s impassioned statement does she say that Pepsi will be suspending its sponsorship deal with the NFL. Instead, she voices support for Goodell, calling him a “man of integrity.” She also praises the league’s hiring of former FBI chief Bob Mueller, calling it a “positive step.”
The investigation that Nooyi praises is meant to do just what she suggests: reflect seriousness and look like a major step. But the investigation is already, in many ways, helping the league that ordered it up and the commissioner whose firing so many fans have called for.
It will take a while to complete, for one thing. Attorney Ted Wells’s investigation of the Miami Dolphins last year took three months, while former FBI director Louis Freeh’s investigation of Penn State University’s football program in 2012 took eight months. During that time, the strong TV ratings will continue, the outrage will dissipate, and the news cycle will move on to other stories. And the investigation could serve as a literal shield to exonerate Goodell, the man who “protects the shield” so fiercely, if the eventual Mueller Report directs blame at an underling, or group of underlings, or on a “systemic failure” of the league in general.
PepsiCo’s statement is, like AB InBev’s, a wait-and-see response. It is a threat meant to reflect to the angry public, and to PepsiCo’s customers, that PepsiCo cares, PepsiCo is concerned, PepsiCo is monitoring this situation closely. But at the end of the day, it says: PepsiCo stands with the NFL and Goodell.
Until a large brand with major influence walks away from the sport, its business will remain unharmed, and its commissioner will keep his throne, pending the results of the forthcoming Mueller Report.