Two NFL teams fired back at the media over news accounts accusing them of honoring soldiers in exchange for advertising dollars.
The Atlanta Falcons, the largest recipient of sponsorship money from the National Guard at more than $1 million, and the New York Jets, which received $377,500, characterized the reports as inaccurate.
“Unfortunately, many of the stories failed to accurately present the business relationships between the two groups, and we want to make sure you have the facts to alleviate any concerns you may have,” wrote Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the team’s website. “Our marketing and sponsorship agreement with the National Guard is designed to fulfill their objectives of increasing awareness and aiding in recruiting efforts, which has become more important in an all-volunteer service environment. This is no different than any other sponsorship agreement in that it is structured to fit a business need.”
The Jets dialed up an all-out blitz aimed at their media critics. They published a response on their website with the headline, “Statement on misleading reports regarding Jets and NJ National Guard.”
“The media coverage was based on misrepresentations and blatant factual errors,” wrote the Jets. “The facts are that from 2011-2014 the New Jersey National Guard (and, to clarify, no other Military branch) had an advertising and promotional contract with the Jets. The National Guard approached us, seeking our promotional assets to reach their target audience. The National Guard, and the U.S. Military in general, spend millions annually to maintain an all-volunteer force.”
The Jets pointed out that they recently donated $1 million to Building for America’s Bravest, a program that builds homes for severely injured soldiers.
“We take exception to the shameful manner in which our contract with the National Guard (which has since expired) has been distorted,” the Jets wrote. “We are proud that our support of the armed forces is unwavering and will continue in the future. We hope that our critics will show similar support.”
In all, 16 teams—half of the league—received at least $6 million in sponsorship from military branches.
National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt told ESPN.com, “We have hundreds of [sponsorship agreements] with teams, including minor league baseball and at high schools. We have found that spending in sports to help us recruit in our 18-24 demographic works out for us.”
Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake spearheaded the attacks on the NFL over the ads. The Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers also received money from the military.