U.S. Defense Dollars Going to NFL for Expensive Sponsorship Deals

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Arizona Senator Jeff Flake wonders why millions in Department of Defense tax dollars have ended up in the pockets of the National Football League, ostensibly spent on sponsorship deals meant to “honor” military service members.

Not only is the expense nonsensical to him but Flake also feels that the NFL should disclose that many of its events honoring veterans and serving soldiers are actually paid for out of the Pentagon’s budget.

“You go to a game and you see a team honoring ‘Hometown Heroes,’ and you think it’s some sort of public service announcement, that the team is doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” Senator Jeff Flake said this week to ESPN. “Then you find out it’s paid for? That seems a little unseemly.”

A recent review of federal contracts found that the Army National Guard and the US Dept. of Defense gave a whopping $5.4 million in tax dollars to the NFL for sponsorship deals, some of which included game day announcements meant to celebrate the military.

Noting that the Obama administration is continually looking for ways to slash the military’s budget, Flake said that these expensive sponsorship programs don’t seem to make any sense. “I don’t see how paying to give you a shoutout at NFL games is a wise use of money,” the Senator said.

Much of the money was spent by the Army National Guard, but the Air Force also spent over $100,000 on NFL sponsorship deals.

At over $1 million, the biggest payout went to the Atlanta Falcons. The Baltimore Ravens received over $800K, the Buffalo Bills and three other teams over $600K, and the New York Jets got over $300K.

Still, National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt defended the practice.

“We have hundreds of [sponsorship agreements] with teams, including minor league baseball and at high schools,” Breitenfeldt said. “We have found that spending in sports to help us recruit in our 18-24 demographic works out for us.”

This isn’t the first time that the National Guard has been criticized for striking high-dollar deals with sports franchises. In 2014 the Guard was criticized for its $32 million NASCAR contract with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Eventually the military ended its sponsorship of Team Earnhardt citing its constricting budget.

A spokesman for Arizona Senator John McCain’s office noted that the National Guard spent $49.1 million on sports sponsorships in 2014 alone, including deals with the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, and a PGA Tour event.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com