NBC Universal Exec: Papa John’s Not the Only Advertiser Who Has Threatened to Pull Out Over Anthem Protests

AP Lynne Sladky Fans Protest
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Last week, Papa John’s made quite the splash by publicly ripping NFL leadership and threatening to end their sponsorship of the league, over how Commissioner Goodell has mishandled that national anthem protests.

This week, according to an executive at NBC, we learn that Papa John’s isn’t alone and that other NFL advertisers have threatened to withdraw their business over the anthem protests as well.

Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBC Universal, spoke recently at an industry chat hosted by AdAge. During the discussion, she said that while no sponsors have actually followed through and pulled their advertising from the NFL, yet, several have threatened to do so.

According to AdAge via Awful Announcing, “Yaccarino … said that none of NBCUniversal’s NFL advertisers have pulled out of NBC’s Sunday Night Football or Thursday Night Football games. However, a “list of advertisers have made themselves very clear: if you continue covering the political coverage of the issue, we will not be part of the NFL,” she said. “Because think about it: they have half the country that is cheering about that, and they have half the country that is emailing them, saying, don’t do that. So that’s a real thing.”

Yaccarino continued to say that she believes the protests have impacted NFL ratings: “She noted that prior to the controversy, which started last season when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to kneel during the national anthem, “most” NFL games didn’t broadcast the anthem, aside from big games like the Super Bowl. “The story has morphed dramatically, from social injustice to patriotism,” said Yaccarino. “While I don’t think there’s any way you could ever really prove it, I do think it has impacted the ratings.”

On the other hand, according to AdAge, CBS CEO Les Moonves said that he had seen no such hesitation on the part of NFL sponsors: “I don’t know of one sponsor that has pulled out of any spot that they had, Moonves said. “I don’t think it’s affecting advertising or their desire one iota.”

While the points made by Moonves and Yaccarino seem to contradict each other, at least a bit. Both points are believable and completely unsurprising. The downturn in NFL ratings and popularity, primarily beginning in 2015, is still relatively new. Most of these advertisers signed their deals with the NFL when the ratings collapse either had not yet materialized, or, was considered a blip on the radar that would soon pass.

So naturally, these companies which signed long-term deals at the confiscatory rates the NFL could afford to charge due to their monstrous popularity, at the time, will start to get nervous when the see the ratings dive continue. Which, is why it’s not surprising that there has been some, primarily behind the scenes, rumbling about pulling advertising.

After all, these sponsors want the NFL to get back to making them the kind of money they were making three years ago.

However, it also makes perfect sense that these advertisers haven’t pulled out yet. While the ratings are nosediving and the league has done tremendous damage to itself; the fact remains, that whether it’s Sunday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, Monday Night Football, NFL football is still almost always the most watched thing on television.

So while the NFL is losing popularity, it’s popularity is not quite lost, yet. Keeping the league a worthwhile investment for advertisers. However, with the league not earning what it was when most of those contracts were signed, these sponsors are letting the league know, behind the scenes, not to expect to get the sweetheart deals they got in the past.



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