NFL Advertisers to NBC: Stop Showing Players' Protests

November 5th, 2017 7:29 AM

The unease among advertisers over falling National Football League TV ratings is starting to boil over.

One of the league's major sponsors is considering pulling the plug on its NFL advertising next year, and, according to Business Insider's Mike Shields, other "brands are threatening to pull ads from NFL coverage if NBC keeps covering players' national-anthem protests." If those ad dollars go away, technological shifts may cause advertisers to decide not to return.

Shields cited NBC because an NBCUniversal executive was willing to talk about the situation publicly:

  • NBCUniversal says that marketers want the league to stop covering the players' national-anthem protests or they will pull their ads.
  • An executive at the media company thinks the controversy around the protests has hurt ratings.

Marketers have put NBCUniversal on notice: Stop covering NFL players' national-anthem protests, or we'll pull our ads.

That's according to Linda Yaccarino, the chairman of advertising sales at NBCUniversal, who spoke during a keynote interview at an event held Friday in New York at the ad agency RGA.

... "Marketers have said, 'We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it,'" Yaccarino said.

... Going forward, marketers want more of the focus on games and less on the protests. Yaccarino said the NFL's broadcast partners had not always aired the national anthem for each game — that is, until the protests gained steam.

It would seem likely that CBS and Fox, which broadcast weekly regional games, and ESPN, which has Monday Night Football, have heard similar threats.

What's puzzling here is the stunning naiveté of the "advertisers" and "marketers." They're acting as if it's the 1980s, and that no one has a smartphone or internet connection.

If NBC and the other networks simply stop covering the Anthem and the incidents of disrespect which seem destined to continue, it's overwhelmingly likely that some fans at these games will simply post video of whatever protests occur themselves, and that word of what happened will spread from there. Even passing on the news of protests via Facebook or Twitter without video will still keep wide circles of friends and acquaintances informed concerning what happened.

Surely Shields, the Business Insider reporter, recognizes this likelihood. Why didn't he note it?

Rather than demanding that the NFL clean up its act and requiring players to stand for the Anthem under threat of moving their promotional dollars elsewhere, the ad people are simply hoping against hope that news of continued protests won't gain traction if they're not shown on live TV. Good luck with that — and just wait until the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world find out that protesting players are being "muzzled" by Big Business and Madison Avenue.

Earlier this week, the founder and CEO of Papa John's complained that the pizza chain's sales were suffering as a result of the NFL player protests during the National Anthem. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company, while using polite language, is considering pulling the plug next year.

Note that the company's response does not involve finding alternative TV outlets:

Papa John’s Says It’s Evaluating NFL Sponsorship
Consumers’ shift to digital channels leading pizza chain executives to completely rethink the way they advertise

Papa John’s International Inc. is evaluating its National Football League sponsorship in the wake of declining television football viewership, which the company has blamed in part on the national anthem protests that have roiled the league this season.

Top executives at the pizza chain said they are in weekly discussions with the NFL about the returns their advertising dollars are generating and that they will see how the rest of the football season plays out before making any big decisions. But they say consumers’ shift to digital channels is leading them to completely rethink the way they advertise.

“We have to evaluate our reliance on partnerships that are TV-focused, like the NFL,” Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten said in an interview on Friday ...

... “If the viewership decline continues, we will need to shift into things that work more effectively for us,” said Papa John’s President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie.

It is unclear how much impact football players’ national anthem protests have had on viewership, but Papa John’s says that issue needs to be resolved.

In a related move covered separately by Business Insider's Shields on Friday, NBCUniversal's Yaccarino sharply criticized the big ad agencies for not being ready to move into the digital realm:

The head of sales as NBCUniversal just issued a stark warning to the ad industry

  • NBCU's sales boss says that ad agencies are holding up the TV business from competing with tech giants like Google and Facebook.
  • The executive hinted that the media giant is planning an aggressive shake up of the legacy TV ad model next year.
  • "We transact the way we transact...because of the limits of the holding companies," said Yaccarino, referring to the ad agency giants like WPP and Publicis.

NBCUniversal's sales chief Linda Yaccarino thinks ad agencies are moving way too slow in embracing data and technology. She's not going to wait for them to get their act together.

... Yaccarino said that she wants to push the TV ad industry to embrace more elements of digital advertising – using software, algorithms and reams of data to improve ad targeting.

But given the pressure everyone in advertising is feeling from the escalating power of Google and Facebook (and increasingly Amazon), NBCU needs to up its 'programmatic' ad game. That means eventually delivering ads to consumers in a much more targeted, precise fashion.

... Yet Yaccarino said Madison Avenue is simply not ready.

Here's how all of this ties in:

  • If the Anthem protests weren't taking place, much if not most of the TV ratings decline and the hit to Papa John's sales would not be occurring.
  • But because of these drops, and because they have been so steep, everyone involved feels compelled to look into rolling out digital advertising alternatives sooner than they otherwise would have been.
  • In other words, the NFL, its protesting players, and the sports reporters who gleefully cheer them on are chasing customers away and, it would appear, on the verge of chasing advertisers away.
  • Meanwhile, the sudden TV vs. digital rethink occurring at the networks and among advertisers is working to ensure that those advertising dollars won't come back.

This does not bode well for the NFL.

Cross-posted at