Last month, Brett Favre found himself tied to a scandal in which $1.1 million meant for needy families in Mississippi instead wound up in the bank account of the Hall of Fame quarterback in exchange for one public service announcement and three speeches he never made.
Although Favre has no criminal liability in the matter — it’s the director of the Mississippi Community Education Center, Nancy New, who is facing trial on embezzlement charges — it has still been an awkward situation for the former Packers quarterback. Favre vowed to pay back the million-plus he received from the MCEC, and went on a former Packer teammate’s Wisconsin radio show to tell his side of the story.
While the contract that the Mississippi State Auditor’s office obtained in its investigation into the MCEC included the provision that Favre make speeches, the office believed Favre’s assertion that he was unaware of that fact, and believed he had fulfilled his duty by recording one radio PSA.
“If Mr. Favre is stating that MCEC never informed him that he was required to be at those events as a part of their agreement, then this, of course, would be one of many lies MCEC leadership told my auditors through the course of our audit,” Mississippi State Auditor Shad White said in a statement to Deadspin. “I’m obviously not surprised by this. We arrested key MCEC leadership in February for the pervasive fraud at their organization. As for whether or not we reached out to Mr. Favre, my staff spoke with people employed by Mr. Favre about the audit. Whether or not they informed Mr. Favre about our audit is up to them internally.”
The contract was signed by the CFO of Favre’s company, Favre Enterprises, which did not return multiple calls from Deadspin seeking comment. The main question that remains unanswered is why, even unaware that the money was siphoned from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, and even though he’s now paying it back, Favre, who made $137.8 million playing football, accepted $1.1 million from a nonprofit in the first place.
Had the money been spent appropriately by the MCEC, instead of lining Favre’s pockets, it could have provided diapers to families in need, or provided child care, or just been doled out as direct cash assistance. Instead, Favre recorded a public service announcement for Families First For Mississippi, an organization whose website simply provides links to other programs since shuttering in the wake of this scandal.
When he gave his explanation of the Mississippi boondoggle, Favre told ESPN Wisconsin, “I did ads that ran for three years, was paid for it, no different than any other time that I’ve done endorsements for other people, and I went about my way.”
Except this wasn’t a commercial for jeans or nose hair trimmers or Copper Fit. It was a PSA for family services in Mississippi. According to Matt Sammon, a veteran broadcaster who now runs the broadcasting consultancy Sammon Sez LLC, the total budget for most PSAs like this would be a few hundred dollars, and that $1.1 million, as a full production budget, would be “not only be astronomical, but ridiculous.” That’s a full budget, not just the fee for voice talent.
“If that was the going rate, we’d all be tripping over our feet to get the next PETA ad,” Sammon said.
Another source familiar with athlete marketing said that to book a statewide radio ad by someone of Favre’s caliber, best case scenario it might cost as much as $100,000.
That doesn’t come close to answering how Favre wound up with a deal from a nonprofit for 11 times that much. The amount of money Favre was getting from the MCEC is particularly hard to digest when you consider Forbes’ reporting that Aaron Rodgers, Favre’s quarterback heir in Green Bay and one of the most prolific pitchmen in the NFL, made a total of $9 million from all his endorsements last year — and that’s with a roster of companies that includes State Farm, Adidas, and Bose.
“Our audit of the Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) showed payments totaling $1.1 million in TANF funds to Favre Enterprises,” the Mississippi State Auditor’s office said. “When we asked MCEC leadership why they made that payment, MCEC informed us that Favre Enterprises was paid in part for Mr. Favre to give three speeches, to cut one radio ad, and to give one keynote address. This is noted in a contract signed by Favre Enterprise’s CFO.”
Favre may have believed that he was contracted only for a PSA, for which $1.1 million would have been ludicrous. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and allow for a theory that is self-contradictory, but is the most generous possible interpretation for Favre. In this scenario, he would be simultaneously unaware of being under contract for the speeches, but also would not be taking seven figures from a nonprofit to do nothing more than cut a single radio ad.
Does that make sense? Not at all. But the point is, Favre getting this much money for a radio ad plus three speaking engagements from a commercial entity would be ridiculous. From a nonprofit? It’s scandalous.
What would it cost to get Favre to give three speeches and a keynote address in addition to a radio ad? One celebrity speaker bureau has “Please Contact” listed for “Fee Range” on Favre’s page, but when it comes to quarterbacks of similar stature, other booking agencies list Archie Manning, John Elway, and Steve Young at $50,000-$75,000 per speech.
Maybe Favre is a particularly amazing speaker, or maybe he doesn’t get out of bed for less than 100 grand. Tacking on another $100,000 for the most generous interpretation of the value of Favre’s radio ad, and you’re still only at $500,000 — less than half of what he got paid.
The work that Favre was contracted to do wasn’t worth nearly $1.1 million. The work that he believed he signed to do, even if it were a standard commercial, would not have been $1.1 million worth of work. The PSA that he actually did would be “ridiculous” to pay $1.1 million for.
Even though he’s paying it back because it was improperly redirected from federal welfare funds, Favre still was taking $1.1 million to do what amounted to charity work in his home state, and his own accounting of it, on an ex-teammate’s radio show, can’t justify that. Favre might not be in any criminal trouble for his part of the MCEC deal, but his part in it still was morally reprehensible.