Senate investigators report that the Department of Defense has spent more than $9 million over the last four years on military tributes at sporting events, carefully staged patriotic displays meant to drum up goodwill and recruiting that weren’t publicly disclosed as paid advertisements.
If you’ve gone to games or watched TV, you’ve been exposed to these ads. They take familiar forms: giant American flags, military-family reunions, the singing of “God Bless America” at baseball games, even things as seemingly minor as showing troops on the jumbotron for a round of applause. Sen. Jeff Flake revealed the practice earlier this year, and now Flake and fellow Arizona Republican John McCain have obtained 122 different contracts between the Pentagon and individual teams and leagues.
These 10 teams were paid the most for their salutes to the troops:
- Atlanta Falcons $879,000
- New England Patriots $700,000
- Buffalo Bills $650,000
- Minnesota Wild $570,000
- Baltimore Ravens $534,500
- New Orleans Saints $472,875
- San Diego Chargers $453,500
- Seattle Seahawks $453,500
- Atlanta Braves $450,000
- Indianapolis Colts $420,000
While the spending is largely on events at NFL games, there were contracts with teams from all major sports, as well as MLS, auto racing, and college football.
Of course these amounts are a drop in the bucket for the military, which has an estimated budget of $600 billion in 2015, and only a slightly larger splash for the teams taking in the money. But people deserve to know when advertisements are advertisements, and that sports leagues that so eagerly trumpet their patriotism are making sure they get some cash for their efforts.
From the report:
“Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams’ authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform...[I]t is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops, can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism.”
Since the reveal of the business agreements, the Pentagon has quietly backed away. A September memo warned branches of the military that they should “neither fund nor approve any sports marketing or sports related contract in which the terms of the contract require the service to pay to honor members of the armed services.”
The leagues, too, are reacting to the bad PR:
The full report is below: