By Rob Hamilton


You know that feeling you get.

That heartwarming, patriotic, I-love-this-country, it-sure-must-be-dusty-in-here, Yay-America feeling that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

The music, the red white and blue, the planes flying over, the men and women wearing camo and running or marching on to the field to wild applause and appreciation.

According to a new report from Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, the Defense Department spent $6.8 million of taxpayer money on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012.

The Atlanta Falcons

Since 2012, the Falcons have been paid more money by the Department of Defense than any other team in the NFL. That’s right. The worst offender in the NFL is the Atlanta Falcons according To McCain and Flake. (See Arthur Blank’s response below.)

The team has been paid more than $879,000 for the following line items (taken directly from the McCain / Flake report):

  • GAARNG color guard detail for the Falcons military appreciation game (FY2012, FY2013, FY2015)
  • Performance of the national anthem by a member of the GAARNG (FY2014)
  • Recognition of the Army National Guard Birthday (FY2013, FY2014)
  • A welcome home promotion to provide a surprise meet-and-greet with a Falcons player for a GAARNG soldier returning home from deployment (FY2013)
  • An opportunity for 80 GAARNG soldiers to hold a large American flag on the field during a military appreciation game (FY2012, FY2013)
  • GAARNG flag runners to lead Falcons players out of the tunnel onto the field (FY2012, FY2013)
  • A video message from a GAARNG soldier welcoming Falcons fans and thanking veterans (FY2012, FY2013)
  • Two videoboard features that, according to the contract, could be used for a recruit swear-in ceremony or a wounded warrior tribute (FY2012)
  • A military appreciation day at training camp, which included the giveaway of a co-branded promotional item such as a hat, flag or rally towel for 500 attendees (FY2015)
  • *The item(s) in this list are a subset and may not comprise the full scope of the contract(s) or taxpayer costs

The Atlanta Braves

Well, that’s the NFL you might being saying to yourself. That’s how the NFL works and it’s just unfortunate that our Falcons led that list.

You would be wrong.

Let’s switch gears to MLB. Which team took more money from the DOD to host Military Appreciation events, etc? Of all of the baseball clubs in MLB?

Yep, the Atlanta Braves. (See the Braves response below.)

The Braves took approximately $450,000 from the DOD for paid patriotism and the following (taken directly from the McCain / Flake report):

  • Four on-field presentations that, could be used for a surprise homecoming, first pitch, calling play ball and parades (FY2013, FY2014)
  • Sponsorship of each of four military appreciation games during the season (FY2013, FY2014, FY2015)
  • Opportunity for GAARNG soldiers to participate in a parade before two military-themed games for in-park recognition, and broadcast on Braves Vision (FY2014)
  • Additional opportunities for GAARNG to get involved in military and patriotic-themed presentations (FY2013, FY2014, FY2015)
  • *The item(s) in this list are a subset and may not comprise the full scope of the contract(s) or taxpayer costs

The Atlanta Hawks

Well, as surprising as this news is, at least we can take solace in the fact that it didn’t include the Atlanta Hawks, right?

Well, it looks as though they also lead the list of NBA teams.

Yep, the worst offender in the NBA when it comes to taking money from the DOD for so-called “paid patriotism” is none other than the Atlanta Hawks. (See the Hawks response below.)

The Hawks have taken more than $230,000 from taxpayers since 2013 for the following (taken directly from the McCain / Flake report):

  • Color guard ceremony at three Hawks home games (FY2013, FY2013)
  • One feature video presentation highlighting a National Guard soldier who performed a special task, returned from a tour of duty, helped with tornado victims, or other security measures deemed appropriate to be played at eight Hawks home games (FY2013)
  • Opportunity for GAARNG to grant a High School/ROTC the right to perform a color guard ceremony at one Hawks home game (FY2013)
  • Opportunity for USAF to perform an on-court flag presentations and have the USAF logo on the jumbotron during three Hawks home games (FY2014)
  • $1,500 for tickets to a Hawks home game (FY2014)
  • *The item(s) in this list are a subset and may not comprise the full scope of the contract(s) or taxpayer costs

Is this “patriotism”? When we’re in an arena and a team is “honoring” our troops, is this advertising or is this the right thing to do? Is there anything wrong with these teams being paid for these ceremonious events? Shouldn’t “patriotism” be about honoring the men and women serving this country?

I want to stand there and feel patriotic when these things are happening.

Sony, Apple, GEICO, ‘Merica, State Farm, Taco Bell.

Does everything have to be bought and paid for? Is nothing sacred? Or does the DOD have the right to help showcase these great men and women that serve our country in this manner? As opposed to running the risk of them remaining faceless… nameless?

As we approach Veteran’s Day, find a Veteran, thank them, shake their hand and mean it.

Read the FULL report here: The Paid Patriotism Report (.pdf)

 


 


RESPONSES FROM THE TEAMS

Response from the Atlanta Falcons

The following is a letter written by Falcons Owner and Chairman Arthur Blank to fans:

I’m sure many of you have read various news accounts regarding the National Guard’s marketing partnership with a number of NFL teams, including the Falcons, and other sports entities. Unfortunately, many of the stories failed to accurately present the business relationships between the two groups, and we want to make sure you have the facts to alleviate any concerns you may have.

Our marketing and sponsorship agreement with the National Guard is designed to fulfill their objectives of increasing awareness and aiding in recruiting efforts, which has become more important in an all-volunteer service environment. This is no different than any other sponsorship agreement in that it is structured to fit a business need.

Our agreement with the National Guard during the 2014 season included advertising on the Falcons website and in the Atlanta Falcons Playbook, which is distributed to fans on game day; signage in the Georgia Dome; LED and backlit messaging on Falcons game days; activation at Falcons Landing on game days; and participation in a number of other game program activities.

As explained by National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt in a recent story on ESPN.com, their spending with teams in all sports on year-round advertising and marketing programs is a way to reach important audiences.

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

Separate and apart from this business arrangement, the Falcons have long supported the Armed Services, including the National Guard, in a variety of ways as part of our community outreach and philanthropic activities. These include, among other things:

  • Military base visits by coaches and players
  • Fishing trips with soldiers injured in the line of duty
  • Game day Flag Crew participation by various members of the Armed Forces
  • Falcons players joint appearances with military personnel at school assemblies and other locations
  • Military holiday parties hosted by Falcons players
  • Attendance by military personnel at Falcons Training Camp, and just this year at a recent OTA practice
  • Ticket purchases and donations by Falcons players to military personnel

Our commitment to the community is an important part of our responsibilities as this city and state’s professional football team. It also extends beyond that to the work our family foundation is doing in Atlanta’s Historic Westside Neighborhoods adjacent to the new Atlanta stadium to create a safer, healthier and more prosperous environment for its residents. In addition, our foundation is in the second year of a three-year $350,000 grant to the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to work with the Georgia State Board of Education to deliver a Character Development Program to more than 140,000 Georgia middle and high school students annually in partnership with the Georgia National Guard and other businesses and foundations.

It is regretful that the good works of our NFL league office and teams were overlooked in the news stories of the last few days, and I hope this letter aids in painting a more accurate portrayal. We remain steadfast in our desire to be good citizens and proud supporters of our community, including our support of the important work of our Armed Forces.

– Arthur Blank

Response from the NFL

The NFL also responded with a letter from Roger Goodell, dated Nov 2nd, 2015. The entire letter from Goodell can be read here.

Response from the Atlanta Braves

“The Atlanta Braves proudly support the military and celebrate them in many ways throughout each season.  All military celebrations are not part of a sponsorship and are not paid for.  The Georgia National Guard partnership is a separate arrangement and is primarily designed to support advertising for their recruitment initiatives.”

Here are all the things we do for the military (none of this except where noted has anything to do with the National Guard partnership):

  • Hometown Hero
  • Started in 2008.  We recognize one individual that has gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to our country.  This happens at approximately 20 games per year.
  • Military Appreciation Days (*See below for National Guard’s involvement)
  • Days have included Memorial Day, 9/11, WWII Remembrance, Vietnam Veterans Day, Air Force Day, Army Day, Marines Day, Navy Day
  • Typically 4-6 of these days each year depending on how our schedule falls in line with the appropriate days
  • Give free tickets to a large number of members of our nation’ military at each of these games
  • Military members line the base paths and help display giant American flags
  • Flyovers
  • Color Guards
  • Honor Guards
  • Interviews, First Pitches, Honorary Team Captains with high ranking military officials
  • Military bands perform in the plaza pregame
  • National Anthem performed by a military member
  • Enlistment and Re-enlistment ceremonies (have done 3 in recent memory)
  • National Anthem
  • We salute those that are serving or that have served prior to the anthem at every game
  • Military Heroes Day
  • Started last year as we honored ~15 Medal of Honor winners at a game
  • Special pregame ceremony
  • Heritage Weekends
  • Honor the Tuskegee Airmen during special pregame ceremonies
  • United Military Care and Operation Homefront
  • Work with these organizations closely since 2008.  They work with the family members of those deployed and also with military members that need special rehabilitation and/or assistance once they return stateside.
  • In 2014 we added a third home jersey to wear when we have games honoring the military and/or veterans.  After each of those games, the players sign the jersey and they are auctioned off with money raised going to several military charities (USO, Wounded Warriors, etc.)

Other pieces outside of gamedays

  • Braves Country Caravan stops at military bases (2-3 per year)
  • On-going military ticket discount at each game

*We do have a corporate partnership with the National Guard (started with 2014 season), but their sponsorship doesn’t dictate what we do on the field.  Here is what their sponsorship includes:

  • Three (3) upper level concourse signs
  • Exposure at all Military Appreciation Games
  • National Guard Logo placement on Braves players’ head shots on BravesVision during Military Games
  • Two (2) pre-game BravesVision interviews\
  • Two (2) pre-game Radio interviews
  • Opportunity to greet fans at the gates on Military Games
  • Playbill advertisement
  • One on-Field Experience for each Military Game (first pitch, honorary team captain, etc.)
  • Opportunity to set-up and activate during each Military Game

To clarify even more, every corporate partner we have gets one in-game element with their sponsorship package (first pitch, honorary team captain), but for National Guard it’s completely separate from the rest of that game’s military celebration.  We’ve done all of these things for years before National Guard came on board as a partner.

As an example, AT&T has a series sponsorship and they have their logo on the players head shots and have someone within their company throw the first pitch or be the honorary team captain.  The National Guard sponsorship is done the same way.  They get to promote their product to fans and have someone represent them for the one element before the game starts, but none of the other elements that happen throughout a military appreciation game.”

Response from the Atlanta Hawks

We reached out to the Hawks for a statement or comment on this report. They would like to make it clear that there is no current contract with the DOD and that the contract they had with them “ended in the 2013-2014 season”.

 

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