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Volume 24 No. 117
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Ford, Nike, Hyundai, Bose Respond To NFL Protests, But Most League Sponsors Silent

Ford Motor Co., a sponsor of the NFL, has "voiced support for NFL players exercising their right to free speech and peaceful protest" after President Trump urged fans to "consider a boycott," according to Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN MONEY. The company in a statement said, "We respect individuals' rights to express their views, even if they are not ones we share. That's part of what makes America great." Ford "entered into a three-year agreement with the NFL last year that made the Ford F-Series the league's official truck." Ford also "owns the naming rights to the Ford Field in Detroit." The Ford family has "owned the Lions for decades" (MONEY.CNN.com, 9/25). NFL sponsor Nike in a statement also responded to the protests, saying, "Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society." YAHOO FINANCE's Daniel Roberts noted that is "not the same as saying Nike supports the protests themselves, but even supporting the players’ right to protest represents a big risk for the brand." Other sponsors may be "studying the response to Nike’s statement for an indicator of what they should do." On social media, a search for “Nike NFL” results in finding "some Twitter users applauding Nike." However, it also finds many "claiming they will now boycott Nike products because of Nike’s support of the player protests" (FINANCE.YAHOO.com, 9/26). NFL sponsor Bose in a statement today said the American flag is a "symbol of our great country which protects the freedom for every person to express their views. We respect that freedom, whether we agree with those views or not" (Bose). BLOOMBERG NEWS' Green & Novy-Williams noted Hyundai "took a more direct stance." The company in a statement said, "We stand for and respect individuals’ freedoms to express their First Amendment rights in any peaceful manner in which they choose. We also stand for inclusion, freedom and all that represents those values." Green & Novy-Williams noted the "vast majority of the NFL’s 37 sponsors have remained silent" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 9/25).

RIPPLE EFFECTS: In Chicago, Robert Reed writes the nation’s major NFL advertisers have "decided to hunker down in their locker rooms and wait out the public opinion storm over the national anthem protests." Trump’s advocacy "appears to be gaining ground with those who favor, and even oppose, his call to economic arms." On Twitter, both groups are "starting to set their sights on NFL sponsors by pressing the companies to take a stand on player protests or risk losing customers." This is right where McDonald’s, Pepsi and other consumer product brands "do not want to be -- smack in the middle of a highly emotional social controversy." Should this Trump-NFL controversy "roll on for the season, the playoffs or Super Bowl, then Pepsi, Visa, Budweiser, McDonald’s and such will feel the pain of lower ratings, lukewarm advertising impact and slower sales." That is a "frightening scenario for huge companies that are staples of the U.S. economy and employ millions of people" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/26). Strategic Vision PR Group CEO David Johnson said many sponsors are taking a “wait-and-see approach” because they know the customer "is always right." Johnson: "They’re going to look to see what the TV ratings are, what the attendance is at the stadiums, and then we’ll see them beginning to make a more forceful stand, one way or another.” He said one issue is that “nobody knows what’s being protested." Johnson: "That’s one of the big problems the NFL has right now and why they could lose this battle." That also is why a "lot of advertisers are trying to take a wait-and-see” approach (“Power Lunch,” CNBC, 9/25).