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Volume 23 No. 29
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NFL critics use games to campaign

Although a handful of U.S. Senate candidates have politicized the act of athletes kneeling during the national anthem, it hasn’t stopped some of them from advertising during NFL games. Sports Business Journal looked at advertising spending on sports programs in three Senate races that have candidates who have voiced their opinions on the matter: Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), Rick Scott (R-Florida) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Local ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates are required to provide detailed contract information about political advertisers to the Federal Communications Commission. The contracts included in the study were ordered by the candidates from Aug. 1 through Oct. 19 for spots that were scheduled to air through Election Day.

In regard to the physical filings themselves, the FCC does not have a standard template for stations to fill out, and there is little continuity across the filing landscape. All the data provided to the FCC is entered manually at the individual stations and there were frequent contract revisions, which are included.

SBJ analyzed thousands of documents. Collectively, the six candidates across the three races have committed more than $2.7 million in sports spending through Election Day. 


When Vice President Mike Pence walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium during a 49ers-Colts game last October and tweeted his rationale, North Dakota Representative Kevin Cramer responded, “Heroes don’t score TDs or make sacks. Heroes wear military uniforms & protect NFL players’ right to be ungrateful whiners. Thx @VP & @POTUS.”

But since Aug. 1, Cramer, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has spent close to $88,000 advertising during NFL games, or nearly one-third of what he has spent on sports programming overall during that period. His opponent, incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, also felt football programming was an effective spot for ads targeting North Dakota voters, as roughly 86 percent of her sports TV spend was allocated to NFL games.



Gov. Rick Scott, who served as the national chairman of Rebuilding America Now, a super PAC that was created to help get Donald Trump elected, last fall said he supports “everyone’s right to protest. But, as a veteran myself, I think it’s disrespectful to our veterans and active duty military to not stand for the national anthem.”

Two-thirds of the more than $1.1 million that Scott has spent in sports advertising since Aug. 1 has been earmarked for NFL programming, compared to 49 percent by his opponent Bill Nelson. Statewide the two have combined to buy 364 ads during sports broadcasts — more than three hours in all — at a total cost of more than $1.6 million.



U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz also wove in the NFL and the anthem earlier this fall at a campaign rally in Georgetown, Texas. He said he supports people exercising their First Amendment right to protest but said, “You can do it without disrespecting the flag and without disrespecting those who have fought and bled to defend it.” Cruz has gone on to spend 83 percent of his sports TV budget — or nearly $450,000 — on ads during NFL games.

His opponent, Beto O’Rourke, who made a name for himself nationally when he appeared in a video defending football players taking a knee, spent 89 percent of his sports TV money on NFL games. “I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, any time, anywhere, any place.” His overall sports spend of approximately $276,000 is half of what Cruz has devoted to sports.