For many fans, the salute to military service that precedes NFL games is one of the highlights of attending. However, a report from NJ.com states that those warm, rewarding moments were actually the result of an advertising contract between teams and the Department of Defense.
According to the report, the Department of Defense paid teams $5.4 million ($5.3 million of which came from the National Guard) to perform the saluting-troops pregame segments. The Green Bay Packers accepted a total of $600,000 from 2011 through 2014 to produce their own military salutes.
For anyone who has watched a sporting event on television, advertising for the armed forces is far from uncommon. Nearly every branch of the military has produced some sort of commercial as part of its recruiting efforts. This is fine as the consumer can easily identify the clips as advertisement. However, when an ad is hidden within something else to the point where the typical consumer can no longer distinguish it, a problem arises. Such is the case with these paid military tributes.
The concept of native advertising is a relatively new phenomenon. You've probably seen some of it here at Acme Packing Company. A sponsor pays for an article that, while not exclusively an advertisement, features the product or service in a somewhat more organic manner than a typical banner ad. The merits of this sort of sponsorship have been debated since native advertising took root in online media, but most agree that the consumer needs to understand the difference between sponsored posts and traditional content.
Which is why this report from NJ.com has raised so many red flags. The fans in the stands and at home think they're watching a tribute, unaware that the entire production is a paid advertisement for the military. SB Nation's Matt Ufford, himself a military veteran, explained the troubling complications this sort of sponsorship creates.
It should also be noted that not every military tribute is the result of sponsorship. The NJ.com report says only 14 teams received payment from the Department of Defense, yet all 32 teams honor the armed forces in some way. Still, the fact that nearly half the league is involved with this practice will encourage debate and unwanted attention for the NFL during it's otherwise quietest period.