The Indianapolis Colts are under siege on two fronts.
On Monday, New England Patriots officials and some national pundits claimed the Colts colluded with the NFL to bust the rival Patriots in “Deflategate.”
On Tuesday, numerous news organizations nationwide ran less-than-flattering stories about the Colts and 13 other NFL teams taking taxpayer money from the armed services for what some thought were heartfelt—and free—tributes to troops during games and other team activities.
It’s true the Colts have been one of the biggest NFL beneficiary of military marketing over the last four years.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, speaking of things he thought were free tributes but in fact were live paid ads, called the spending wasteful and disingenuous.
“You get a good feeling in your heart,” Flake told New Jersey Advance Media. “Then to find out they’re doing it because they’re compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly.”
From 2011 through 2014, Department of Defense paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million for marketing and advertising.
The Colts scored $620,000, behind only Atlanta ($1.04 million), Baltimore ($884,000) and Cincinnati ($679,000).
Flake said he intends to send a letter to the Pentagon this week to ask for specifics on the return on investment of the sponsorships.
In some respects, the amount spent is small potatoes both in terms of what the military has spent in other sports—motorsports in particular—and compared to the size of other NFL sponsors. In 2014 alone, the National Guard spent $32 million sponsoring NASCAR teams and another $12 million sponsoring Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the IndyCar Series. The plug was pulled on those sponsorships last year.
Armed services branches, particularly the National Guard, have long argued that their sports sponsorships are effective recruitment tools.
But much of the disgust appears to be over what some believe is the deceptive nature of the in-game military marketing. For instance, some NFL teams got paid for merely showing a soldier or two on the in-stadium Jumbotron and encouraging the crowd to cheer for them.
On that front, the Colts were quick to launch an offensive of their own.
“The contract we have had with the National Guard was an advertising agreement,” said Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward. “Virtually all of the deliverables to the National Guard in our advertising agreement are just that—advertising—and would be recognized as such.
“The vast majority of our honoring our service people is proudly done by us completely separate and distinct of any advertising agreement,” Ward added.
Ward followed up by emailing IBJ a list of 18 bulleted items the Colts do for free to honor the military, including hosting a game-day collection benefiting the Wish for Our Heroes campaign, hosting military homecomings (where soldiers meet families in a surprise reunion) at games for the past five seasons, and inviting the National Guard to deliver the game day ball by rappelling onto the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.