A whole host of constituencies are complicit in the excesses of big-time sports, but most of them don’t try to have their beer and drink it too. So the indignation and shock expressed by advertisers – most notably Anheuser-Busch, which fired a very public shot across the NFL’s bow over its mishandling of recent scandals plaguing the league – has a stronger-than-usual whiff of hypocrisy.
Of course, advertisers are pretty well versed in the kabuki dance of trying to avoid controversy, often by acting absolutely mystified about the content of the programs they sponsor as soon as someone tries taking them to task for supporting such material. Seldom known for their courage, they employ this rope-a-dope routine, then drift back to their venues of choice once the heat blows over.
The company’s statement seemed designed to accomplish exactly that. As Variety‘s Brian Steinberg noted, Anheuser-Busch didn’t pull any advertising, but merely said it was “disappointed and increasingly concerned” and had shared those sentiments with the NFL. The CEO of Pepsi adopted a similar public-relations posture, calling recent behavior linked to a few players “repugnant,” thus relying more on harsh words than sticks and stones.
Still, getting flagged by the maker of Budweiser sounds particularly galling, inasmuch as beer and football are so inextricably linked, and the company has pretty much treated the Super Bowl as its own special showcase for as long as anyone can remember. Given that, one would assume such transgressions — whether by players, owners or franchises — and the league’s uneven disciplinary tactics hardly come as a surprise to the beer marketer.
Moreover, there’s plenty of research to suggest that while alcohol abuse is not necessarily a direct cause of domestic violence, it can exacerbate situations, peeling back social inhibitions. (The same goes for the issue of drunk driving, which is one reason why sponsors like Anheuser-Busch have been proactive in running public-service announcements during sporting events.)
As usual, Jon Stewart nailed the absurdity on Wednesday’s “The Daily Show,” noting in regard to Anheuser-Busch’s discontent with the league, “How crazy is this. A company that sells alcohol is the moral touchstone of the NFL. Alcohol. Maybe one of the only substances that is proven scientifically to increase the likelihood of domestic abuse.”
Lest anyone misunderstand, this comes from someone who enjoys both watching football and drinking a cold beer – occasionally at the same time.
As noted at the top, there’s no shortage of enablers who have contributed to the NFL’s understandable perception that very little the league can do will shake its hold on fans, including TV networks, advertisers, and obviously the public, if the stratospheric ratings are any guide.
But it’s the sponsors, lately, who are scrambling to cover their butts like there’s suddenly a loose fumble on the ground. So when it comes to being Clydesdale-sized hypocrites, hey, this Bud’s for you.