NFL sponsors unconcerned about national anthem protests: Official

The NFL’s top corporate sponsors haven’t expressed any concern about the unprecedented wave of player national anthem protests this weekend, a league spokesman said Monday.

NFL players engaged in widespread demonstrations on Sunday, hours after President Donald Trump called on the league’s owners to fire ‘son of a [expletive]’ who kneel during the pregame national anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the vast majority of the league’s 32 owners issued statements in solidarity with players and condemned Trump for engaging in divisive rhetoric.

“We talk to our sponsors all the time, whether it’s raining or the sun is out. We’ve talked to them, we keep them informed. I haven’t heard of a single issue of a sponsor that is worried or has raised particular issue about the weekend,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters during a conference call Monday.

The NFL’s top sponsors include major corporations like Visa, Nike, Anheuser-Busch InBev, PepsiCo and McDonald’s. Sponsorships are a major stream of income for the NFL, which is expected to take in $14 billion in 2017. Goodell previously said the league is aiming to reach $25 billion in revenue by the year 2027.

While most of the league’s corporate partners have yet to take a stance on the national anthem protests, Nike on Monday issued a statement in support of the league’s players.

“Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society,” the company said.

National anthem protests have been a major point of debate among NFL fans and pundits since 2016, when quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then a member of the San Francisco 49ers, opted not to stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racial and social injustice. Critics argue that the protests played a major role in the NFL’s highly-publicized TV ratings decline last season.

Lockhart says that the league hasn’t “seen anything” so far to indicate that the renewed wave of protests on Sunday will have a material impact on its business.

“I’ve never seen an event that has more forcefully pulled together and united a group in support and defense of the game than I saw this weekend. To the extent that has a business positive, that’s great,” he said. “There were certainly some commentators that thought this is a group that would never get on the same page, but you saw it happen this weekend.”