The NFL is returning more than $700,000 it was paid in exchange for displaying acts of patriotism during games, according to a letter from commissioner Roger Goodell to Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.
The league’s announcement comes about seven months after McCain and Flake filed a report bashing the Department of Defense for giving millions of dollars of taxpayer money to sports teams and leagues in exchange for displaying acts of patriotism. Payments financed color guards, giant American flags and veteran recognition videos on jumbotrons, among other services.
The senators’ report claimed that $6.8 million had been spent in total by the Department of Defense between 2011 and 2014, including payments of $879,000 and $700,000 to the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, respectively.
A Call 6 Investigation also found advertising contracts between the Department of Defense (through the Indiana National Guard) and Indiana teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Indians.
During the 2014-2015 season, the Colts received $200,000 from the Guard in exchange for tickets to games for veterans, Colts player appearances at Guard events, and one "Hometown Hero" feature, in which a veteran would be recognized for his or her service on the big screens at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Pacers 2014-2015 agreement guaranteed the Guard six on-court, in-game promotions like push-up contests during the season. The Pacers also agreed to allow the Guard to hold a swear-in ceremony at one Pacers home game. That contract was worth $30,000.
Colts COO Pete Ward told Call 6 Investigates last August that the Colts' have been honoring the National Guard and other military members "for many years, at no charge."
"We have never charged the National Guard for Hometown Hero – nor would we ever," Ward said in an email to RTV6. "The contract was written by the National Guard, and the Hometown Hero element did not affect the price of the sponsorship. I.e., the cost of the sponsorship would have been the same with or without the Hometown Hero element … including it in the document was simply a means of quantifying things we do for the Guard and including Hometown Hero as part of an overall program. This falls in line with the many other things we do to honor our service members."
Sen. Flake said he was surprised, but pleased, at the NFL's action.
"In all the years I've spent rooting out egregious federal spending, the NFL is the first organization to perform due diligence, take responsibility and return misspent funds to the taxpayers," Flake said according to ESPN. ”The NFL's response to this investigation sets a new standard and only strengthens its reputation as a supporter our nation's military service members and veterans."
According to Goodell’s letter, the league went through an extensive audit of 100 marketing agreements to determine that the league had received $723,734 to displays of patriotism. He did not provide a breakdown of fees that lead to the figure.