In recent years, the National Football League (NFL) has observed each October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For viewers tuning into NFL games in October, they have likely seen pink football equipment such as caps, gloves and wristbands worn by players to commemorate the month. On the field, they will also see breast cancer awareness logos and cheerleaders dressed in pink and sporting pink pompoms. The league has even produced memorable commercials featuring popular players as part of its campaign:
While brands have long tried to alter their perception by aligning themselves to charitable causes, the question must be asked as to why the NFL, a professional sport played only by men, would choose breast cancer awareness for a major communications campaign? Is it a genuine attempt to raise awareness for a disease that affects women? Or does the NFL have an ulterior motive in trying to broaden its fan base and viewership to women? Well, it depends on who you ask.
According to the NFL, “More than $8 million has been raised for the American Cancer Society through the partnership… The NFL does not profit from the sale or auction of pink merchandise.” (NFL, 2016). The NFL clearly views the “A Crucial Catch” campaign as a charitable endeavor that raises money to help raise awareness about a terrible disease.
However, there are plenty of detractors who would disagree. Basen (2013) writes, “Research suggests that the NFL and its corporate partners are more concerned with enhancing their public images — especially among women — and ultimately revenues, than they are with addressing breast cancer, and they seek to manipulate NFL fandom in the name of public health.” To buttress this point, Basen (2013) discusses “cause-related marketing” where brands have used marketing campaigns to benefit charities as well as themselves.
Other detractors argue that if the NFL was truly interested in supporting breast cancer awareness, the league would give a much greater percentage of its revenues to the cause. Notte (2015) argues how the money raised by the NFL so far in this campaign is extremely small when compared to the billions of dollars the league makes in revenue each year. He states, “It’s become such a brazen publicity stunt that each year, we’re treated to a different story about how the NFL raises just about no money to increase cancer awareness, education or screenings.”
While it would be impossible to determine the true motives of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign, there is ample evidence for both its supporters and detractors to debate.
Basen, R. (2013). Pink-shaded marketing. Sports On Earth. Retrieved from: http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/62332742/
NFL.com. (2016). NFL supports National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with A Crucial Catch campaign. Retrieved from: https://nflcommunications.com/Pages/NFL-Supports-National-Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Month-With-A-Crucial-Catch-Campaign.aspx
Notte, J. (2015). The NFL’s pink October is a publicity stunt. MarketWatch. Retrieved from: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-nfls-pink-october-is-a-publicity-stunt-2015-10-21