A government oversight report released Wednesday by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake offers new details about how the Department of Defense paid professional sports teams and leagues for patriotic displays honoring American soldiers.
The report expands on one that became public last May and resulted in changes to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, prohibiting the expenditures and calling on leagues and teams to donate the money to organizations that support the military, veterans and their families.
“What we take issue with,” wrote Flake, who, like McCain, is a Republican from Arizona, “is the average fan thinking teams are doing this on behalf of the military.”
NASCAR was the biggest recipient, getting $1,560,000 for fiscal year 2015. Included were personal appearances by Aric Almirola and Richard Petty, as well as 20 Richard Petty Driving Experience ride-alongs. The expenditures, according to the DOD, were “integral to its recruiting efforts.” From the report’s introduction:
“At the time [parts of the report surfaced], both the DOD and the NFL downplayed our assessment, characterizing it as an unfounded and inaccurate portrayal of the contracts, the report states. A National Guard spokesman, in particular, assured American taxpayers that the contracts were for legitimate advertising activities that support recruiting efforts. And, the NFL said our legislation ‘paint[ed] a completely distorted picture of the relationship between NFL teams and our military.’
“For the past several months, we have continued to work with DOD to fully understand the nature and extent of these contracts. In all, the military services reported $53 million in spending on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015. More than $10 million of that total was paid to teams in the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS).
“Over the course of the effort, we discovered the startling fact that DOD cannot accurately account for how many contracts it has awarded or how much has been spent; its official response to our request only accounted for 62 percent of its 122 contracts with the major league teams that we were able to uncover and 70 percent of the more than $10 million it actually spent on these contracts. And, although DOD has indicated the purpose of these contracts is to support recruiting, the Department doesn’t uniformly measure how and whether the activities under contract are actually contributing to recruiting.”
The 145-page report cites contributions to 18 NFL teams, 10 MLB teams, eight NBA teams, six NHL teams, eight soccer teams, as well as NASCAR, Iron Dog and Indiana University Purdue University.
The Atlanta Falcons, for instance, were the top recipients, getting $879,000 over four years. Over the same period, for instance, the New England Patriots received $700,000 and the Buffalo Bills $650,000.
The report includes a memo from the NFL to its teams giving guidance on “paid patriotism” issues. Commissioner Roger Goodell followed with a letter to the committee dated Nov. 2, writing that the league will conduct an audit of all of its contracts with military branches and national guard units.
“If we find that inappropriate payments were made,” Goodell wrote, “they will be refunded in full.”
The Atlanta Braves baseball team received $450,000 over three years, the Atlanta Hawks NBA team got $230,000 over two years. The Minnesota Wild NHL team received $570,000 over three years. Locally the only team named in the report was D.C. United, which received $25,000 in the fiscal year 2014 for “taxpayer-funded ‘paid patriotism’ and perks.” The perks included 10 tickets to one game for D.C. Air National Guard members.