For Immediate Release
NFL Marketing to Kids is Out of Bounds
Groundbreaking report exposes league’s intensive and harmful campaign to target children
WASHINGTON - At a time when NFL profits are threatened by declining participation in youth football, a groundbreaking new report from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood exposes how much the National Football League has ramped up its direct marketing to children. OUT OF BOUNDS: The NFL’s Intensive Campaign to Target Children details how the league advertises to children: online, on children’s television stations, in schools, and in partnership with trusted nonprofits and government agencies serving kids and families. The NFL’s new strategies to woo kids have serious consequences, including increased sedentary screen time, exposure to junk-food marketing, loss of valuable instructional time in school, encouraging gambling behaviors, and exposure to the league’s off-the-field controversies.
“Even as parents are rightly concerned about letting kids play football, the NFL is threatening children’s wellbeing by employing a 360° marketing strategy to maximize its current audience and ensure a host of future fans,” said report author Josh Golin, CCFC’s Associate Director. “The league’s focus on children is designed to immerse kids in sedentary video games and other media, sell them on junk food, and hook them on fantasy sports.”
Among the report’s findings:
- Encouraging kids to play fantasy football is a major component of the NFL’s marketing to children, despite the fact that playing fantasy sports is a form of gambling. The league offers cash and other prizes for its fantasy contests, giving kids a vested interest in the outcome of NFL games. The league even promotes fantasy football in elementary schools. Gambling at a young age is a risk factor for problem gambling later in life.
- The NFL relies extensively on government agencies and trusted nonprofits to promote its brand to children. Fuel Up to Play 60, a joint NFL initiative with the National Dairy Council (NDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to promote healthy eating and physical activity, allows NFL marketing to reach nearly two-thirds of all U.S. school children. The initiative’s wellness messages are completely undermined by the NFL’s promotion of sedentary screen time to kids and its partnerships with McDonald's and other purveyors of junk food.
- The NFL markets media properties aimed at children in order to promote interest in its teams, its players, and its televised broadcasts. The league maintains an online marketing hub for children six to 13 called NFLRUSH with 3 million registered users. It also created NFL Rush Zone, an animated television series currently on Nicktoons, that is actually a program-length commercial for the NFL.
- The NFL has produced and distributed branded teaching materials designed for elementary school classrooms. These materials claim to teach subjects like math and language arts but their real purpose is to promote the NFL’s brand to children. All the vocabulary words in one set of lesson plans are either basic football terms like “huddle” or “quarterback,” NFL football team names, or characters on the NFL’s Nicktoons show.
- Children exposed to NFL marketing are also routinely exposed to the league’s use of derogatory racial terms like “Redskin” as well as players who are involved in its off-the-field incidents. The league’s elementary school materials make references to “Redskins.” The cartoon NFL Rush Zone actually features a character who is referred to as a “Redskin.” In addition, guest stars on NFL Rush Zone include Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the players involved in the NFL’s most publicized domestic violence incidents.
“The NFL is a league that produces adult content and adult controversies,” said Cara Wilking, an author of the report and a public health attorney. “It has used its star power to infiltrate schools, government agencies, and trusted non-profits to target kids in ways that expose them to inappropriate content ranging from games that encourage problem gambling to alcohol advertising. This report demonstrates the pitfalls of partnering with the NFL and makes it clear that it's time for organizations that care about children to sever ties with them."
The report demands that the NFL stop targeting children. It also calls on the NFL to immediately stop promoting fantasy football to kids, on Nickelodeon to stop airing NFL Rush Zone and other NFL-affiliated media properties on its networks, and for educators to stop using all NFL-sponsored educational materials.
To download the full report, please visit http://commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/outofbounds.pdf. The report’s executive summary can be read here.
Ray Halbritter - Oneida Nation Representative and Nation Enterprises CEO about the Washington NFL Team Name: “The marketing of this racial slur has had – and continues to have – very serious cultural, political, and public health consequences for Native American children across the country. The NFL is a publicly subsidized $9-billion-a-year brand with global reach, and it is using those public resources and that brand to promote a dictionary defined racial slur. Native American children do not deserve to be treated as targets of a racial slur by one of the most famous and powerful brands in the world. They deserve to be treated as what they are: Americans.”
Ryan J. Martin, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Education and Promotion at East Carolina University: “It is certainly concerning that the NFL is actively promoting fantasy football with cash prizes to children. In our study, we found that college students who participate in fantasy sports for money were more likely to experience gambling-related problems.”
Michele Simon, J.D., M.P.H. - President of Eat Drink Politics: “Far from sending healthy messages, the Fuel Up to Play 60 program heavily promotes high-sugar dairy products, like chocolate milk, in direct conflict with the federal government’s own dietary guidelines and common sense. In addition, Fuel Up to Play 60 promotes the NFL – and by extension all of its junk-food partners, including McDonald’s, Pepsi, Frito Lay, and Mars – to a majority of U.S school children. It’s time for the USDA to sack this ill-conceived and harmful program.”
Casey Hinds - Parent of two and blogger, US Healthy Kids: “The NFL should work on fixing its own problems instead of helping McDonald's tell kids fast food is lovin'.”
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals who care about children. CCFC is a project of Third Sector New England (www.tsne.org).