During timeouts at home games, the New York Jets air a Hometown Heroes segment in which a U.S. soldier or two are shown on the Jumbotron and everyone thanks them for their service. The soldiers and three friends get seats in the Coaches Club. It’s a nice salute.
It’s also funded by U.S. taxpayers.
In news that was first reported Tuesday by Herb Jackson of the Bergen Record and expanded upon by Christopher Baxter and Jonathan D. Salant of New Jersey Advance Media, the Department of Defense paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million from 2011 to 2014 for salutes like the Hometown Heroes segment and other advertising at professional football games. All but $100,000 of that money came from the National Guard.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called the spending wasteful and disingenuous, Baxter and Salant report:
“Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes,” Flake said in an interview. “You get a good feeling in your heart. Then to find out they’re doing it because they’re compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly.” …
Flake added that he has no problem with the National Guard spending money on recruitment advertising at football games. “The problem, he said, was spending taxpayer money on a program that, on its face, appeared to be a generous gesture by a football team,” Baxter and Salant write.
The story goes on to detail what the National Guard gets in return for its spending:
Aside from the Hometown Heroes segment, the agreements also included advertising and marketing services, including a kickoff video message from the Guard, digital advertising on stadium screens, online advertising and meeting space for a meeting or events.
Also, soldiers attended the annual kickoff lunch in New York City to meet and take pictures with the players for promotional use, and the Jets allowed soldiers to participate in a charity event in which coaches and players build or rebuild a playground or park.
The Jets also provided game access passes.
A National Guard spokesman said the agreement with the Jets helps promote and increase “the public’s understanding and appreciation of military service in the New Jersey Army National Guard increases the propensity for service in our ranks and garners public support for our Hometown Team.” A Jets spokesman says the team works with the National Guard just as it works with any other sponsor to tailor in-game advertising.
According to the report, the Colts and Ravens are among the other teams that have similar agreements with the National Guard. According to Jackson, the Ravens received $885,000 from the Defense Department advertising. Jackson also reported that the advertising contract with the Jets had yet to be renewed for the upcoming season, though a spokesman did not know if that was because the funding had been cut by Congress.