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Is The NFL’s Pink Campaign Really Just A Scam?

NFL Pink Scam

I grew up in the 1960’s less than 10 miles from Shea Stadium, home of the New York Jets and the biggest star in all of sports at the time: Joe Namath.

I was a crazy sports fan as a kid, and I covered the walls of my bedroom with dozens of sports pennants and posters. My favorite poster of all was one of Joe Namath as he dropped back to pass, wearing his stylish white cleats.

Joe Namath poster

Up until then, every single college and pro football player in history had worn black shoes. But Namath seized every opportunity to be a trend-setting renegade, both on the field and off.

Clearly, “Broadway Joe” was a shining example of Peter Drucker’s famous declaration:

“The business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

But I digress…

Nowadays, of course, one simple pair of white cleats would hardly stand out on an NFL field, especially for the past five seasons during the “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month” of October, when hundreds of players all over the league can be seen wearing pink shoes – to go along with pink gloves, wristbands, towels and more.


Then there are the pink referee flags, pink goalpost pads, pink cheerleader pom poms and even pink ribbons on the official game balls – not to mention over 1,000 “pink” items in the NFL’s online store, including hats, shirts, jerseys, blankets, sweatshirts, jewelry and more.

It’s all a part of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign to raise awareness and money in the fight against breast cancer.

Clearly, they have the “raising awareness” part of the equation mastered. Who isn’t “aware” that there’s a disease called breast cancer?

So what about the “raising money” part?

Unfortunately, that’s a different story.

Last week, a report by Business Insider detailed how only 8.01% of all “pink” revenues generated by the NFL actually goes towards cancer research.

Which, I guess, is a huge improvement over last year, when the same source reported: “When we contacted the NFL’s online shop for clarification, we were told 5% of the sales are being donated to the American Cancer Society.”

According to that article, only $3.54 of every $100 worth of NFL “pink” merchandise sold went to the American Cancer Society, while the NFL kept up to $45 of it.

And that leads many people to the conclusion that the NFL is wrongly profiting off of their whole “Breast Cancer Awareness” program, instead of just doing a good deed.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that whatever little money the American Cancer Society is getting from the NFL’s program, it’s better than nothing and they should just be grateful and not ask questions.

Here are my thoughts…

I’m okay with whatever percentage of the NFL’s “pink” sales goes to the charity – as long as that fact is clearly communicated to the people who purchase the merchandise. (Although if the NFL disclosed how little of the money actually goes to charity, it’s extremely likely that their “pink” sales would plummet faster than a quarterback getting sacked by a 350-pound lineman.)

Here’s the lesson for all entrepreneurs…

It is certainly a winning strategy to tie your business to a charity. You and your clients both feel great because you’re helping a worthy cause, and you benefit financially because you attract more clients.


If you are at all shifty about how much of your “proceeds” go to charity, and/or you donate only an insultingly miniscule percentage of sales to charity, then your strategy is likely to backfire and result in an increase of bad will, distrust and overall negative feelings towards your business – which will, of course, lead to a decrease in revenue and profit.

Here’s how to do it right…

I asked business owners to donate goods and services for a charity auction at my Chicago Recession Buster seminar in January 2011, and was overjoyed that as a result we were able to contribute over $14,000 to Junior Achievement Of Chicago to help our next generation of entrepreneurs. Neither I nor any of the donors kept one single penny of any of the winning auction bids.

In my opinion, THAT’s how you support a charity properly.

Or you could do it the NFL’s way, and open yourself up the possibility of seeing negative articles about your business such as “The Breast Cancer Charity Scam” and “The Conflicting Truth About The NFL’s Pink Campaign,” among others, including all of the negative comments they’ve inspired.

Speaking of comments, I’d love to read yours below.

Tell me what you think: Do you agree with me about how disgusting and greedy the NFL is being in this case, or do you think I’m off-base?

16 Responses to Is The NFL’s Pink Campaign Really Just A Scam?

  1. Michael J. Brankin Reply

    October 23, 2013 at 6:38 am

    Steve, thanks for sharing. Truth in marketing, what’s that? And to add anothet piece to the pie, how many of these breast cancer organizations spend more in “administrative fees” than they do in actual research? After seeing the enormous amount of money that has been raised in the name of breast cancer, why is it that the problem is getting worse, not better? And what happens when they do find a cure? All these people pushing pink bows and pink boxes and pink clothing will be out of work. Are these organizations really working all that hard to put themselves out of business?

    And to bring it back to the NFL, they should clearly state how much money goes to the charity if they are using the affiliation on their merchandise. But most importantly, don’t buy that $75 jersey, send that check directly to a good cancer research center near you.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      October 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      I agree. That 2012 Business Insider article detailed how little of the money actually goes to cancer research after the ACS takes out its “administrative costs” and the greedy NFL takes its outrageously huge cut.

      Not so sure about your suggestion that people aren’t really trying to find a cure because that would put them out of business. There are plenty of other causes that need supporting and diseases that need cures found.

  2. Mike Reply

    October 23, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I believe most breast cancer charities are over funded with huge admin costs. while the largest killer of women (heart disease ) goes shamefully unfunded, most women don’t even know the signs of a women having a heart attack and 80% could have survived had they got help soon.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      October 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Agreed. Not to mention various other forms of cancer that could use some “awareness” and financial support. Not sure if there’s such a thing as “National Lung Cancer Awareness Month,” however.

  3. sandra Reply

    October 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    This stuff infuriates me. I don’t understand how people get sucked into buying crap that “supports” a charity. When will people learn that the best way to support a charity is to do your research to ensure that the charity is in fact using the funds as intended, and send them your donation directly.
    Sorry, but there is enough promotional junk being manufactured that ends up in our landfills.
    As for the NFL? – talk about waste in our society – shame on them!!

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      October 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      Are you saying that pink wristbands are “crap” and “junk”? I think NFL players could get penalized 15 yards and fined $10,000 for suggesting that.

      But on a serious note…

      I certainly agree with you about the NFL in this matter (and many others): shame on them.

  4. Larry Reply

    October 8, 2014 at 8:01 am

    As much as the NFL has been in the news lately, and for all the wrong reasons..(maybe they should change the name to the National FELONS League)…I wonder how long before the American Cancer Society pleads with the NFL to not drag down their good name via association!!!

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      October 8, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Yes, Larry, I’m surprised more of the NFL’s sponsors aren’t squawking and pulling out.

      But everything in the NFL is all about money, and as long as people keep watching and attending their games, nothing is likely to change.

      As with business owners, everyone has a choice whether to just complain about things or to DO something about it.

  5. Tony Reply

    October 8, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Many NFL fans were under the impression all profits went for breast cancer and were unaware that the American Cancer Society was the beneficiary and received only 5% of the profits last year (8% this year) of which about 60% ends up going to programs and services it delivers.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      October 8, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Right, Tony. I know I heard a TV broadcaster say “All proceeds go to…” on one of last week’s games. So it’s a matter of their definition of “proceeds” – which according to the NFL means a very little sliver of the money after they and others take their massive cut.

      By your math, the NFL and its partners are keeping over 95% (60% of 8% = 4.8%) of all the money they raise through this “Pink” operation.

      “All the proceeds” indeed.

      • Tony Reply

        October 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        I just do not understand why legitimate charities have to be ran like Fortune 500 businesses with 6 and 7 figure salaries. We now use before committing a dime.

        • Jeff Reply

          October 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm

          I don’t mind someone getting a big salary if they are getting big results for the “cause”….but when they lie about or misrepresent where the money goes then it’s fraud.

  6. Grant Reply

    October 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Sure would be helpful if the NFL tax exempt status would be revoked.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      October 8, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      Now THAT would make things interesting, wouldn’t it?

  7. Jeff Reply

    October 8, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Unfortunately this is the case with many big name charity “movements” and corporate programs.

  8. Jim Reply

    October 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    It just proves you need to know where your money goes. You need to be aware of how much is actually going to the charity you are supporting.

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