Not All Football Ads Good For Kids

Common Sense Media recently released a study on the content of ads shown during NFL broadcasts. The report, Broadcast Dysfunction: Sex, Violence, Alcohol and the NFL, reviewed nearly 60 games, more than 180 hours of coverage, watched nearly 6,000 commercials and concluded that "it was impossible to watch a single game without coming up against sex, violence, or Viagra."

Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, James Steyer, saie "Nearly 5.3 million kids watch football each week, yet one in six of the ads shown during the broadcasts features content that's wildly inappropriate for kids -- that's every other commercial break..."

Common Sense Media's report found that:

  • 300 of the ads were for alcohol
  • 40% of the games included advertisements for erectile-dysfunction drugs
  • 500 of the advertisements involved significant levels of violence, including gun fights, explosions, and murders
  • 80 of the advertisements involved significant levels of sexuality, including scenes about prostitution and strippers
  • 44.7% of the violent or sexual advertisements were promotions by the networks for their own programs

One big reason for pro football's popularity, says the report, is the game's appeal for the whole family. On any given Sunday afternoon, millions of families gather in front of the television to root for their favorite teams.

  • According to Nielsen reports, more than 5.3 million kids ages 2-17 (and nearly 2.8 million kids ages 2-11) watch the average pro football game on broadcast television or ESPN each week
  • Pro football is by far the most popular sport among kids. 65.7% of kids ages 7-11 say they watch pro football on television

Ronnie Lott, former San Francisco 49er and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, says "Football teaches kids a lot of great lessons... but families... should be able to watch these games without worrying that their kids will be bombarded with adult ads... "

Most pro football games are broadcast between 1:00 pm and 7:00 pm EST, hours that have traditionally been considered time for family programming. Yet the promotional spots for TV shows, ads for movies, DVDs, and video games shown during these time periods were clearly intended for adult audiences only, says the report.

While the report says that though approximately 16% of the ads and promos during pro football broadcasts are about sex, violence, and alcohol, more than 360 ads and promos (an additional 6% of the total reviewed) were for junk food and soda... juxtaposed with the NFL's new Play 60 public service campaign, which encourages kids to be more physically active.

In summary, the study:

  • Reviewed 57 pro football games
  • Evaluated 5778 ads and promos
  • Found 519 ads and promos with violence
  • Saw 242 violent promos for network programs
  • Found 80 ads and promos with sexuality
  • Discovered 26 which were sexual promos for network programs 
  • Viewed 300 ads and promos with alcohol

Parents want to watch pro football with their kids without getting sucker punched by ads aimed at grown-ups. They want America's game to be fun for every American family, including our kids. So, who's responsible for responsible broadcasts?

The report quotes N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a statement in The New York Times, June 2, 2007, who said "If you're involved with the N.F.L... (or) represent the N.F.L... you are held to a higher standard, and you need to be accountable... (with) a certain standard of behavior... to live up to, from the commissioner on down."

Please refer to the complete release here to find access to the PDF report and samples of ads reviewed by this study.

7 comments about "Not All Football Ads Good For Kids ".
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  1. Craig Whetstine from Soho Marketing & Media, February 10, 2009 at 8:40 a.m.

    Common Sense Media needs to find something to do. The NFL targets M18-49, not P6-12. If parents are concerned about the advertising contained within an NFL telecast, they should try PARENTING. Talk with their kids about what they've just seen and tell the kids about the product. You know, pull your head out of the game for a minute to talk with your kid. As for the NFL, I love this "...certain standard of behavior..." line. If the league doesn't want to be sponsored by the category of advertiser described in this story, reduce the rights demands. Did anyone ask the NFL owners if they had a problem cashing those broadcast rights checks because of a couple of beer commercials? I've worked with leagues in every major sport and the owners (or Athletic Directors, in the case of college sports) will readily agree there's too much beer advertising in broadcast sports. But suggest a cut in rights fees as a way to reduce the beer spots and you'll see some great backpedaling.

  2. Mich Hanna from Departure Films, February 10, 2009 at 9:02 a.m.

    Do you have young kids? Don't paint all parents with one brush of irresponsiblity--we face an onslaught from advertisers just with the kiddies adverts on nickelodeon and, well, basically anywhere you turn your head.

    Like the report says it's 50% of the advertisements that are violent and/or sexual. I will be talking to my kids about this stuff but a little at a time--not all in 1 sitting. Long before the kids would stop asking questions about ONE ad, there will have be 10 other bewildering ad scenarios. It's hard enough trying to explain the game to the kiddies.

    So you know what...we just turn off the game. Obviously the NFL and the advertisers doesn't need us as viewers.

  3. Mich Hanna from Departure Films, February 10, 2009 at 9:36 a.m.

    BTW, Craig, I like your point about the sports being too entangled with certain types of advertising because of the money involved. Is the alternative to push for legislation or is there a 3rd way?

  4. Craig Whetstine from Soho Marketing & Media, February 10, 2009 at 10:21 a.m.

    Mitch, I do have young kids. Like you, I just don't watch the games. (I don't really miss them, either.)

    The product category issue would be best worked out between the league and its broadcast partners. Right now, it seems as if the NFL wants it both ways: Record high rights fees along with so-called "family-friendly" advertisers and spots. That won't work. I would think that, with all of the multimedia options available, the NFL could deliver a "sanitized" broadcast at some point in the week.

    This could be a helluva of campaign for TiVo, yes?

  5. Warren Lee from WHL Consulting, February 10, 2009 at 12:28 p.m.

    As someone who loves watching sports, I do find it just a bit awkward when Viagra commercials are shown when my daughters are with me. Yes we have frank discussions about sexuality, alcohol (and abuse of same) but as a parent I feel that I have the right to pick and choose what to say to my children and when to say it. I feel that it is wildly inappropriate for erectile dysfunction ads during the time slots that are traditionally viewed as "family time." Two years ago, while watching a baseball game with my girls, the 12 year old turned to me and asked: "Daddy, what is an erection?"

    The debate between the appropriateness of ads that feature sex and violence will rage forever, and a healthy viewpoint for both is important. I am hopeful that when the time comes for addressable TV ads served over the cable system (David Verklin and Canoe Ventures) parents are given just a bit of sway over advertising content. I am not trying to stifle an industry, I just would like to be able to parent in my own time.

  6. Mike Spring from Voice Coaches, February 11, 2009 at 11:01 a.m.

    As the father of two-year-old twins and a die-hard football fanatic, I haven't had to worry too much yet about the ad content as my kids are pretty young, so I've never really thought about it. When next season starts, am I going to have to censor my football games? Worrying thoughts (and a new direction of thinking for me)! Thanks for a great article!

  7. Richard Nailling from Free All Media, LLC, February 13, 2009 at 6:07 a.m.

    Why is it that beer advertisers (using the Beer Code) have to pre-qualify Internet media users before they can enter a beer website (you have to verify your adult age before you can enter the brand's site, e.g. during the biggest family media event of the year, beer ads are shown profusely with no regard to who's possibly watching them? Definitely seems like a ridiculous double standard. Either eliminate the ads in sporting events (never happen) or do away with the beer code online. As it stands the online age verification only spawns false age data and provides no real protection.

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