At halftime of each home game last season, the New England Patriots invited a soldier on the field to honor the troops. Dressed in camouflage, they smiled and waved to the crowd during the feel-good moment.
However, the “True Patriot” program wasn’t simply patriotism. It was part of a $225,000 advertising deal between the team and the Massachusetts and New Hampshire National Guard.
The military has long advertised at sporting events and during sports broadcasts as a way to reach potential recruits. But new revelations about deals between professional football teams and the National Guard have caused a stir over whether the military and the league should be more transparent about what’s a display of goodwill toward the troops and what’s a paid advertisement.
A report on government waste issued last week by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., detailed the expenditure and questioned why the Guard spent $49.1 million on professional sports sponsorships in 2014. Some of that money funded programs by NFL teams similar to the “True Patriot” program that appeared to honor the military but were actually part of advertising agreements with the Guard.
Let me first note that the recruiting for the Guard is entirely separate from the recruiting for the active Army and the Army Reserve.
Each state does its own Guard recruiting, though the National Guard Bureau coordinates an overall national advertising campaign.
I find this somewhat distateful, and given the concentration of spending on a handful of teams, wonder if someone isn’t greasing some palms. I don’t know. Were the Pats ever asked to participate without being paid? Is the New Hampshire Guard that hard up for members? Dunno.
As to recruiting advertising in general, things like this and the NASCAR sponsorship aren’t designed to actually generate recruits. They’re simply designed to put the idea of military service in people’s mind, hopefully in a somewhat positive light.
Actually getting people to join is the recruiter’s job. Advertising might make it easier. Even better, it might generate contact information for a prospective applicant that a recruiter can work with. But very few people are actual walk-in enlistees, with no previous contact from a recruiter.
In fact, every walk-in I had that actually enlisted, I was able to verify that they had, in fact, been contacted by me, or another Army recruiter, within the previous three years.