CBS: No one is taking the "Let Us Play" ad


Amid the negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement which expires March 4 between the NFL and The NFL Players Association union (NFLPA), many are wondering why the NFLPA ad “Let Us Play” was turned down to air on the CBS College Sports Network on 2/5 during the NFLPA All-Star Game. RBR-TVBR spoke with CBS spokesperson Dana McClintock.

“I don’t think anyone is taking it,” he told us. “We’re not taking pro-management ads either.”

He then had to emphasize that it was CBS College Sports Network that decided not to air the ad, not CBS: “I don’t know why this is about us. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know what their [CBS College Sports Network] policy is.” He may not, but McClintock is SVP of the CBS Communications Group, which would likely have oversight of the smaller network. RBR-TVBR did leave a message seeking comment with CBS College Sports Network spokesperson Dan Sabreen. After reading McClintock’s comments, a spokesperson from CBSCSN deferred comment back to him.

We had asked what CBS’ policy was on taking ads of this nature and he said that the network had changed its policy years ago and now takes advocacy ads. We assume the NFLPA hadn’t approached the Tiffany Network for ads there specifically, but AdAge had quoted George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFLPA, who said the union received word 1/28 that the CBS College Sports Network will not run the :60 ad: “I tried to have my team contact CBS to try to understand exactly what happened, but apparently they said they didn’t want to get involved with the labor negotiations.”

NFLPA Manager/Communications Mike Donnelly gave RBR-TVBR the details: “We worked with Overtime Sports Southeast (the game promoter) on making this College All Star Game happen. They dealt directly with other parties (the network and venue). The contract with Overtime guaranteed us TV ads during the game with content of our choosing. CBS College late last week rejected the ads due to content, expressing they prefer to not air anything connected to the labor negotiations.”

Meanwhile, the union is using YouTube and social media for the effort. The ad is non-controversial. All of the people in the ad (including some players) simply say, “Let them play.”

According to reports, The NFL and its owners are looking to decrease the players’ share of total revenue and are asking for two games to be taken from the four-game preseason and added to the regular season’s schedule.

NFLPA likes neither: “We give back $1 billion,” NFLPA President Kevin Mawae told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “and increase our risk of injury by playing two additional games.”

As you know, CBS Corp. does own CBS College Sports Network. But it’s not just about CBS, as McClintock had said. CBS is one of four networks that pay the NFL $4 billion a year to air NFL games. Fox, NBC and ESPN, all agreed to pay the NFL in 2011 even if a lockout occurs during the season. Noted the NFLPA on its website: “Did you know that DirecTV renewed its agreement with the NFL to serve as its satellite carrier through the 2014 season for $1 billion annually, payable to the league notwithstanding a lockout?”

In fact, the union filed suit against the NFL claiming the TV deals provide the owners with guaranteed payment even when no games are played, effectively purchasing “lockout insurance.”

Atallah also told AdAge CBS’s decision to pull the ad “is clearly indicative of the relationships the networks have with the league.”

RBR-TVBR observation: This does seem rather odd—that the networks could even consider guaranteeing payment for something that may not even become content. According to the union, in reworking their contracts to provide for what it (again) calls lockout insurance, the networks somewhat solidified the NFL’s leverage in negotiations with the players.

The union also emphasized that despite the world’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the NFL continues to experience unprecedented growth in both revenue and popularity. As well, according to Nielsen, in the past five years, ratings of NFL games have risen by more than one percentage point (from 9.3 in 2006 to 10.6 in 2010), accounting for more than 3.5 million additional viewers per game.