Brands are threatening to pull ads from NFL coverage if NBC keeps covering players’ national-anthem protests

Jacksonville Jaguars players kneeling during the national anthem before a game against the New York Jets.

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Jacksonville Jaguars players kneeling during the national anthem before a game against the New York Jets.
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Thomson Reuters

    NBCUniversal says that marketers want the league to stop covering the players’ national-anthem protests or they will pull their ads. An executive at the media company thinks the controversy around the protests has hurt ratings.

Marketers have put NBCUniversal on notice: Stop covering NFL players’ national-anthem protests, or we’ll pull our ads.

That’s according to Linda Yaccarino, the chairman of advertising sales at NBCUniversal, who spoke during a keynote interview at an event held Friday in New York at the ad agency RGA.

Yaccarino said no advertisers had pulled out of NFL games because of the protests, but that advertisers were telling the network that could change.

“Marketers have said, ‘We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it,'” Yaccarino said.

Since last year, when Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback at the time, started kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality, several NFL players have joined the protest. President Donald Trump has been highly critical of the players’ actions.

There has been a lot of debate over whether the protests are the cause of a recent dip in NFL ratings. But earlier this week, the CBS chief Les Moonves expressed confidence in the NFL as an advertising vehicle, saying no marketers had pulled out, Ad Age reported.

On Friday, Yaccarino said that while it was hard to say for certain, she thought the protests had affected the ratings.

Going forward, marketers want more of the focus on games and less on the protests. Yaccarino said the NFL’s broadcast partners had not always aired the national anthem for each game – that is, until the protests gained steam.

“The story has morphed dramatically,” she said.