At least two advertisers have asked that their commercials no longer run during KOA's radio broadcasts of Denver Broncos games because they're upset by national anthem-related demonstrations prior to the kickoff of NFL games.
"Yeah, there's been a couple" that have pulled out, confirms Tim Hager, market manager for iHeartMedia's Denver stations, including KOA, "and that's the rationale."
The trend of kneeling during the national anthem to decry police brutality against people of color, among other things, began last year thanks to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, a onetime college teammate of Kaepernick's, was an early adapter. After Marshall lost some endorsements over his actions, he attempted to show that he wasn't anti-cop by appearing in a Denver Police Department video in which he went through a training exercise. The footage actually showed Marshall taking aim at a simulated black suspect.
Controversy bubbled up again last month, when teams throughout the league took part in various protests before and during the playing of the anthem — and this time around, there was fallout for Von Miller, the Broncos' biggest star. Miller's decision to take a knee, along with dozens of teammates, was followed by reports that Phil Long Dealerships had dropped him as an endorser. Miller's reps subsequently insisted that his deal with the company had lapsed months earlier and negotiations were ongoing — but a statement from the firm strongly suggested that he shouldn't hold his breath waiting for a new pact to be signed. It read in part: "When we bring in celebrities to represent us, we run the risk of being misinterpreted."
In recent weeks, team president John Elway called for politics to be kept out of football — a plea our Chris Walker branded as brazen hypocrisy, since earlier this year, Elway had written a letter endorsing Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, on stationery stamped with the Broncos' letterhead. Nonetheless, Hager points out, "the protests are no longer occurring with the Broncos."
In response, he says, "we immediately found ways for the advertisers to get their message out and support what they wanted to support. And we've also been airing the national anthem in our game broadcasts, which we didn't do before this year. So we've found ways to strengthen what we're doing."
Television ratings for NFL contests are reportedly down by 7.5 percent compared to this time last year, and many pundits think the protests are one of the main reasons. However, Hager says KOA's broadcasts, starring new booth-mates Dave Logan and Rick Lewis, haven't suffered the same fate.
"Quite frankly, numbers going down on TV are the absolute best thing for me," he allows. "When a TV number goes down, we go up. When somebody won't camp in front of a TV for that entire three and a half hours, they get in their car and do something — and when they do that, they turn us on. So our ratings are actually higher, knock on wood."
Likewise, he doesn't see any signs of a massive advertising exodus. He acknowledges that "there was a groundswell immediately after [the September protest] happened, but that's calmed down. Right now, I'm not seeing anything that has me overly concerned."
Good thing, because iHeartMedia recently launched Orange and Blue Radio, a station at 760 AM that boasts of being all Broncos, all the time. And more kneeling by Denver players could be very bad for business.