NFL’s Breast Cancer Campaign Is Not Particularly Charitable

Last week we joined a group of voices in questioning whether Breast Cancer Awareness Month and its primary sponsor, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, have lost a bit of focus in recent years.

Aside from the political squabbles that arose over the conflict between Komen and Planned Parenthood, many observers argue that what started as a movement to benefit the millions who struggle with breast cancer every year has descended into a celebration of consumerism marked by the official (and unofficial) promotion of products and services ranging from underwear to alcoholic beverages to streaming adult video (the website, which features exactly the kind of content you’d expect, plans to donate one penny to Komen for every 30 views of one of its…breast-themed videos).

The question at the middle of this debate: How much of the money donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and associated charities goes directly toward real-world cancer research–and how much of it goes back into subsidizing the PR efforts of Susan G. Komen and its many related for-profit partners and properties?

A report filed last week by Business Insider concerned one of Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s most prominent promoters: the NFL. While the article isn’t quite damning, it does provide ammunition for those who argue that the NFL and other companies involved in the “pink” campaign may not be as generous as they seem.

Throughout October, the NFL auctions off “pink” gear worn during games while selling all kinds of related merchandise online. Business Insider found that, while the NFL doesn’t actually profit from these sales, the organization sends a mere 5% of the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. The leftover proceeds apparently go toward “A Crucial Catch”, the NFL’s PSA-style campaign emphasizing the importance of annual screenings for women over 40. The NFL isn’t pocketing the money of passionate fans and advocates, but it is effectively using the vast majority of the proceeds to advertise itself.

A Reuters analysis performed earlier this year also found that, while Susan G. Komen for the Cure has donated hundreds of millions toward cancer research over the past three decades, the percentage of total donations that go toward supporting research initiatives has steadily decreased over the years—even as the organization takes in more money than ever.

What do we think? Have the NFL and Susan G. Komen misled supporters regarding the ultimate purpose of their money? If fans buying football-themed “pink” products realized how little of their money actually goes toward advancing cancer research, would they still click “buy?”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.