The Department of Defense handed teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB nearly $7 million in taxpayer money to do something they would have done for free.
Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have released a report following an investigation into Department of Defense spending for so-called "paid patriotism" efforts at professional sporting events, and found that the Pentagon paid $6.8 million in taxpayer money to various sports franchises over the last four years. McCain and Flake investigated the spending after learning in June that the New Jersey Army National Guard paid the New York Jets $115,000 to honor soldiers at games. The vast majority of the DOD money went to NFL teams, but the report found that teams in all the major professional sports, including the NBA, MLB, MLS, and NHL, had contracts with various branches of the armed services for these JumboTron-ed displays of patriotism.
In total, the DOD spent $53 million in advertising contracts with sports teams over the time studied, the majority of which was legitimate, according to the report. Some $10.4 million of that figure was for the "paid patriotism" variety, and $6.8 million of that came directly from taxpayers.
Among the big winners in these contracts were the Falcons, Giants, Bills, and (naturally) Patriots. Atlanta received $879,000 from the Georgia Army National Guard, while the Giants, Bills, and Patriots received "at least" $500,000 each for similar shows of pride.
Lest you think this is just a professional scam, college programs also got in on the act. Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin were all mentioned by name as having received over half a million dollars during the same time period.
The rationale for these contracts, as put forth by the NFL and DOD, is that they were recruiting tools. The report notes that this is not only a preposterous argument, but that it is not one that should be made on the taxpayer's dime.
"Even if we accept the DOD's assurances that the young men and women watching these games may be sufficiently inspired to military service by a half-time reenlistment ceremony, some of the displays funded in these contracts defy explanation as a legitimate recruiting purpose and may be little more than a taxpayer-funded boondoggle," the report states.
Just to be clear: the United States military was paying sports teams to honor them. The U.S. military spent nearly $7 million of your dollars to coax sports teams to do something they almost surely would have done for free. During the the term studied, the DOD budget peaked at $687 billion, and never dipped below $610 billion. It's just a drop in the bucket for defense spending, but it is classic government waste.