Gambling was once a sponsorship category that was simply “off limits,” but with individual states pushing to legalize sports gambling, it has begun to have a ripple effect across the industry. With only eight states having legal sports betting, the NFL has already jumped on board recently partnering with Caesars Entertainment in their first ever casino sponsorship.
Marijuana, on the other hand, has been fully legalized in 10 states, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you can get away with it if you play in the NFL. A player for the Denver Broncos could face harsh penalties and suspensions for doing something that’s perfectly legal in the state they call home.
What would happen if marijuana was legalized throughout the entire United States? Would the NFL still classify cannabis as a banned substance? Or, would they take the stance that the NHL has already taken and not dish out penalties or suspensions for positive tests?
Sponsorship revenue alone could dictate the path the NFL decides to go down if this question became reality. If they didn’t change their stance, would teams be able to sell sponsorships to cannabis companies?
As of August 2018, marijuana sales in Colorado had already exceed $1 billion for the year. Keep in mind, that’s just one state. The annual revenue (net sales) for Anheuser-Busch in 2017 was $56.44 billion globally. When you consider how much A-B spends on their sports sponsorships, could the NFL (or any other League) pass up a revenue-generating opportunity like that?
Well, CBS (likely influenced by the NFL) recently denied Acreage Holdings, a multi-state cannabis company, attempt to purchase a commercial during the Super Bowl. With commercials for Super Bowl LIII reportedly costing $5.1 million to $5.3 million for 30 seconds of air time, it’s pretty obvious that the stance hasn’t changed much yet.
So, let’s say the NFL doesn’t want to lose out on some all-but-guaranteed revenue and allows cannabis sponsors to join the mix in the future. How would these sponsors activate? It could be a brand awareness play with visible signage, but what if product sampling was a key business objective? Would teams allow it? Would the League allow it?
These questions are certainly ones to start considering as more and more states legalize cannabis. With the current collective bargaining agreement expiring after the 2020 season and Martellus Bennett proclaiming last year that 89% of players in the NFL used marijuana, the time is quickly approaching for this subject to be front and center.