October has begun its departure, but in the NFL the push for breast cancer awareness remains steadfast. Players sport pink wrist bands, coaches don pink caps, and even the networks airing the games have used pink first down markers in their broadcasts. More noticeably, the league has been selling pink merchandise in its retail outlets, highlighting that a portion of all proceeds go toward fighting breast cancer. But new data suggests only a small percentage of this revenue ever reaches its intended destination.
Breast cancer awareness campaigns tend to get a lot of flak. They get accused of “pinkwashing,” which refers to an organization exploiting the public’s charitable donations for profit. Among the NFL, the campaign in question is A Crucial Catch, which the league started in 2009 when it partnered with the American Cancer Society (ACS). Part of the league’s contributions comes from auctioning off the apparel worn on-field, and a substantially smaller part comes from the retail sales of its pink merchandise, which, according to the latest figures from Business Insider, make up a paltry eight percent.
ESPN’s Sport Business reporter, Darren Rovell, recently claimed the NFL’s breakdown went as follows: “On pink gear, the NFL says it takes a 25% royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail), donates 90% of royalty to American Cancer Society.” On an item costing $100, that’s $12.50 to the NFL, $11.25 of which goes to the ACS. The remaining money then gets distributed between the manufacturer (who takes 37.5 percent) and the retailer (who takes 50 percent). For products sold in the NFL Shop, the league acts as both the retailer and the royalty.
On top of that, the ACS only uses 71.2 percent of the money donated to go toward cancer research. In the end, this means that for every $100 spent on pink merchandise, $8.01 is going toward actual research. The rest either finances administrative costs or, more often than not, ends up in somebody’s pocket.
Campaigns like the NFL’s A Crucial Catch tend not to sit well with people. This is mostly because large corporations aren’t held accountable for where they put their money. The NFL told Business Insider that, while it did not dispute the breakdown’s numbers, it still donated “more than $3 million” to ACS since it began the campaign. Other businesses like to highlight their efforts, too. Ticketmaster is donating 10 cents of every game ticket sold, up to $40,000, to the ACS during the month of October. (In 2012, Ticketmaster’s gross sales were $1.37 billion.) Not to be outdone, in 2011, Old Navy donated five percent of its revenues as part of a similar campaign affiliated with the Dallas Cowboys.
Last year alone, the NFL raised $1.5 million for A Crucial Catch. Its total revenue that year was $9.5 billion — meaning a mere .02 percent of its entire earnings went to funding research for the nation’s, and the world’s, second-leading type of cancer.
Awareness is important. The American Cancer Society and the general public benefit from learning about breast cancer — or at least being exposed to it. The problem many people have, and it’s one that isn’t just particular to the NFL, is that breast cancer charities have ballooned into their own kind of beast. Susan G. Komen for the Cure, for example, the nation’s largest, most popular, and best-funded breast cancer charity, has an inscrutable reputation when it comes to intent.
To put it in perspective, Susan G. Komen CEO, Nancy Brinker, makes $684,000 a year. That’s for an organization with an annual revenue of $340 million. Meanwhile, the Red Cross, which makes $3.4 billion a year, employs a woman named Gail McGovern as its CEO, who makes $500,000 a year.
“This pay package is way outside the norm," Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, which evaluates and rates charities, told NBC News. "It's about a quarter of a million dollars more than what we see for charities of this size. This is more than the head of the Red Cross is making for an organization that is one-tenth the size of the Red Cross.”
The organization has received its fair share of flak for canceling charity races at the last second and pulling funding from Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening. Backlash from abortion rights advocates and Komen supporters ultimately caused Brinker to reverse her decision. Yet, despite an Aug. 2012 announcement that she would be stepping down as CEO, over a year later she remains at her post.
Whether the NFL is going down the same road as Susan G. Komen is yet to be seen. The league has gone to great lengths to hide its numbers regarding A Crucial Catch, such as what portion, if any, of the 50 percent mark-up on merchandise goes toward the ACS’s research.
For the skeptical donor, experts advise the smarter move is bypassing the middle men and donating directly to the organizations doing the research. You may not receive a hot pink jersey for shelling out $100, but you can at least rest assured that more than $8 is going toward saving someone’s life.
And of course, actual donations always trump a goalpost that’s been clad in pink.
“I don't know why the NFL has to remind women to get breast exams at all,” wrote Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan. “I can't turn on a football game without wondering how many players on the field have, at some point in their anointed athlete youth, creepily groped a woman's breasts. Oh yeah, I think as Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass, mammograms.”