National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake that the NFL will return more than $723,000 back to taxpayers that funded sponsored military events with the league, which McCain and Flake had called “paid patriotism.”
In the letter dated Wednesday, Goodell wrote that accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP conducted an external audit to evaluate 100 marketing contracts between NFL teams and the Department of Defense during the 2012-2015 seasons. The audit “identified $723,734 over those four seasons that may have been mistakenly applied to appreciation activities rather than recruitment efforts,” Goodell wrote. “This amount will be promptly returned in full to the taxpayers.” ESPN’s Darren Rovell first reported the story on Thursday.
“In all the years I’ve spent trying to root out egregious federal spending, the NFL is the first organization to perform due diligence, take responsibility, and return funds to the taxpayers,” Flake said in a statement. “The NFL’s response to this investigation sets a new standard and only strengthens its reputation as a supporter of military service members and veterans.”
Flake exposed the NFL’s agreements with its clubs to honor the military in April 2015, when he reported the New York Jets received between $97,500 and $115,000 in taxpayer money as part of an advertising contract with the New Jersey Army National Guard.
Last fall, Flake and McCain released a joint oversight report detailing that the Department of Defense had spent $6.8 million on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012 with various pro sports leagues. Of the $6.8 million, $6.1 million went to the NFL, USA Today reported. The rest went to Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer.
Of the 122 contracts with the Department of Defense analyzed in the McCain-Flake report, 72 showed the DoD paid for patriotic tributes, including on-field color guard performances, enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies, national anthem performances, full-field flag details and ceremonial first pitches and puck drops.
Like Flake, McCain also approved the NFL’s audit, saying that returning the more than $723,000 was “the right thing to do.” McCain also urged the other four pro sports leagues to conduct similar audits.
“We’ll be working to once again include language in the defense authorization bill that would fully ensure the Defense Department never again spends American tax dollars to honor our troops,” McCain said in a statement.