When choosing to team up with an individual or brand to represent your brand, it’s important to make sure the values of all of the participants line up. For years, brands, celebrities and athletes have joined forces to make an impact on consumers, at times, these alliances have confused the audience, especially when the audience consists of the easily influenced, specifically children.

In an age where obesity and lack of physical activity is threatening the health and lives of our youth, brands continue to utilize personalities who resonate with and influence children, regardless of the product. Two huge brands that stand out to me are the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA), and their athletes. While each league has their own sponsors, each individual team and many of their athletes also have their own profitable endorsement deals.

Unhealthy brands that partner with the NFL and NBA

Using athletes and celebrities to endorse products and brands is by no means a new concept, but with the rate at which technology is changing and access to anything digital is growing, the reach of celebrity endorsements is continually growing. When kids see their favorite players promoting and talking about food, unhealthy food and drinks, they are going to want it. They see a star player eating and drinking a product and assume that if they do the same, they too will reach an elite level of athleticism. I know this is the extreme result of athlete endorsements, but with nutrition-lacking products flooding our senses before, during and even after the game has ended, we know this affects choices made, especially for children.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, two major brands aligned with the NFL are McDonald’s and Pepsi. For the NBA, Sprite and Taco Bell are standouts when it comes to marketing unhealthy food and beverages.

Let’s take a look at some of their advertising and marketing campaigns.

McDonald’s – official sponsor of the NFL


McDonald’s Mighty Wings with Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick

To be honest, this commercial gets me every time and I can’t help but applaud McDonald’s for their efforts on the marketing campaign for their latest menu addition, the Mighty Wings. However, I still can’t comprehend the partnership between the world’s second largest fast food chain and the National Football league that has some of the most talented athletes in the world.

Despite their efforts to add the choice of apple slices to Happy Meals, it’s not as if they have ad campaigns centered on healthy choices. No, they have professional athletes endorsing saturated fat-filled, fried, boneless chicken wings, how healthy.

PepsiCo’s Pepsi & Diet Pepsi brands – the official soft drinks of the NFL

pepsi facebook dietpepsi-nfl

(Source: Pepsi Facebook and Pepsi Pulse)

Pepsi’s latest campaign, ARE YOU #FANENOUGH? may not be targeted towards children, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see it and are influenced by it. Kids are easily influenced and if they see a can of Pepsi constantly, associating the beverage with good times, the chance they choose a Pepsi over a healthier choice is likely.

This leads me to the NBA’s partnership with Sprite…

Sprite – presents the NBA Slam Dunk Contest


(Source: Facebook)

Sprite with LeBron James

What do you think? Does this ad make you want to grab a thirst-quenching Sprite? Probably not, but put yourself in the shoes of a 12 year old and rethink that. Given the choice between a bottle of water and a Sprite, what 12-year-old will reach for the water (let’s assume they enjoy drinking soda)? I have to assume not many, and with one of the greatest athletes of our time endorsing the unhealthy choice, the probability becomes much smaller (based on my opinion and experiences, not any concrete data).

And another, nutrition-less sponsor of the NBA…

Taco Bell- the official quick service restaurant of the NBA


(Source: Taco Bell)

Because after a basketball game, I’m sure every player is heading to Taco Bell for a delicious and nutritious meal of tacos and burritos. Don’t worry though; Taco Bell announced in July that they would be discontinuing their kid’s meals and toys, so our children are safe from any marketing efforts targeted directly towards them. However, keep in mind that the discontinuing of the meals had nothing to do with nutrition, but rather due to the meals’ “insignificant impact on system sales.”

Are popular brands and athletes’ partnerships with other brands confusing and counterproductive to the goal of creating a healthier, more active youth? Let’s take a look at the NBA and NFL campaigns geared towards promoting healthy lifestyles for kids, and you can tell me.

A quick look at the health initiatives of the NBA and NFL

NFL PLAY 60 is a campaign encouraging kids to be active for 60 minutes a day to help combat childhood obesity, offering school programs, contests and community events to help spread the movement and get kids healthy.

On their website, the PLAY 60 campaign offers various resources for healthy food alternatives in addition to promoting daily physical activity. This is great and with player involvement, kids are more likely to be hyped up about the program and want to join.

While I completely support this movement, the following statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell leaves room for questions surrounding the NFL’s partnership with various unhealthy food and beverage corporations,

“Our players recognize the value of staying healthy and it’s important that young fans also understand the benefits of exercise. NFL PLAY 60 is a significant tool in ensuring children get their necessary, daily physical activity.”

After all, we know fighting obesity is not just about being active, it’s even more about the food we put into our bodies.

Incorporating physical activity and nutrition a bit more than the PLAY 60 campaign, NBA/WNBA FIT is a health and wellness program (part of NBA Cares) encouraging children and their families to participate in physical activity and sustain a healthy life through programs, events and products. With various nutrition and fitness resources easily accessed throughout the website, this program is blowing NFL PLAY 60 out of the water in terms of resources.

Although I’m not as familiar with the NBA as I am with the NFL (mostly because we don’t have a professional team in Buffalo), it’s apparent that this program has had some success. However, that still hasn’t stopped the NBA and its players from partnering with less than healthy products.

The confusion of the NFL and NBA promoting and endorsing unhealthy products

While both leagues encourage healthy eating and physical activity, they continue to be sponsored by some of the biggest culprits that add to the obesity problem in the United States.

This is confusing marketing. Why wouldn’t the NFL and NBA choose to only partner with healthy options? I’m sure one of the major reasons is the money. I imagine the sponsorship deals are highly lucrative for all parties involved, especially when individual athletes get involved, but is the money worth the expense of the growing trend of obesity in children?

Though the marketing and advertising of unhealthy products is not solely to blame, instead of having a fan-favorite promoting and endorsing these brands, why aren’t they pushing fruits and vegetables? As an adult, I can watch a commercial or see a magazine ad, enjoy them and take them for what they are: advertisements. But, I don’t know if this is the case for children and young teens.

Regardless if a product is marketed specifically to speak to kids and adolescents, their presence is heard and felt constantly. The next time you watch a football or basketball game, keep an eye out for the brands who have a clear partnership with the NBA and NFL; I promise you will be surprised at how much and how often ads for unhealthy products are shown.

Do these marketing campaigns confuse you, too? Why are the NFL and NBA, and players like LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco encouraging kids to get active and eat healthy, while simultaneously endorsing unhealthy foods and beverages?