Super Bowl Advertisers’ Treatment of Workers Lags Behind Public Image

This Sunday, 90 million Americans, and another 40 million people around the world, will watch Super Bowl XL. The Super Bowl is not only American football’s biggest game—it is a showcase for television’s most expensive, and often most innovative, commercials, which are now as integral to the broadcast as the competing teams.

Some of the world’s largest companies will cough up $2.4 million for a single 30-second commercial. Unfortunately, too many of these industry-leading companies have already coughed up the ball when it comes to treating their workers—the very source of their success—with fairness.

In a new report, Third and Long: Will Super Bowl Advertisers Make the Big Play for Workplace Fairness? Workplace Fairness looks at Super Bowl advertisers such as Ford, Burger King, and Sprint, as well as the NFL itself, to expose how their treatment of their employees lags far behind the image they hope their commercials cultivate.

Workplace Fairness thinks that:

Working people watching the game around the world deserve to know what’s behind the ad campaigns before they rush out to support the companies with the best commercials.

Some of the report’s examples of how Super Bowl advertisers need better coaching:

  • With Ford Motor Company’s announcement that 30,000 workers will be laid off and 14 plants will close, Ford’s workers will ultimately take the hit for Ford’s moment of glory during the game to be played at Ford Field.
  • While the Super Bowl MVP will drive away in a 2007 Cadillac Escalade, General Motors has become the industry MVP in the race to eliminate jobs and benefits.
  • Workers at FedEx Corporation who are “absolutely, positively” misclassified as independent contractors—or subjected to racial discrimination—cannot “Relax.”

In contrast, Coca-Cola, after a big-league lawsuit several years ago, is now moving ahead “full throttle” when it comes to treating its employees more fairly. “Coke’s innovative human resources practices, brought about by a $192.5 million settlement, are the real thing,” says the report.

Teams in the National Football League have made real forward progress in hiring more minority coaches, thanks to the “Rooney Rule,” named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate. But the hiring process at the end of the 2005 season was tackled at the line of scrimmage:

  • Of the record number of six African-American head coaches, three (Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, and Marvin Lewis) were among the NFL’s most successful, with Lovie Smith named as “Coach of the Year.
  • Eight head coach openings were filled with eight white coaches.
  • Only one black coach was hired, in a lateral move accompanied by a trade (Herman Edwards from the Jets to the Chiefs).

The report concludes about the NFL,

Even with forward progress, the league still falls short. If just a fraction of the 90 million football fans watching the Super Bowl were to let their favorite team’s owner know that increased diversity in the coaching and leadership ranks was an important consideration for them, we could expect real forward progress.

Third and Long: Will Super Bowl Advertisers Make the Big Play for Workplace Fairness? is available online at, in online interactive and PDF formats. Make it part of your Super Bowl party!

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.