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The U.S. Department of Defense has spent as much as $6.8 million of taxpayer money on sports marketing for military-appreciation events since the start of the 2012 fiscal year, according to a Senate report released Wednesday, with money being paid to professional sports leagues and teams to stage patriotic events at games.
Among the clubs reaping federal dollars from the DOD: Real Salt Lake.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, wrote the report, titled "Tackling Paid Patriotism," which revealed that 50 pro franchises in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS were paid to honor the military at various games and events. Since the investigation began, the Pentagon reported spending $53 million on marketing and advertising contracts with franchises across the five professional leagues. Of that, $10 million went to clubs.
Honors paid for included national-anthem performances, ceremonial first pitches, puck drops and on-field color guard ceremonies. Seventy-two percent of the Pentagon's 122 major-league contracts analyzed in the report featured costs deemed "paid patriotism," per the report.
RSL was one of eight MLS teams listed in the report. It received $75,00 in taxpayer money for hosting a series of pregame and halftime events put on by the Utah Air National Guard.
The Guard also purchased 150 RSL tickets for recruiting purposes.
"The Utah National Guard has been a valued sponsor of ours for a couple of years," Trey Fitz-Gerald, vice president of communications for RSL, said Wednesday. "The Utah National Guard has been a partner, and their activation with Real Salt Lake surrounding our games is a high-profile means of recruitment for them in this extremely active territory."
Asked if RSL plans to refund the money, Fitz-Gerald said the club is in talks with the Utah National Guard regarding its future relationship with the team.
Eight MLS franchises RSL, L.A. Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo and Columbus Crew were awarded a combined $396,500. The 18 NFL franchises named received more than $6.1 million, while 10 baseball teams received nearly $900,000. Eight NBA teams eclipsed $700,000 in the report.
NASCAR "paid patriotism" perks rolled in at an estimated $1,560,000.
"Americans deserve the ability to assume that tributes for our men and women in military uniform are genuine displays of national pride," the report said, "which many are, rather than taxpayer- funded DOD marketing gimmicks."
The 145-page report says investigators discovered DOD contracts with the New York Jets and New England Patriots in April, showing the organizations' weekly "Hometown Hero" tributes were paid for by taxpayers.
The report also indicates that the DOD could not "accurately account for how many contracts it has awarded or how much has been spent," noting that 62 percent of the 122 contracts with major league teams could be verified by investigators.
That left $7.3 million unaccounted for.
"Although [the] DOD has indicated the purpose of these contracts is to support [military] recruiting," the report states, "the department doesn't uniformly measure how and whether the activities under contract are actually contributing to recruiting."
'Paid patriotism' report highlights
• Senate report says the U.S. Department of Defense paid an estimated $6.8 of taxpayer money to honor military personnel at games and events
• A total of 50 professional franchises across five domestic leagues have been paid for what has been deemed inappropriate "paid patriotism": NFL (18), MLB (10), NBA (8), MLS (8), NHL (6)
• Real Salt Lake was paid $75,000 for a military appreciation night in 2015, 150 tickets to a game for recruiting purposes and color guard ceremonies
• Eight MLS clubs were paid $396,500, according to report
• Also named to the report were NASCAR, Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin