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Feeling the Heat: Will NFL Sponsor Wrath Change the League?

A Denver Broncos fan waves a flag on Super Bowl Boulevard on Jan. 29 in New York, N.Y. Maddie Meyer / Getty Images file

Getting hammered by fans and the media for its handling of the respective Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic and child abuse cases is one thing.

But when the NFL hears harsh words from some of the sponsors that provide billions in revenue each year to the league, that's a more troubling situation, say experts.

The corporate blowback might not dent the league's pocketbook anytime soon but it could complicate things down the road when advertising contracts come up for renewal.

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"I think that team owners and the league are taking notice," said Mark Conrad, professor of sports business at Fordham University.

"The displeasure is the first significant event on their pocketbooks," he said.

Statements released Tuesday from companies such as Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, McDonald's, Visa and Campbell Soup used words like "disappointed," "concerned" and "closely following" to describe their attitudes on how the NFL is managing the cases of Rice and Peterson.

And while no sponsors have said they would pull out of any deals with the NFL, the statements will impact the league on how it reacts to such incidents in the future, said Conrad.

"The sponsors' reaction is not a wholesale change," he said. "They're not trying to get rid of the commissioner (Roger Goodell) but for the league to look at its policies on these issues."

NFL sponsors had little choice but to come out as they did, said John Bonini, marketing director at Impact Branding & Design.

"They have absolutely every right to criticize the NFL over its handling of the situations because it directly reflects on their brands as well," Bonini said.

Hitting the bottom line

The NFL's revenue from corporate sponsorships is huge.

According to IEG, the National Football League and its 32 teams took in a record-setting $1.07 billion in sponsorship revenue for the 2013 season — an increase of 5.7 percent over the 2012 season.

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