Villanova Sports Law Blog
The Continuance of the NFL’s Attempt to Avoid the Growing Trend of the Legalization of Marijuana
By Rich Chakejian
This weekend one of the most anticipated sporting events in the United States will be taking place, the NFL’s Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is an event that typically garners over one hundred million viewers each year. Therefore, the advertising space during the Super Bowl is arguably the most sought after thirty seconds or so in the marketing industry. The average cost for a thirty-second space has been estimated to be valued at about five million dollars. These estimated costs equate to an investment of roughly $419 million dollars in 2018. Given the lucrative industry that Super Bowl advertising has evolved to become, one would think that the television networks would be willing to sell space to the highest bidder due to the fact that they pay a massive amount of money to obtain the rights to broadcast the Super Bowl. This year the rights to the Super Bowl belong to the provider CBS, who paid an amount of about $1 billion dollars in 2013 for a nine-year contract to broadcast the NFL games. However, this was not the case this year, as a company in a potentially controversial industry was denied the opportunity to obtain the invaluable time slot during the NFL’s championship game.
The company that was denied by CBS to advertise their product was Acreage Holdings, a company looking to advocate the use of and successes of medical marijuana. It was reported that Acreage Holdings had offered the price of $5 million dollars in order to obtain the airtime with CBS, but were subsequently denied this opportunity by CBS. The commercial depicts three instances of which promote the use of medical marijuana in alleviating pain for those suffering from various medical issues including, seizures, a leg amputation, and most controversial, an opioid addiction. CBS would go on to publicly state that they rejected the bid from Acreage Holdings simply due to their policy of not accepting cannabis-related advertising.
Typically, a broadcasting company denying advertising space on their network may not cause eyebrows to raise; however, in this instance, there is likely more to the story. Since CBS has a deal to broadcast one of the most popular televised events in the country, they are likely to comply with their business partner with whom they made the deal, the NFL. The NFL has long taken a harsh stance of the acceptance of use of medical marijuana in order to treat pain or injuries. Therefore, one may be able to make an inference that the NFL may have had some influence on the decision of CBS to broadcast this particular commercial.
It has been interesting to watch the legality of medical marijuana evolve in the past couple of years. It has gone from largely being considered a taboo substance, as it still is on the federal level, to being accepting in various states. Despite the change of ideology in recent years, the NFL has not softened their stance in response to law changes. It is an interesting issue to analyze due to their commitment to the highly addictive and harmful opioids. Many players in the NFL have long advocated for the league to change their policies in respect to allowing medical marijuana to treat their pain. The players have begun to recognize and became aware of the long-term effects these prescription drugs can have on the body and mind, recognizing medical marijuana as a safer alternative. However, it is the opioid, not the marijuana, which has the ability to completely numb a portion of one’s body to pain for a couple of hours to keep a player on the field to help continue to drive revenue.
The dangers of opioid use in the NFL are clear, as a study performed by the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal in 2011 “found that more than half of former players, 52%, reported using opioids during their career, and 71% of those players reported misuse.” With these statistics in mind, it seems clear that there is an issue of substance abuse in the NFL. An example of a player making a choice to give up on the opioids, and in turn football, was Mike James. He had once been prescribed pills to treat an injury and quickly became dangerously dependent on them as he developed an addiction. James then decided to substitute medical marijuana for the treatment of his pain, and has since credited it to curbing his potentially dangerous addiction to the opioids.
Overall, this has been a controversial topic for the NFL as many of its players have long been advocating for its acceptance. Therefore, the connection between CBS and its denial of the advertisement may be traced to outside pressure from the NFL in disapproving the broadcasting of the commercial.
References: Bradley Johnson, Big Game Punting: Super Bowl Scores $5.4 Billion in Ad Spending Over 52 Years (Jan. 11, 2018). https://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/super-bowl-ad-spending-history-charts-52-years/311881/  Id.  Anthony Crupi, NFL Hammers Out Nine-Year Rights Renewals with NBC, CBS, Fox (Dec. 14, 2011). https://www.adweek.com/tv-video/nfl-hammers-out-nine-year-rights-renewals-nbc-cbs-fox-137128/ Kalen Jones, Watch: This is the Medical Marijuana Super Bowl Commercial that CBS didn’t want to Air (Jan. 24, 2019). https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/01/24/medical-marijuana-super-bowl-commercial-cbs-will-not-air  Id.  Chavie Lieber, This Rejected Super Bowl Ad Highlights America’s Complicated Relationship with Marijuana (Jan. 28, 2019). https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/1/28/18200875/acreage-medical-marijuana-super-bowl-53-ad Jacqueline Howard, NFL Players Make Medical Marijuana history: I Have a Life to Live (April 30, 2018). https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/30/health/nfl-marijuana-mike-james-profile-exclusive/index.html  Id.  Id.
*Rich Chakejian is a first year student at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law and a staff writer for the Sports Law Society Blog.