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Falcons’ Blank explains military contract

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Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s offseason of tough PR continued Wednesday as he released a letter to fans responding to recent reports that his team was paid for military tributes during games over the past few years.

The Falcons were one of 15 teams to receive payments totaling at least $6 million from the Department of Defense, according to a report last week by NJ.com. From 2011 to 2014, the Falcons received just over $1 million from the National Guard, according to NJ.com.

On Wednesday, Blank wrote an open letter to fans, saying, “Our marketing and sponsorship agreement with the National Guard is designed to fulfill their objectives of increasing awareness and aiding in recruiting efforts, which has become more important in an all-volunteer service environment. This is no different than any other sponsorship agreement in that it is structured to fit a business need.”

He said the agreement with the National Guard last season included advertising on the team’s website and game-day programs, signs at the Georgia Dome and other marketing efforts.

Blank referred to a recent statement from National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt to ESPN.com, in which Breitenfeldt said the Guard tries to create contracts with teams in all sports to expand their reach.

“We have hundreds of (sponsorship agreements) with teams, including minor league baseball and at high schools,” Breitenfeldt told ESPN.com. “We have found that spending in sports to help us recruit in our 18-24 demographic works out for us.”

Blank also outlined all of the non-business support the Falcons provide to the military, including base visits by coaches and players, fishing trips with injured soldiers, joint appearances with military personnel at school assemblies and other locations and military holiday parties hosted by Falcons players.

“It is regretful that the good works of our NFL league office and teams were overlooked in the news stories of the last few days,” Blank wrote, “and I hope this letter aids in painting a more accurate portrayal. We remain steadfast in our desire to be good citizens and proud supporters of our community, including our support of the important work of our Armed Forces.”

This was the third PR fire Blank has faced this offseason. The Falcons were fined $350,000 and docked a 2016 fifth-round draft pick for pumping artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome over the last two seasons.

Falcons president Rich McKay is suspended from the league’s competition committee from April 1 through at least June 30 for failing to ensure that the franchise complied with league rules.

Blank acknowledged the wrongdoing and said the situation was “embarrassing.”

Blank also faced public backlash when Georgia agreed to give the Falcons and Braves an exemption from paying sales tax on construction materials for their new stadiums. The tax break will save each team millions of dollars.

The Falcons’ new $1.4 billion stadium is scheduled to open in 2017.


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