At least one major sponsor has decided to stand by unvaccinated Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
State Farm issued a statement Monday reaffirming its allegiance to the reigning MVP—and arguably its most popular spokesperson—despite ongoing controversy surrounding his vaccination status.
“Aaron Rodgers has been a great ambassador for our company for much of the past decade,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement to Sportico. “We don’t support some of the statements that he has made, but we respect his right to have his own personal point of view. We recognize our customers, employees, agents and brand ambassadors come from all walks of life, with differing viewpoints on many issues. Our mission at State Farm is to support safer, stronger communities. To that end, we encourage vaccinations, but respect everyone’s right to make a choice based on their personal circumstances.”
Rodgers, who has been a fixture of State Farm’s national marketing campaigns for the last decade, was conspicuously absent from the airwaves this weekend after his positive test for COVID-19. While fans already were aware that he’d be sitting out the much-anticipated Packers-Chiefs game on Fox, the quarterback’s near-ubiquitous presence in NFL commercial breaks was disrupted as well. According to iSpot.tv data, not one of Rodgers’ three current State Farm spots aired yesterday during the NFL’s 12 national and regional windows. That marks an about-face from the previous Sunday, when Rodgers’ faux-Jeopardy! and “aspiring musician” commercials aired 10 times. Since the season began on Sept. 9, the Rodgers spots have appeared in no fewer than 165 NFL ad breaks, giving him a bit of a leg up on fellow State Farm spokesQB Patrick Mahomes (131).
With Rodgers out of the rotation, State Farm leaned hard on Mahomes, airing a combination of his sneakerhead and gym rat spots in 40 NFL ad breaks, up from 16 on Halloween.
State Farm is the NFL’s sixth-biggest backer, having spent some $50.2 million on in-game inventory thus far in 2021—a sum that amounts to 65% of the brand’s overall TV budget in the period. Insurance is one of the two most lucrative categories for the NFL’s network partners (the other is automotive); per iSpot, the brands that have spent the most on NFL air time through the first nine weeks of the season are Geico ($91 million) and Progressive ($87.9 million). USAA, which serves alongside Nationwide as an official insurance sponsor of the NFL, is 10th on the list of in-game ad buyers with an outlay of $35.9 million.
The Rodgers spots also were scrubbed from Saturday’s college football breaks, although a few stray units popped up here and there on basic cable in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. As of Sept. 1, college football accounts for 7% of State Farm’s national TV spend, or just under $6 million. While NFL fans on Sunday didn’t see Rodgers indulging in his usual game-show-host or jam-band-guitarist cosplay, the Packers’ QB did make an uncharacteristically static appearance in a new State Farm spot that bowed during Fox’s national TV window. In the new ad, Terry Bradshaw attempts to mount a portrait of himself on the “State Farm Hall of Fame,” hanging his mug alongside framed renderings of Rodgers and Mahomes. As it happens, the spot, which aired once in the would-be “State Farm Bowl” that was beamed to 93% of Fox’s media markets, as well as in the more regionalized Cardinals-49ers broadcast, ran just hours after Bradshaw lambasted Rodgers on the network’s pre-game show.
Despite showing fewer Rodgers ads, State Farm has made it clear that it has no plans to cut ties with the Green Bay star, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The future Hall-of-Famer missed Sunday’s “State Farm Bowl,” in which Green Bay fell to the Chiefs, 13-7.
State Farm’s commitment is the latest turn of events in the saga surrounding Rodgers’ vaccination status, which reached a fever pitch after his appearance on The Pat McAfee Show last Friday.
“I’m not some sort of anti-vax, flat earther,” Rodgers said. “I’m somebody who’s a critical thinker. I march to the beat of my own drum. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy…. And not to have to acquiesce to some woke culture or some crazed group of individuals.”
The insurance giant is seeing a mix of backlash and support for deciding to stick beside Rodgers, who came on as an ambassador in 2011.
Wisconsin-based physician group Prevera Health, meanwhile, ended its partnership with Rodgers in the wake of his comments. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is reportedly unvaccinated, lost a sponsorship deal with his hometown hospital (Holland Hospital) in August.
It’s unclear if Rodgers will be penalized by the NFL or internally by the Packers for his actions. It remains a possibility, especially since Rodgers might have violated league protocols, which state that unvaccinated players cannot participate in endorsement opportunities. Rodgers, who served as a guest host for Jeopardy! in April, was featured in a new State Farm commercial that aired last month.
The Packers (-4.5) are set to host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. The uncertain status of Rodgers (COVID-19 list) and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson (injury) delayed DraftKings’ opening line for the NFC matchup. Wilson was officially cleared to play on Monday afternoon.