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NFL Sponsorship Is a Thankless Trap

Tickers in this article: BUD CBS CMCSA DIS FOXA GM

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Every National Football League playoff game was televised this weekend. That shouldn't be a surprise in the second round of the playoffs, but this year it's a near miracle.

NFL fans are just a few weeks from Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J. -- a Super Bowl that will be played in the only stadium in the league built without the use of taxpayer money. Yet why should MetLife, the company that bought the naming rights on the Jets and Giants' new home, be happy with its deal when NFL sponsorships are never quite what they seem?

Being an NFL sponsor during a time when the league has the ability to take a game off local television if it isn't sold out 72 hours before kickoff is akin to buying a new car without a warranty. You pay a whole lot up front, but then you just have to keep paying if the whole thing somehow breaks down.

Consider the league's television partners, for instance. Walt Disney's ESPN has a $1.9 billion annual deal for Monday Night Football, but had to kick in more money to buy up tickets and keep a game on the air in San Diego. Fox, CBS and Comcast's NBC agreed to pay the NFL $28 billion for broadcast rights through 2022 -- pushing TV revenue to $4.5 billion of the league's $9.5 billion in total revenue last season -- but Fox affiliates in Wisconsin had to join Associated Bank in buying up 1,000 remaining tickets in Green Bay just to keep a wild-card playoff game played in sub-zero temperatures on the air. Miami's CBS affiliate, meanwhile, has chipped in to buy up tickets and keep the Dolphins on the air during the past few seasons.

The league's sponsors are taking advantage of a loophole that allows teams and their sponsors to buy back tickets at a third of their price and give them away to charitable organizations, but that loophole is just another way for the NFL to punish its paying partners. Consider that the lowest-priced ticket to a first-round playoff game was roughly $90, which already exceeds the average price of a regular-season ticket and just makes them costlier to repurchase, even at a deep discount. Also consider that Anheuser-Busch InBev pays roughly $1 billion to be the NFL's official beer sponsor and even more for ads and Super Bowl exclusivity, yet has had to dip into its pockets to buy up tickets in Carolina, Jacksonville and elsewhere just to keep teams on the air. League sponsor Procter & Gamble, meanwhile, had to shell out to keep the Cincinnati Bengals' playoff game on the air.