On the heels of major advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch expressing their “disappointment” with the NFL in the wake of the domestic abuse crisis, CBS president and CEO Les Moonves largely avoided tackling the firestorm surrounding Ray Rice during a press conference on Wednesday, making just a passing reference to the outcry.
“Football is still the best thing on television … the ratings are phenomenal, the advertising rates are still going up,” said Moonves, while discussing the network’s recent launch of “Thursday Night Football.”
However, Anheuser-Busch issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the company is “disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season.”
Last Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers had a strong tie to the scandal, airing mere days after the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice for assaulting his then-fiance in an elevator. The broadcast itself also generated controversy before the kickoff, when CBS abandoned plans to air a song featuring Rihanna, who was the high-profile victim of domestic abuse, during the opening segment.
Moonves made a vague reference to the Rice scandal while speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2014 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference but stopped short of condemning the star RB or the NFL’s handling of his case.
“Baltimore and their team were a little bit in the news, you may have heard, other than the football game, so I’m sure that may have attracted a little bit more attention,” Moonves said. “Possibly in the wrong way, but it did attract attention.”
Moonves was asked whether the network’s inaugural telecast — which CBS began co-airing with NFL Network for the first time last week averaging 20.8 million total viewers across CBS and the NFL Network — had met expectations. “This was above expectations. We expected it to do very well; we weren’t shocked,” he replied.
Rice’s assault on Janay Rice has sparked outrage against not just himself but the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell. Rice initially received just a two-game suspension, before a second, more graphic video of the assault leaked onto the internet earlier this month.
In addition to the Rice scandal, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was recently indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child, while Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was reportedly arrested for domestic violence on Wednesday.
Both Nike and Radisson have since backed away from their support of the Vikings. “Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children,” the company said in a statement.