February 2, 2009 -- Despite a near collapse that required $45 billion in federal taxpayer bailout funds, Bank of America sponsored a five day carnival-like affair just outside the Super Bowl stadium this past week as President Obama decried wasteful spending on Wall St.
The event – known as the NFL Experience – was 850,000 square feet of sports games and interactive entertainment attractions for football fans and was blanketed in Bank of America logos and marketing calls to sign up for football-themed banking products.
The bank staunchly defended its sponsorship, saying it was a "business proposition" and part of its "growth strategy."
Critics blasted the spending as a serious abuse of taxpayer money.
"The prominent sponsorship of the Super Bowl says to the American people we'll take your money and then we're going to go waste it," Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, told ABC News.
Leading Congressional critic, Congressman Elijah Cummings, (D-MD), said, "They should know better, but obviously they don't."
According to the Bank of America, the official bank of the NFL, its NFL partnerships and product tie-tins "generate significant revenue streams." The bank said it was legally required to fulfill its contract to be an NFL sponsor and that its NFL product sales had already increased since the Experience began Jan. 24.
The bank refused to tell ABC News how much it is spending as an NFL corporate sponsor, but insiders have put the figure at close to $10 million. The NFL Experience was on top of that and was inked last summer, according to the bank.
The NFL said it was a "multi-million dollar" event and that it was also spending money to put on the event. A Super Bowl insider said the tents alone cost over $800,000.
Tickets were available for purchase for between $12.50 and $18.50, with proceeds from ticket sales going to local youth initiatives. It was the 18th year for the "interactive fan festival" and the first that Bank of America has sponsored it.
Bailout Dollars Shouldn't Go to Super Bowl Sponsorship, Critic Says
Schatz said that deal or no deal, the event sponsorship should have been abdicated once the bank took billions in bailout funds.
"The Super Bowl is a big deal, but it's a bigger deal that Bank of America is being bailed out by the America taxpayers," Schatz said. "This is an exceptional year and it's a time to say we're not going to do business as usual. We're going to say no, we're going to show some restraint, and we're going to cut back on something that really isn't absolutely necessary."
A GM spokesperson said that while the company was still providing a fleet of courtesy vehicles to the NFL for VIPs, only 200 were sent this year, down from 400 in 2008.
Another Bailed Out Wall St. Firm Gathers in Palm Beach
Earlier last week, Morgan Stanley, the bank that laid off 5,000 employees last year and took $10 billion in taxpayer bailout money, held a three-day conference for clients at the Breakers, a five-star oceanfront resort in Palm Beach, FL.
Morgan Stanley would not say what the elegant gathering cost, but said it is an annual tradition and that its clients paid their own travel costs and got a discounted room rate of $400 a night.
Congressman Cummings said that doesn't justify hosting such a lavish event when people on Main St. are struggling to make ends meet.
"For most people on my block, that would be half of a mortgage payment, a monthly mortgage payment," he said.