DraftKings Quickly Apologizes for 9/11 Promotion

Thom Weidlich 09.14.23


It’s remarkable how often marketing campaigns lead to crises. The latest example comes courtesy of DraftKings. On Monday — Sept. 11 — the sports-betting outfit stupidly ran a promotion tied to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of that day in 2001. Mercifully, DraftKings quickly removed it and apologized.

The promotion was for a parlay bet, which bundles multiple games into one wager, entitled “Never Forget,” a motto long associated with the 9/11 tragedy. The bet required three New York teams — the Yankees, the Mets and the Jets — to win their games on Monday. Most of the 3,000 people killed in the attacks were in that city. “Bet on these New York teams to win tonight on 9/11,” the offering read, according to CNN.

Obviously, the promotion induced a what-were-they-thinking kind of feeling. No one stopped to say, “Maybe that’s distasteful”?

A social-media outcry quickly ensued, and DraftKings posted its apology Monday at 11:49 a.m. ET on its infrequently used X (formerly Twitter) account for news announcements. “We sincerely apologize for the featured parlay that was shared briefly in commemoration of 9/11,” the company wrote. “We respect the significance of this day for our country and especially for the families of those who were directly affected.”

‘Truly Disgusting’

Naturally, a lot of cynicism greeted this. Words like “shameful” and “absolute clowns” were bandied about. “Truly disgusting,” one commentor wrote. “Their apology isn’t much better.”

CNN reminded us that other companies have had to apologize for 9/11-themed promotions. In 2016, a Florida Wal-Mart store stacked Coca-Cola bottles in the shape of the World Trade Center with a “We Will Never Forget!” banner. That same year, Miracle Mattress in San Antonio had a “Twin Towers sale,” with an ad showing mattresses also stacked like the buildings. In 2013, AT&T tweeted a picture of the “Tribute in Light” memorial on a phone screen with “Never Forget.”

The point is: Some things are just off limits. Any marketing campaign should be thought through to determine whether it could cause a backlash. Obviously, you can’t predict what will offend some people and not others, but some situations — such as this one — should be obvious.

Relatedly, when any crisis hits, companies should examine whether ongoing marketing campaigns will cause harm given the new crisis context. Those campaigns should be paused.

Image Credit: DraftKings

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