A survey released Tuesday showed that a plurality of consumers find U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe‘s Subway ads hard to swallow.
Asked if Subway should “give in to the pressure and drop Megan as the face of the brand,” 45% of Americans polled said yes, while 36% said no and 19% were not sure, according to market research company Piplsay.
The Aug. 13-15 online survey of 30,790 U.S. adults also found that 38% believed that the backlash against Subway over Rapinoe was justified, while 36% said it was not and 26% were not sure.
That said, only 35% agreed that a company’s choice of brand ambassador “matters a lot,” while 33% said it “does not matter at all,” according to the brand survey about Rapinoe, one of five sports figures featured in the sandwich-maker’s Eat Fresh Refresh campaign.
The 36-year-old Rapinoe has been a divisive figure in sports since she started taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016 in solidarity with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
She and other U.S. women’s team members kneeled on the field before their first game last month at the Tokyo Olympics in what was described as an anti-racism protest.
“American fast-food chain Subway has been facing customer backlash and boycotts since its brand ambassador Megan Rapinoe took the knee during the National Anthem at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics,” said Piplsay in a statement on its poll. “The vocal star, often referred to as the Colin Kaepernick of the women’s soccer world, has been deemed anti-American, prompting Subway franchisees across the country to demand a nixing of her TV ads.”
The North American Association of Subway Franchisees recently relayed concerns from some franchise owners about the Rapinoe ads to Subway CEO John Chidsey, according to a letter obtained by the New York Post.
“Megan is one of several athletes and celebrities Subway partners with, but they are not the official company spokesperson,” Brad Simon, Subway senior director of brand communications, told USA Today in June.
While Subway does not own any of its nearly 22,000 stores, the company charges its franchisees 12.5% of their weekly revenue, 4.5% of which goes for national advertising, according to the company website.
Former U.S. women’s national team goalie Hope Solo drew headlines this week for a July 20 podcast interview with Goal in which she said that she had seen Rapinoe “almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way.”
Others countered that Solo was suspended from the U.S. team in August 2016, before Rapinoe took a knee for the first time a month later during the national anthem.