TAMPA — Former Marine David Shimkus calls it a "slap in the face to veterans" that the NFL rejected a bid to place an ad in the Super Bowl program asking fans to stand for the national anthem.
So as a senior executive with Largo-based media company React LLC, the former Marine firefighter offered an alternative way to get the message out: A smartphone app on a new sports-based game called Super Squares, where the object is to watch football, answer questions and win prizes.
"I knew that we had this awesome opportunity with the Super Squares app," said Shimkus, 49, of Belleair Bluffs, whose company is testing the app. "We can put any kind of advertising we want. We are not beholden to anyone."
Officials with Amvets, the veterans group pushing the ad, jumped at the opportunity.
"I think it is fantastic," said Amvets spokesman John Hoellwarth.
Hoellwarth, also a Marine veteran, said the NFL deemed the organization's print ad "too political."
The ad is a response to players who have taken a knee during the national anthem, a practice begun during the 2016 season as a protest against what participants saw as police brutality against black people. Among those who took part were Tampa Bay Buccaneers receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
The Amvet ad also reflects support for the American flag from the group's 250,000 members, Hoellwarth said.
It features an image of a military honor guard holding the flag on a staff, along with the message, "Please Stand," and a request for donations.
"The NFL clearly doesn't want our message anywhere near their biggest game," Hoellwarth said. "The Super Squares app still gets it out in spite of that. That's fantastic."
Super Squares is a live game show that kicks in during breaks in the big game Sunday, said Frank Maggio, React LLC founder and chief executive officer. Super Bowl LII in pits the Philadelphia Eagles against the New England Patriots in Minnesota.
A beta test of the app was conducted in the Tampa market during the AFC Championship game Jan. 21. Super Squares also appeared during the NFL Pro Bowl, played Sunday.
Using their smart phones, players answer questions at the end of each quarter and during the two-minute warning about the game that's underway and the advertising on the app.
Maggio, 55 of Seminole, said he expects 1,000 to 2,000 viewers and plans on doling out $8,000 in cash prizes, plus several hundred Dominoes pizzas and a new 2017 Nissan Altima.
Instead of a static ad, the app will show a 30-second Amvets video during halftime. It opens with an American flag waving and features individuals asking that people vote, volunteer, serve and express their rights. It ends with Amvets commander Marion Polk asking viewers to "please stand" and closes with the hashtag #pleasestand.
NFL officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Maggio noted that many people have stopped watching NFL games in protest of players who kneel and said the ad is geared toward them as well as people who still watch.
Steve Emerson, 61, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel from Valrico, is one of the boycotters and said he welcomes the Super Squares effort.
"I think that it's great that a local company plans to air the commercial," Emerson said. "I'm inclined to buy their product/service even if I'm allergic to it."
Maggio said he would also give the NFL Players Union a chance to have a say during the game show, as well.
"If they wanted to provide us with a 30-second ad," he said, "we would take it and ask viewers of the game if they understood the message."
Contact Howard Altman at email@example.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.