A promotional campaign to honor U.S. service members at professional sports events has raised questions because of reports that the U.S. Department of Defense paid the sports leagues millions of taxpayer dollars to salute soldiers. 

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said that many lawmakers were shocked to learn that the expensive promotional campaign was being funded by taxpayers. Fox News reported that Flake wrote to National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, demanding to know the financial breakdown of the "Hometown Heroes" expenses.

NJ.com reported that federal contracts show $377,000 was spent between 2011 and 2014 for the program. The Defense Department paid $5.4 million to 14 NFL teams. Under similar contacts, the National Guard paid $5.3 million to 11 teams.

According to Flake, the spending was disingenuous and wasteful. "Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes," Flake said, “Then to find out they're doing it because they're compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed.”

As a part of the agreement, a soldier is shown on a big video screen. The name of the soldier is announced and the crowd is asked to thank him or her for serving. The soldiers are given premium seats for the game. Flake said that reports of payment left a “bad taste in your mouth” because the public believed that teams were showing respect out of a sense of patriotism.

New York Jets spokesman Bruce Speight said the team was committed to its support for the U.S. armed forces, adding that the commitment was not related to the New Jersey National Guard's sponsorship. Speight also said that the team worked with the National Guard on advertising opportunities.

According to Flake, it is not the sports teams but the government that should be blamed. The salutes were supposed to be “feel-good moments,” he said, not drains on taxpayer dollars.

Contact the writer: s.mukhopadhyay@ibtimes.com.au