Words By Bridget Foster.
For the past two years, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., has been spearheading efforts to end military sponsorship of sporting events as the federal government faces record budget deficits. The various branches have sponsored sports such as bass fishing, motorcycle racing, pro wrestling, football, and car racing to boost their exposure and branding. In 2012, it was estimated that the military spent a combined $80 million dollars on sporting events sponsorships, which military leaders qualified as a valuable recruiting tool.
One of the most popular and long term beneficiaries of sponsorships has been NASCAR, which over time has had teams sponsored by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Army National Guard. Citing the high cost-to-benefit ratio, the Marine Corps and Coast Guard ended their sponsorships in 2006; the Navy in 2008 and the regular Army in 2012. None of the services could directly tie any increases in their recruiting efforts to the sponsorships, nor were they able to determine an effective means for measuring those results. So why then, did the Army National Guard continue to spend millions of dollars on what was already determined to be a waste of money? In the years from 2011 to 2013 alone, the Guard spent $88 million dollars to sponsor NASCAR racing, and an additional $38 million on an IndyCar racing sponsorship, yet have unable to provide any figures on the number of prospects or recruits resulting from their investment.
This week, though, the Army National Guard finally decided to put an end to their madness and cancelled their annual $32 million sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s NASCAR team, as well as the $12 million a year contract with IndyCar racer Graham Rahal. Though the Guard has been sponsoring NASCAR racers for 10 years, Earnhardt has been the Guard’s sponsored driver since 2008. A statement on the Guard’s website noted that “sports sponsorships have played an important role in helping the Guard build strong brand awareness.”
Earlier this year before a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, Maj. Gen. Judd Lyons, acting director of the National Guard, admitted that his branch continued to spend money on the sponsorships without analyzing the effectiveness of the program or considering the reasons all the other branches discontinued their sponsorships. When announcing the contract cancellation, effective at the end of this racing season, Lyons emphasized “We share a common commitment to the American people to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We will continue to assess and refine our programs to ensure we get the best return on investment.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, who led the subcommittee hearing, declared the move “long overdue.” Rep. Betty McCollum, who has always questioned whether the sponsorships were an effective recruiting tool, said in a statement “Cancelling this NASCAR racing team contract is a victory for taxpayers and I’m pleased to say the National Guard has finally made the correct decision.”
This does not mean the end to military sponsorships of sporting events as a marketing tool. The Army continues to sponsor the National Hot Rod Association drag racing and the Army All-American Bowl, a high-profile high school football game.
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