National Guard’s NASCAR sponsorship doesn’t pay off despite presence of Dale Earnhardt Jr.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the No. 88 National Guard car at Talladega. (Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

How many recruits did the National Guard sign up after spending $26.5 million on a sponsorship deal with NASCAR in 2012?

Not one, according to a USA Today report.

The poor return on investment will be the topic of a hearing today on Capitol Hill. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will chair the hearing that will investigate whether the Guard had wasted, as McCaskill put it, “a bunch of money on a very expensive sports sponsorship.” From USA Today:

The Guard received 24,800 recruiting prospects from the program in 2012, documents show. In those cases, potential recruits indicated the NASCAR affiliation prompted them to seek more information about joining. Of that group, only 20 met the Guard’s qualifications for entry into the service, and not one of them joined.

In 2013, the number of prospects associated with NASCAR dropped to 7,500, according to briefing materials for the Senate subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight led by McCaskill. The National Guard needs 1 million leads to meet its annual recruiting goal of 50,000 soldiers.

Even though the Guard spent $88 million as a NASCAR sponsor from 2011 to 2013, it is unclear how many new recruits, if any, signed up because of it, according to documents. The Guard on Wednesday would not confirm the figures on prospects and recruits developed through its NASCAR sponsorship.

The Guard has a highly visible presence on the car of the sport’s most popular driver and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 victory in February put the Guard front and center in the sport’s Super Bowl. Still, the Guard is the last of the armed forces still tied to NASCAR.

“The Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Coast Guard all canceled their sponsorships with NASCAR due to cost, ineffectiveness and difficulty in measuring results,” according to the briefing document obtained by USA Today. “The Army specifically stated that NASCAR was declining against the Army’s core target audience and that NASCAR sponsorship had the highest cost per engagement in the Army’s portfolio of sponsorships — three times the next highest program.”

The Guard is the primary sponsor of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet for 20 Sprint Cup races and also has prominent brand placement during non-primary events.

“NASCAR is a critical marketing platform for the National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Michael Wegner, marketing branch chief for the Army National Guard, said (via ESPN) when the sponsorship of Earnhardt’s car was extended through 2014. “NASCAR fans in our target demographic are twice as likely to consider the military as a career option, and the overall fan base strongly advocates for military service. It’s the right place for the Guard and has helped us recruit more than 400,000 citizen soldiers since 2007.”

Related: Military branches grapple with NASCAR sponsorships

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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