Leaders of the nation’s major sports leagues are asking Congress to permit the Pentagon to keep sponsoring races cars and sporting events, arguing that efforts to stop the military from spending money on sports marketing would make it harder to reach young recruits.
In a letter sent Monday to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other leaders, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, NASCAR and the IndyCar Series said an amendment to the annual Defense Appropriations Bill would rob the military of one of the most efficient ways to reach young Americans interested in military service. (Any prohibitions also would rob the leagues of millions of dollars in annual revenues, but the letter makes no mention of that fact.)
The House is slated to begin debating the appropriations bill Wednesday, with a final vote expected Friday.
“Today, while most Americans view military service as admirable, military recruiting is more challenging than ever as young adults are more difficult to reach through traditional media and local channels,” the leagues wrote to Boehner. “Unfortunately, it is in this environment that the military’s direction to use sports marketing has come under attack in Congress.”
The leagues noted that the Army’s recruiting efforts at NASCAR events resulted in “46,000 qualified leads.” Similar deals with the NBA, NFL and IndyCar have yielded similar contacts, the leagues wrote, adding that “The benefits from these types of sponsorships offset the minimal costs to taxpayers.”
But Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) think otherwise. They successfully amended the Defense Appropriations Bill in May to include language barring the Pentagon from spending any money on sports marketing, because they consider military spending on sports sponsorships as wasteful.
According to Kingston and McCollum, the Defense Department spent more than $80 million this year to sponsor NASACR racing teams, Indy racing, professional bass fishing tournaments and ultimate fighting matches. Over the last two years, the National Guard has spent $121 million on professional sponsorships, including $20 million for pro fishing and $90 million on NASCAR, IndyCar and motorcycle racing. The Guard has spent $136 million in the last five years sponsoring the NASCAR race team of popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
McCollum argued that if Congress is cutting funding for programs including “Meals on Wheels,” then “it’s time to eliminate wasteful Pentagon spending on NASCAR, fishing and ultimate fighting sponsorships that have nothing to do with our national security.”
Kingston said that if the Defense Department is cutting troops then “the military should not be spending nearly $100 million sponsoring professional sports.” He added that the Pentagon has failed to justify its sponsorship spending: “I just don’t see how seeing a logo on their favorite racecar or on a fisherman’s visor is going to encourage someone to join the military.”
Ahead of this week’s vote, the U.S. Army has announced plans to drop its sponsorship of NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing team, which fields two teams led by drivers Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. An Army News Service article quoted the service’s director of marketing, who said the Army is ending the deal in part because NASCAR’s audience is “starting to skew older” and not attracting as many fans in the military’s coveted 18 to 24-year old demographic.
But Ryan Newman, who drives for the SHR team, said the Army’s decision is “true politics,” according to the Associated Press.
Earnhardt, who ranks second in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup standings, said last week that he was “disappointed” by the Army’s decision and said his partnership with the Guard is “really productive.”
“I feel pretty good about the relationship I have with the Guard,” Earnhardt told reporters, “but it was just disappointing when any company or big entity like that leaves the sport entirely.”
Boehner’s office had no immediate comment on the letter.
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