NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – The Army decides to silence their sponsorship guns

Full Throttle – The Army decides to silence their sponsorship guns

Different branches of the military have maintained sponsorships in auto racing and other forms of sports for years. The military presence at race tracks is unmistakable on any given race weekend from the men and women in uniform in the stands and pits, to the honor guards bearing our nation’s colors, to the fly-overs that take place at just about every national touring series race. Military sponsorship not only puts the service branches on the hoods of the cars but also is represented in tents and displays in the fan zones at every track. That presence translates into NASCAR fans supporting the military and ultimately signing up to participate in the armed forces. The ongoing debate among the people in Washington D.C. is whether the millions of dollars spent to activate the sports sponsorships translates into more people joining the military than spending that money in other recruiting efforts.

Earlier in 2012 Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) began an effort to try and halt government spending on sports sponsorships by military services, maintaining that the cost/benefit did not justify the money and time spent. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman both spoke out during their driver availability at Charlotte during the race weekends there about the work they do for the military and the benefits that they see by interacting with troops around the country and around the world. The leaders of the armed forces continue to maintain that the dollars spent far outweigh the benefits in signing up new recruits. Unfortunately, it appears as though McCollum and Kingston are going to succeed in pushing through legislation that will eliminate military sponsorship starting next season.

As a result of the impending legislation, it was announced that the U.S. Army will not be back on the No. 39 car of Ryan Newman in 2013. Stewart Haas Racing has been working hard to try and fill the holes in their schedule that already existed for the 2013 season with the Army on the hood and will now have to replace even more sponsorship. With Newman’s contract expiring at the end of the 2012 racing season, there are huge implications for both Newman and SHR if SHR is unable to sell the full 38-race season on the hood of the No. 39. While Newman has maintained that he wants to remain at SHR, he obviously has to look out for himself and, if another opportunity presents itself before sponsorship has been secured, he is going to be hard-pressed not to take it. Danica Patrick is going to be moving to SHR full-time in 2013 with GoDaddy.com as her primary sponsor and the plans have been for the organization to transition to a three-car team next year. This loss of sponsorship could ultimately result in SHR staying as a two-car team with Newman taking his talents elsewhere.

The cost of sponsorship for a NASCAR team varies by organization, but the cost to be the primary sponsor on the hood of a top car is somewhere in the $20 million range. Complimenting the sponsorship at the race track is going to run another $10 million or so over the 38 race schedule between displays, merchandise, travel and overhead. Even assuming that the total cost to sponsor a single Cup team is $30 million, thatt is a miniscule drop in the bucket when looking at the budget of the Department of Defense of the United States.

The DOD budget request that was submitted to congress for the 2013 fiscal year totaled almost $614 billion. Advertising for recruits is a part of that budget, but only a small part of that money is made up of sports sponsorships. Even if the total sponsorships accounted for $600 million across multiple sports, it would still be less than .1% of the budget. To put that in understandable numbers, if a family had a $50,000 annual budget, it would be the equivalent of $50 spent on the sponsorship. The numbers are simply statistically insignificant in relation to the total budget that is utilized for the military.

Unfortunately for race teams and NASCAR fans, one benefit of cutting this portion of the budget is that it is very visible. McCollum and Kingston come across looking like they have made a major step toward saving tax-payer dollars by eliminating millions of dollars when, in reality, it is simply not a very significant amount of money at all.

Meanwhile, the armed services are going to have to attempt to come up with other methods for recruiting new members to the all-volunteer force that makes up our armed services. In the next couple of years, the branches of the military will be able to compare their recruiting numbers in 2013 and beyond to the numbers over the last 10+ years of sponsorship in NASCAR and prove or disprove the success that they were able to achieve through sports sponsorship. When that time comes, perhaps they’ll be able to once again put the Army on the hood of a Cup car. In the meantime, Stewart-Haas will have to figure out another company or five to put on the hood of the No. 39 before Newman is lured away to another race team.

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