Will military backing stay in budget?

Could military sponsorships in NASCAR be in danger?

An amendment to eliminate such sponsorships from the defense budget could end the trend. Sponsored by US Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the amendment would eliminate military sponsorships in professional sports. The bill has passed the House Appropriations Committee.

If adopted, that would impact NASCAR, long tied to military sponsorships.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., carrying partial sponsorship from the National Guard, obviously supports keeping military branches in NASCAR. And Ryan Newman is currently sponsored by the US Army as part of his Sprint Cup program. Earnhardt was previously involved with the US Navy, so he has experience in working with military branches.

At one point, military sponsorships abounded in NASCAR, with each branch having been represented over the years.

According to a press release from Kingston’s office, the Department of Defense spent $96.1 million on advertisements in fiscal year 2011 and intends to spend up to $80.3 million before the current fiscal year ends in September.

The congressman expressed his views on the issue in a May 17 news release posted on his website.

“After congresswoman McCollum brought this issue up last year, the Pentagon had a year to justify this spending, but they have not,” he said. “They have had the chance to prove me wrong, but I just don’t see how seeing a logo on their favorite race car or on a fisherman’s visor is going to encourage someone to join the military.”

Earnhardt was asked Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he was preparing for the upcoming Sprint Showdown, to weigh in on the issue.

He said he had read that Kingston had not been to a NASCAR race, then pointed out that he would encourage everyone voting on such a measure to study up on the issue more.

“I would encourage them to do a little more homework, get more facts, understand the situation a little better,” Earnhardt said of those voting on the bill. “I know that just talking to the Guard — and we went through this before — they can’t stress to me enough about how much this program helps their recruiting, they’re comitted to the belief that it has a profound effect on their recruiting, their ability to recruit. I think it’s important for them to be visible and to push their brand and work on their brand, give people the opportunity to know more about how to get involved in the military.”

With the sport’s 38 races a season, including two non-points events, and races throughout the country, Earnhardt believes it is a great way to reach out to a high number of potential recruits.

“I think their NASCAR sponsorship is a great way to reach a lot of people,” he said. “We’re one of the biggest sports, but more people attend races and attend our sport than a lot of other avenues. . . .

"I think that it’s good and healthy for them to be here, and I think it works for them or they wouldn’t be a part of it.”

Stewart-Haas Racing owner Tony Stewart, who fields Newman’s car, agrees. He points out the value of NASCAR to all its sponsors — and the military branches are no different.

“I think the US Army and the National Guard have seen that value, as well,” he said. “They are not in the habit of spending money to spend money. I think they see the value in it, whether legislature understands that or not — they may not be familiar with all the things and how it benefits those programs.

" . . . Anybody that is a good businessperson had to look at it. You have to look at the numbers, but I think you have to do your homework, and they also have to look and see the value that they are getting for that. You look in the garage it doesn’t take long to realize there is something to this that makes all these Fortune 500 companies want to be a part of it.”

The impact of losing military sponsorships would be felt by NASCAR on emotional and financial levels.

Andrew Campagnone, senior marketing partner for Sports Marketing Consultants Inc., which procures sponsorships in NASCAR, sees a possible military departure as a loss for both sides — and a move that should be carefully considered before it is made.

“I think it will have a negative impact on the sport as the big three — Army, Air Force and National Guard — won’t be able to participate in the all-American sport, which is NASCAR,” he said. “I believe there is a great deal of ignorance at the government level on how the sport does help promote the services and engage the ‘influencer,’ who is the aunt, teacher, grandpa or grandma of a possible recruit. . . . The sport is one of the most powerful marketing tools for any brand in the US, and I can use AARP as an example as they have seen a great deal from a halo effect of the Drive to End Hunger and an improvement of their brand overall.

“The military’s focus is now on special operations, and this takes a much more strategic approach to recruitment, and NASCAR can bring the military the candidate that is needed for that type of mission and mentality. So to not have the military here would be like not having the manufacturers here.”