Senators Question National Guard Sponsorship

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Two Senators questioned the National Guard in a hearing Thursday about its sponsorship in NASCAR and IndyCar. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., questioned the Army National Guard’s sponsorship in NASCAR and IndyCar during a subcommittee hearing Thursday afternoon, and the official overseeing those programs said he planned to evaluate them.

The National Guard will sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 20 Sprint Cup races this season. Military contacts are done on a yearly basis. Sen. McCaskill said that the National Guard’s budget for NASCAR amounts to $32 million from a sports marketing budget of more than $56 million. The National Guard does not differentiate between what goes to the team and what goes toward activation. 

No decision has been set by the National Guard for next season.

“I will be ... reviewing all these programs in the next, probably, month,’’ Maj. Gen. Judd Lyons, acting director, Army National Guard, said during the hearing.

USA Today, citing data provided to it, reported that the National Guard spent $26.5 million to sponsor NASCAR racing in 2012 but failed to sign a single new soldier. An official with the National Guard Association questioned those numbers at the time but also added: “I don't think anybody has the right numbers.’’

Wednesday's USA Today story also states that even though the National Guard spent $88 million in NASCAR sponsorship from 2011-13, it is unclear how many new recruits, if any, signed because of the sponsorship. 

At one point during the hour-long hearing Sen. McCaskill said: “I don’t understand ... how you can justify the fact that nobody is getting recruited from the NASCAR. The facts speak for themselves. the data is very clear. You’re not getting recruits off NASCAR. This is data you gave us. The reason we know is this because you told us.’’

Said Maj. Gen. Lyons: “I’m trying to analyze these programs for exactly the reasons that you’re saying. Are they achieving the intended affect? Are they the best use of our our taxpayer dollars? Is that the right thing to be doing? These are things I’m considering as the acting director as a path forward.’’

A May 2013 report by Alan Newman Research of Richmond, Va., found that 90 percent of National Guard soldiers who enlisted or re-enlisted since 2007 were exposed to the Guard through recruiting or retention materials featuring NASCAR cars and/or drivers.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., also questioned the National Guard’s ability to measure the effectiveness of sports sponsorship toward recruiting.

“I’m interested in evaluating these programs,’’ said Maj. Gen. Lyons, who has been acting director, Army National Guard since January. “I would like to know what are good metrics to use to measure the effectiveness of sports sponsorships programs. That’s what I’m focused on.’’       

Said Sen. Johnson: “I’m not seeing any of the briefing material here in terms of anything I can look at to evaluate the effectiveness of this.” 

Maj. Gen. Lyons said: “In terms of trying to tie the awareness of the Guard through these branding programs directly to an individual’s decision to enlist is elusive and I share your frustration with that on how we get at that to assess the effectiveness of those two programs.’’

Such questioning is not new. Military sports sponsorships have come under scrutiny in recent years in Washington.

The U.S. House of Representatives defeated an amendment to limit military sports sponsorships 281-148 in Feb. 2011 and 260-167 in July 2011. The House voted 216-202 against such legislation in 2012 and voted 289-134 against last June.

Sen. McCaskill opened Thursday’s hearing by saying “I like NASCAR. This hearing is not about demonizing NASCAR or the National Guard. This hearing is simply about return on investment of federal tax dollars, whether or not federal money is being used wisely for the intended purpose and getting the result desired as a result of that investment.’’

Sen. McCaskill noted that the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps no longer serve as a sponsor in NASCAR. The Air Force and National Guard remain in the sport.

Sen. McCaskill questioned why the National Guard will remain in NASCAR when the Army left the sport after the 2012 season.

“Because you guys don’t have as much money as the Army to market,’’ Sen. McCaskill said, “... it’s interesting to me that another branch of the military with more money that finds sponsoring NASCAR is not cost effective but no one at the Guard would then look to see maybe we should look at their analysis.’’

NASCAR noted that last season was the sport's best season for sponsor growth since 2007. NASCAR also notes that Camping World signed an extension to sponsor the Truck Series and that some companies - Great Clips, 5-hour ENERGY and Mars - have stated that they are receiving return on their investment in the sport.

Joyce Julius and Associates reported that through last month's Southern 500 Earnhardt had given his sponsors an estimated $45 million in TV exposure based on time those companies appeared on screen.

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