Scottvoight's NASCAR Blog

February 7, 2011

Military Sponsorship in NASCAR

Filed under: NASCAR Articles — Scott Voight @ 2:24 pm

The U.S. Army will pay Stewart-Haas Racing $11.6 million to sponsor Ryan Newman’s car for 23 races this season and the Army official who oversees it says the money is worth it.

 Critics may wonder why military branches have increased their visibility in sports marketing, specifically while the nation is fighting a multi-front war on terror. That’s the magic question for the military branches involved in NASCAR team sponsorship.

At a multi departmental video conference, Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn of the National Guard said it’s because that’s where the next recruit may be. It just happens that some of the men and women we are looking to recruit attend NASCAR races and it gives us a chance to get their attention and speak with them. “You don’t have to put two and two together too many times to figure this out.” We have to recruit some 70,000 Army Guard soldiers a year. The active Army has to recruit 80,000. “This is big business,” said Vaughn.

 Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley said the Army looks at different ways to determine if the sponsorship is worthwhile but admits it comes down to one thing. At the end of the day, if someone joins the Army, “Freakley said. He said 41 people agreed Saturday, at the track Army boot, to be interviewed by an Army recruiter. “That’s powerful,” Freakley said.

In a recent interview on NASCAR.com Michael Sullivan, the U.S. Army’s deputy assistant for marketing and advertising, explains, The Army is not selling a case of oil, a box of peanuts, Tide or whatever. We’re basically selling a way of life, what some call an obligation to give something back to the country. He is also responsible for the Army’s recruiting efforts.

Unless a recruit says, I joined because you sponsor a car in NASCAR, there is no way of measuring the influence sponsorship is having on potential recruits. Sullivan said. “Compared to direct mail, print and television advertising, NASCAR sponsorship can be the most attractive pulling device.

The US Navy’s  Motorsports Program Manager Senior Chief Jeff Priest added, “72 percent of the NASCAR fan base is between the ages of 17 and 53.”  That is our target market plus influencers like moms, dads, aunts, uncles, friends of the family, former military. Branding the Navy as a ‘winning team’ is the goal behind the association with NASCAR. How can you get a Navy billboard around a racetrack every week for 35 weeks out of a year? You’re not going to get that anywhere other than NASCAR sponsorship.

The Navy paid between $5 and $6 million for primary sponsorship of JR Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet and driver Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series, and 2008 will marked the branch’s eighth season in NASCAR.

It began in 2001 with a partial Truck Series sponsorship before moving to Fitz-Bradshaw Racing and David Stremme. Three years ago, the Navy partnered with JR Motorsports in what Priest admits is a dream deal with the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned team. “It’s a no-brainer to be associated with the most popular driver,” Priest said.

It was also clear to the Navy they should remain in the Nationwide Series, according to Priest. A marketing firm hired by the Navy before the 2003 season suggested NASCAR’s No. 2 series is the proper fit due to it being considered a developmental series and the goals that matched those of the Navy.

We’re probably spending a third of what a competitive Cup sponsorship costs for a full season in the developmental series, Priest said. That goes back to the fact we’re developing young men and women into solid citizens four or five years down the road. That’s the same concept here in the Nationwide Series.

The Navy worked its way from a part-time Truck Series sponsorship to full-time Nationwide status, the Army went all-in. After sponsorship in the NHRA from 2000-2002, a full-time Cup Series sponsorship with MB2 Motorsports’ in 2003 began the Army’s NASCAR journey with driver Jerry Nadeau.

“I’m sure the dollar value is quite a bit higher on the Cup side just because of the inflated cost of the commercials during a Cup race,” said Priest. The Navy would prefer to run 35 races with the name on the side of the car and that being our car, as opposed to running eight races, only having a minor associate sponsorship on a Cup car for the rest of the races.

“Our primary reasoning is the recruiting side of that,” who reports directly to the Army’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs in the recruiting department, he said. The large fan base that NASCAR has and the opportunity to get in front of them for three days if all three series are at the same location, I don’t think you beat that in terms of the ability and opportunity to talk and show folks what the Army has to offer.

“You can’t really just sit back in the old recruiting station and just hope someone is going to come walking in the door,” Sullivan said.

 “We can’t just quit spending money on advertising. “You still have to recruit. “You still have to get the word out that the Navy is hiring. “If we choose to use this as a tool the most popular sport, the fastest-growing sport it just makes so much more sense to be where we are. “A young man or woman doesn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘You know what, I want to join the Navy,” Sullivan explained.

The public has mixed emotions on the subject.

“I love to see the Navy involvement on NASCAR 24/7 show on Speed, with David Stremme,” Elizabethtown resident Mary Miller said. “Besides recruiting, this is plain old advertising and brand awareness, and all of the sponsors get their money’s worth if you read any NASCAR article related to advertising and sponsorships.”

It’s not any different than seeing a commercial for the Marines in the middle of a football game. Our tax dollars aren’t directly supporting NASCAR teams, they are involved with marketing. Whether you think involvement in Iraq is right or wrong, or another part of the world, it has nothing to do with it, Miller said.

Elizabethtown resident John Edland has a different opinion, “If this money were solely about sending some soldiers to races as morale boosters, I’d be all for it he said. I understand it’s a recruiting tool, but sure wish the Army would spend a bit more on trying to recruit support for the disabled, homeless and mentally ill veterans. “We can’t spend enough on those things.”

No matter what side of the fence you are on, NASCAR advertising through sponsorship is a tool used by the military to recruit, as long as their budgets can sustain the funding they are here to stay. Why, because it works?

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