‘Start Your Engines’ and Semper Fi

Friday, 13 Jul 2012 11:58 AM

By Bradley A. Blakeman

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The House appropriations committee is set to vote on an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill that will prohibit branches of the U.S. Armed Forces from investing in sports sponsorships.

The act specifically singles out sponsorships of “professional or semi-professional motorsports, fishing, wrestling or other sports.”

national-guard-nascar.jpg
Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulls in for a pit stop with his #88 National Guard-AnAmericanSalute/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.
(Getty Images)
The supporters of this amendment have yet to adequately explain why only sports marketing efforts should be prohibited, as opposed to marketing efforts elsewhere. Will Congress next tell our Armed Forces that they cannot use Facebook or sponsor musical or other cultural events?

While the amendment prohibits sponsorships of any sport, it’s clear that the amendment’s supporters are focusing on the military’s marketing efforts in NASCAR.

Army and National Guard logos adorn the hoods of race cars piloted by Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. respectively. As top competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, both cars get a significant amount of visibility and air time during race broadcasts on FOX, TNT, ESPN, ABC and SPEED.

Keep in mind that those race telecasts are averaging 7.4 million viewers in 2012. There’s also the exposure the military gets with the more than 100,000 fans attending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races 38 weekends a year and the hundreds of millions of impressions they get in print and online annually, as a direct result of being NASCAR sponsors.

Undoubtedly, NASCAR has the most brand loyal fans in all of sports. According to independent research, three out of four avid NASCAR fans say they will purchase sponsor products and services, which is why more Fortune 500 companies are involved in NASCAR than any other sport.

If sports sponsorships didn’t work, why would so many of America’s top companies devote millions of dollars every year to sports leagues and teams? In fact, if we limit the tools that our military can use — tools that are available to the private sector — we may actually be putting our armed forces at a disadvantage.

Our military is all-volunteer, meaning that our military must find, recruit and retain soldiers through multiple means. Sports sponsorships offer the military a conduit to the millions of young men and women who are sports fans.

The military retains companies from the private sector to assist in marketing to these young men and women. In fact, some of the world’s top advertising agencies call branches of the military their clients. Those companies create advertising, buy media, and build channel plans that include sports sponsorships.

It is one thing to discuss cutting the size of the military’s marketing budget, but to arbitrarily prevent them from using one legitimate marketing tool over another reeks of Congressional overreach. It even raises questions about unnecessary government limitations on speech.

Sports leagues and teams do indeed receive very generous subsidies, tax exemptions and antitrust exemptions from the public. There’s no doubt that the public deserves a greater return on those investments into sports, starting with ending television blackouts and lowering ticket prices. But this is a matter of marketing, not subsidizing. To simply prevent the military from spending on sports (but allowing spending on anything else) seems misguided and shortsighted.

We all trust our armed forces to protect the security and sovereignty of the nation. Shouldn’t we trust them to figure on their own the best way to market to our young men and women?

Advertising is smart, effective and a necessary tool to keep, maintain and recruit a volunteer fighting force that America depends on.

Let’s not act like sore losers and bad sports when it comes to supporting our military.

Gentlemen of the US National Guard NASCAR team “start your engines,” and “batter up” to the U.S. Marine Corps.
We’re swinging for that Semper Fi billboard.

Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. Read more reports from Bradley Blakeman — Click Here Now.

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