SBD/March 6, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Gossage Continues To Defend NRA Sponsorship As Critics Offer Mixed Opinions

Gossage (l) has turned down interviews because he feels they will not be objective
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said that he has “declined to appear on many national television shows” that are positioning the NRA’s sponsorship of the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at TMS “as though it is a political statement,” according to David Newton of ESPN.com. Gossage said, "I might as well go ahead and hit myself in the head with a hammer because they're not going to be very objective. This is a sports marketing proposition. It's not a political platform, and none of us intend for it to be. It's a sponsor. Everybody else is trying to make it a political statement or a lot more complicated than it is. We sell tickets and sponsorship opportunities. The teams sell sponsorship opportunities. That's the extent of it. Nothing more” (ESPN.com, 3/5). CNN's Rachel Nichols noted the NRA's deal with TMS includes a provision that “at least once an hour the broadcaster has to mention the name of the sponsor," despite the fact TV nets have "basically decided they’re not going to air ads from gun makers.” Nichols: "All of a sudden, this is in some ways an end around.” She added, “This really hasn’t happened before in this scenario because there’s never been this high-profile athletic event sponsored by the NRA.” CNN's Piers Morgan said the NRA is “going to get all this airtime and they only have one real modus operandi,” which is to “sell more guns” (“Piers Morgan Tonight,” CNN, 3/5).

JUST BUSINESS? ESPN.com conducted a debate among its motorsports writers with regard to the sponsorship deal. Terry Blount wrote the NRA “falls in line perfectly with this track, a place where they've always had a yee-haw, bang-bang, pistol shoot in Victory Lane.” Blount: “But I wouldn't suggest using this sponsor for the road course race in Sonoma.” Ed Hinton wrote a few fans “might be put off, maybe among those whose interest in NASCAR has been piqued by Danica Patrick's full-time Cup ride. But by and large, the relationship between hunting and NASCAR-watching is a long-established staple of marketing.” Ryan McGee wrote there is “no way NASCAR will be able to avoid playing into the hands of a well-worn stereotype at a poorly timed juncture.” McGee: “I’m not saying the negative reaction within the mainstream will be fair. I’m just saying that’s how it’s going to be.” Newton wrote, “This doesn’t send the message the sport needs at a time when it is trying to bring in new fans.” Marty Smith wrote, “The entire sport of NASCAR is placed in a certain position because of the sponsorship” (ESPN.com, 3/5). CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman said the sponsorship is a “really horrible mistake, particularly if you’re NASCAR and you’re trying to branch out and get more mainstream." The NRA “has said some really insensitive, crazy things in light of some real tragedies.” SI’s Jim Trotter said NASCAR “is tone deaf, but I don’t have a problem with it.” Trotter: “If you try to stop the NRA from being a sponsor of this, we’re getting awfully close to censorship based on political beliefs” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 3/5).

BEING POLITICAL WITHOUT TRYING TO BE? SPORTS ON EARTH’s Patrick Hruby wrote, “In sticking the NRA's sponsorship money in the fridge and the organization's overwhelmingly political raison d'etre in the freezer ... Gossage is being naive at best. Disingenuous at worst. Making a distinction without a difference. Oddly enough, he sounds like a politician.” Gossage’s “insistence that an NRA sponsorship is the same as an auto parts or fast food sandwich sponsorship reflects a larger cultural desire. A collective habit of cognitive dissonance” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 3/5).
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