SBD/March 8, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

U.S. Senator Asks NASCAR To Drop NRA Race Sponsorship Deal, Says It "Crossed The Line"

Murphy said NASCAR's deal with the NRA puts it in the middle of a political debate
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) “wants NASCAR to pass on NRA’s race sponsorship” of the April Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, according to Kevin Robillard of POLITICO. Murphy sent a letter on Thursday to NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France that asks the league to "drop" the sponsorship. The letter read in part, “NASCAR has crossed a line -- you have decided to put yourself in the middle of a political debate, and you have taken a side that stands in opposition to the wishes of so many Newtown families who support common sense gun reform. Whether or not this was your intention, your fans will infer from this sponsorship that NASCAR and the NRA are allies in the current legislative debate over gun violence. By announcing this new partnership at the very height of Congress’s deliberations over gun reform, NASCAR has inserted itself into a political debate that has nothing to with the business of NASCAR” (POLITICO.com, 3/7). TIME.com’s Bill Saporito wrote businesses are “always being squeezed by the twin pressures of creating new customers while not alienating the ones they have.” That is “certainly been true of NASCAR, which has been trying to diversify its fan base beyond the aging white males who now constitute its largest audience segment.” In signing the NRA deal, NASCAR is “feeding its base.” The NRA and NASCAR are “a natural socio-political fit given the sport’s demographics.” NRA Exec VP Wayne LaPierre is “a NASCAR groupie” and NRA members are a “hardly an untapped audience.” But the "more basic issue" facing SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith, whose company owns TMS, is that NASCAR “isn’t politics but finance.” While Smith “is a Republican, he may be as much practical businessman as doctrinaire believer.” Since last year’s race sponsor, Samsung Mobile, “didn’t re-up, when the NRA stepped up Smith took the money” (TIME.com, 3/7).

EARNHARDT SURPRISED BY DEAL: Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he “thought the timing was strange” for the NRA's deal, but noted, "It is Texas." Earnhardt said, “The race track in Texas has always been a bit cutting edge and they’ve always been in that realm of being edgy and taking a lot of risks. So I’m not going to tell them how to run their business, and I’ve always enjoyed racing there.” But he noted that he “had the same reaction a lot of people did” upon hearing of the sponsorship (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 3/7).

THEIR TWO CENTS: FOXSPORTS.com’s Jason Whitlock wrote he does not blame NASCAR or TMS "for accepting the NRA’s money." The people inside TMS who might disagree with the NRA "will have more than enough sense to keep their opinions private -- and the controversy might help NASCAR’s TV ratings.” But he wrote the deal is a "sign of trouble for LaPierre.” Whitlock: “I see it as a ray of hope that the NRA is badly losing its public relations battle with the sensible people who want to enact laws that make it more difficult for criminals and mentally disturbed people to buy guns” (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/7). In Jacksonville, Justin Barney asks does the NRA’s sponsorship “really tilt the scales of decency?” The deal is “business,” and regardless of “what you hear and read to the contrary, that’s all this agreement is.” Barney: “It’s business. Stop trying to make it more than that” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 3/8).
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