SBD/April 12, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

NASCAR To Take Closer Look At Race Naming Rights As NRA 500 Draws Criticism

With Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series NRA 500 "drawing attention just for the name of the race," NASCAR on Thursday said that it will "take a closer look at race sponsorships in the future," according to Bob Pockrass of SPORTING NEWS. The tracks "negotiate their own naming rights deals," and NASCAR "approved the sponsorship." Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage on Thursday said that there has been "no public outcry over the sponsorship." He said that he was "not concerned over the timing of the race coinciding with the gun control debate and voting in Congress." But NASCAR Managing Dir of Integrated Marketing Communications David Higdon released a statement that "indicated the timing of a sponsorship and the perception of NASCAR will be used to determine whether to approve race sponsorships in the future." While there "could be a perception that NASCAR is endorsing the NRA’s political platform," NASCAR said that that is "not the case" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/11). Higdon on Thursday said, "NASCAR has no official position on the gun rights debate." He added, “As a sport, we are in the business of bringing people together for entertainment, not political debate.” In Charlotte, Jim Utter noted both sides "say the NRA 500 sponsorship ... sends a message, though they disagree on what the message might be" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/12).

WALK THE LINE: Gossage said of the sponsorship, "Our customers are hunters, so demographically, we match up very well. This isn't a political rally. There will be nobody stuffing NRA leaflets in your hand or making any speeches. That's why I say it's a sports marketing platform. It's not a political message platform." USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes some "national exposure for the NRA will be limited." Though race broadcaster Fox is "contractually obligated to mention the sponsor once an hour, the NRA didn't purchase a premium package to guarantee multiple mentions, graphics and added commercial time." This "won't be the typical marketing platform that is synonymous with NASCAR." The NRA is "playing to its base." NASCAR has a "greater interest than ever in walking a fine political line." NASCAR, whose "lifeblood is corporate largesse, must keep money flowing to teams and facilities while being sensitive to the sport's five-year push to attract new generations of more diverse fans that might not share the values of its hard-core Southern roots" (USA TODAY, 4/12).

PAYING IN FULL: SPORTING NEWS' Pockrass noted race sponsorships for the sport’s "biggest tracks typically cost more" than $1M, and Gossage said the NRA “paid full boat” for the deal. Whether the sponsorship "continues could be determined by the public outcry this week." Gossage: “This isn’t a sponsorship that would work if you were at Sears Point Raceway (near San Francisco). We’re Texas Motor Speedway and I know what works here and what doesn’t. This isn’t an issue here.” Gossage said that it is "mostly the media that has made noise about the NRA sponsorship." Gossage: “It’s just not a big deal to the public" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/11).

STILL ON SCHEDULE: In Ft. Worth, Carlos Mendez notes U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who "wrote to NASCAR questioning the NRA’s sponsorship ... is asking Fox not to televise the race." But Gossage and SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith "laughed off the idea." Gossage said, “I think Rupert Murdoch will see it for what it is. I appreciate, personally, a publicity effort -- I really do. That’s two times he’s bit at this apple and gotten himself some publicity both times.” The race will be "televised as scheduled" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 4/12). The OBSERVER's Utter asks if the race is a "perfect fit for a national TV audience." The NRA has "not purchased any advertising to be aired during the telecast." Utter notes none of Fox’ "current advertisers have pulled out because of the NRA sponsorship, and it is unlikely the issue will be mentioned during the broadcast." Fox Sports Senior VP/Communications Lou D'Ermilio said, "We will honor our contractual obligations to NASCAR" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/12).
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