The NRA yesterday formally agreed to a title sponsorship deal with Texas Motor Speedway to make the April 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race the NRA 500, and both parties "cast their plans as a marketing deal, wholly unrelated to the acrimonious gun debate," according to Sabin & Jeffers of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. TMS President Eddie Gossage said, "This isn’t a political platform. This is a sports marketing opportunity." NRA Exec VP Wayne LaPierre added that sponsoring the race "fits his group’s business goals and image." Texas Politics Project Dir and Univ. of Texas professor Jim Henson said that there could be "other public relations reasons for the NRA to extend its reach, especially in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school attack ... and other recent shootings." He said, "The NRA is in the middle of the biggest political fight it’s had in a while. It makes sense that they would come to Texas and shore up their position in what will be a favorable audience.” Sabin & Jeffers note the NRA in September sponsored a Nationwide Series race, but this will be the "first NRA-branded race in NASCAR’s premier series." Gossage said that he "doesn't expect any fallout over the NRA's involvement" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/5). Gossage noted that this is a "one-year title sponsorship agreement with the NRA." He added that the track normally "signs three-year deals with title sponsors, but that the NRA has options for the following seasons." He also said that the NRA "approached the track last fall about a deal, but that it was not finalized until last week" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/5). Driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said, "The NRA is our core fan base, and we all have guns, and all us racers love to go out and shoot. It's part of who we are. Anytime you have a sponsor that embraces their market and who their core customers are, it's great for us" (AP, 3/4).
PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS: USA TODAY's Nate Ryan reports Gossage is "considering tweaks" to the post-race ceremony after aligning with the NRA, as he will "solicit team owners' opinions about altering his victory lane procedure for the NRA 500." Winners of the race for several years "have celebrated by donning a cowboy hat and firing two six-shooters (with blanks) for victory lane photos." Gossage said, "I don't want to affect some sponsor on a uniform somewhere that says, 'I didn't want that picture. I didn't want my driver with a gun in his hand.' Even though it's a cap gun, I don't want to hurt anyone's sponsorship." Ryan notes TMS "plans to keep its time-honored tradition in place" for its Izod IndyCar Series race June 8 and the Sprint Cup race on Nov. 3 (USA TODAY, 3/5).
KNOWING THE TARGET AUDIENCE: In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel writes under the header, "The NRA 500 Will Do The Trick -- Create Interest In A Sport That Needs It." This announcement is a "business decision made by business people who recognize their fan base/membership." Whether the NRA 500 is in "good taste depends entirely where you fall on the gun-rights spectrum," but both Gossage and the NRA "know full well which side of this debate their audience/membership falls." Yesterday’s announcement is "easily the most attention Gossage’s race has ever received about a sponsorship agreement." PR execs "may say this would be exactly the wrong time to form this alliance," but if "you are Gosssage, all of this NRA heat makes it exactly the right time to join" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/5). In Orlando, George Diaz writes, "This is NASCAR's fan base, in spite of all its diversity efforts to shape itself into a more right-center sports organization" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 3/5). NBC Sports Network’s Michelle Beadle said of the NRA/TMS deal, “It’s just a sponsorship to a race. I think sometimes we equate groups like this that are very controversial with being pro something else and that’s not the case. They just happen to be very much about gun rights. It has nothing to do with Newtown.” NBC Sports Network's Dave Briggs said the deal is "good target marketing," but he noted the NRA has been “a tad tone deaf at times.” Briggs: "You don’t think this is another case of tone deaf NRA, just good marketing?” Beadle: “The people who follow NASCAR for the most part are not going to be offended that the NRA is a sponsor.” Beadle noted that NASCAR “knows their demographic better than you and I do, and if they were willing to take the money and put that on their race then I have to believe they're not ready for any kind of controversy” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 3/4).
SOMETHING TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT? YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Bromberg wrote there is "no issue as far as NASCAR is concerned," but "should there be?" It "didn't take a soothsayer to see how controversial this sponsorship would be in the wake of Sandy Hook." Fair or not, the "decision to allow the NRA to buy the sponsorship rights for the race was going to churn up a lot of conversation and debate." In turn, that conversation "could potentially cast the series in a not-so-flattering light of Southern Good-Old-Boys who just don't get it." It is a "perfect litmus test of that tried and true cliche that there's no such thing as bad publicity" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/4). CBS Sports Network's Doug Gottlieb said, "I’m sure the NRA and NASCAR are going to say, ‘Hey look, we have a huge viewing audience that are members of the NRA.’ That’s fine. I wouldn’t do it. I think it’s bad press even if it’s good money” (“Lead Off,” CBS Sports Network, 3/4).