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EDITORIAL: NASCAR wars

Battle brews in Congress over military sports advertising

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Army announced this week that it was ending its sponsorship of NASCAR racing. At the same time, a struggle continues in Congress over whether the military services should be permitted to underwrite any sporting events at all.

The defense appropriations bill contains an amendment that bans military spending "to sponsor professional or semi-professional motorsports, fishing, mixed martial arts, wrestling or other sporting events or competitors" other than high-school sports. The amendment was co-sponsored by leftist Rep. Betty McCollum, Minnesota Democrat, and Tea-Party-backed Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican. For Mrs. McCollum, the amendment is part of an effort to "demilitarize" sports. For Mr. Kingston, it is a matter of fiscal responsibility.

As a fiscal measure, the legislation would have modest impact. The Army budgeted $16.1 million for sports sponsorship last year; the Navy and Marine Corps combined budgeted $6.5 million; and the Air Force will spend $2.6 million. The National Guard has the largest sports underwriting effort at $53.9 million. All together, this represents about one hour's worth of annual defense budget expenditures, or a third of a Joint Strike Fighter. The defense budget won't be balanced by scraping military decals off NASCAR racers.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, is leading the effort to strip the sports-sponsorship ban from the bill, and the Rules Committee last month gave the green light for a floor vote on whether to do that. The Army's announcement to end NASCAR support may be a pre-emptive move to hold onto the funding should another planned amendment commit sports-sponsorship money to deficit reduction instead.

Fiscal conservatives do have a point regarding the need to curb wasteful spending, but America's Fortune 500 companies rely on those 200 mile-per-hour billboards because they work. Spending to ensure our all-volunteer force is the best it can be could turn out to be cost effective.

The pertinent question isn't the amount of the expenditures but whether they achieve the measurable goals of promoting military service and attracting recruits. A House committee report noted "the importance of using marketing and advertising, such as motorsports and extreme-sports sponsorship, for the purposes of recruiting qualified youth to serve in the military and to maintain a positive presence with influencers." Such sporting events attract the same young, predominately male demographic that recruiters are seeking. NASCAR fans are 1.5 times as likely as the general population to serve in the military, and the Army estimates sponsorship of racing produces 46,000 recruiting leads per year.

Those on the left who oppose the "militarization" of sports object to service sponsorship precisely because it works. Fans of NASCAR, extreme fighting and sport fishing are on the opposite side of the cultural divide from people who fret that military sponsorship of sporting events is a form of brainwashing.

If Congress is going to cut government sponsorship of sporting events, it's only fair to cut off the much more sizable federal appropriation for entertainment approved by the left. If NASCAR ads go, so should the subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Call that a target of opportunity.

The Washington Times

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