This week’s fight will come on the annual defense spending bill, which hits the House floor Wednesday.
The measure includes a provision that Mr. Kingston and Ms. McCollum won in a committee vote that prohibits sponsorships of sports leagues — but that provision may be subject to parliamentary objections on the full House floor. If that happens, the two lawmakers instead will offer an amendment to shift $72 million in funding. That’s $80 million the services had estimated they would spend this year on sponsorships, minus the $8 million the Army has said it won’t spend on the No. 39 car.
NASCAR backers say it’s a major mistake to withdraw money from a league whose fan base anecdotally seems to closely track the same demographics as military recruits. Those fans also are known to be loyal to their brands — so much so that some report shopping in only one home-improvement store over another, based on their favorite drivers.
The league released a report Tuesday that found nearly one-fourth of all Fortune 500 companies have sponsorships with NASCAR teams.
NASCAR spokesman Jon Schwartz said lawmakers won’t be making a dent in the deficit.
“It doesn’t save taxpayers any money because it doesn’t include a reduction in spending by the military. It reallocates marketing dollars away from this valuable channel,” he said. “Singling out sponsorships is like telling a carpenter he can’t bring a key tool to the job site. Leaving decisions like these in the hands of a few members of Congress is misguided.”
The National Guard Association, an outside group that lobbies on behalf of former and current Guard members, pleaded for the funding, saying it was a way to reach potential recruits “where they live and play.”
On the other side of the ledger, a group of veterans last week called on the Marine Corps to end its association with Ultimate Fighting Championship, saying some of the mixed martial arts organization’s fighters engage in anti-gay and hate speech.
Government money hasn’t always been welcomed by sports leagues.
In 2007, the NFL rejected a recruitment ad that the U.S. Border Patrol wanted to run during that year’s Super Bowl as part of its crash hiring spree to fill out the agency’s ranks as President Bush sought to beef up border security.
At the time, the NFL said the ad “mentioned terrorism” and the borders, and a spokesman said the league wanted to stay as far away from an immigration debate as possible.
Mr. Kingston said their intent isn’t to end all involvement with sports and that he hopes military branches continue to set up recruitment booths.
He said the league had a year — since the first efforts in 2011 — to bring hard numbers to make their case for why the investment was worth it, but said they never had the hard figures he was looking for.
“If I’m in this budget climate where for every dollar spent, 40 cents is borrowed, if you’re spending $5 million, you ought to be able to show a congressional oversight committee or appropriations committee what you get for that money,” he said.