Did you know the Pentagon spends $80 million a year on NASCAR events, ultimate cage fighting, bass fishing tournaments and other sports? On Wednesday night, the lucrative business of military sponsorships took a rare turn under the congressional microscope, opening the books up on a range of popular and oddball events the Pentagon uses for recruiting. With a budget crisis looming at the Pentagon, an attempt at reining in sports sponsorships surfaced with a bipartisan amendment to cut the program by $72 million. Last night, the amendment failed in a 281-148 vote, but not before a spirited debate about the big ticket sponsorships. Here's what legislators were fighting over.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Slapping your logo on NASCAR's most popular driver comes with a hefty price. Over the last five years, the National Guard has paid Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s racing team $136 million in taxpayer dollars to put their logo on his car and jacket. This year, Earnhardt is lined up to get $26 million, a sum Rep. Betty McCollum took issue with. "It is irresponsible and outrageous to think this Congress would be willing to borrow money from China to pay one race car driver and his team $26 million for delivering zero recruits!" she told lawmakers. According to ABC News' Luis Martinez "The Guard argued it was money well-spent given how Earnhardt’s popularity gets it more value and exposure for its brand beyond what it is paying for the contract."
The Air Force's big ticket item is on NASCAR driver Aric Almirola. On a number of races this season, it will be the primary sponsor of his car, with logos displayed on the car's hood and sides. The Marine Corps and the Navy ended its sponsorship of NASCAR in 2006 and 2008 respectively after concluding that it wasn't targeting the desired age range of military eligible males.
Bass Fishing Tournaments
A range of professional bass fishing tournaments are sponsored by the military, which made for an easy target last night. “We’re in a fiscal crisis here,” Rep. McCollum said. “Bass fishing is not national security.”
Ultimate Fighting Championship
The big ticket item for the U.S. Marines is its sponsorship of Ultimate Championship Fighting, which also drew guffaws. Still, a number of lawmakers defended the recruiting efforts, such as Rep. Steven Palazzo, who said there was “no reason Congress should be telling the Department of Defense where and how to spend money," according to the Associated Press.
National Hot Rod Association
While the Army has given up on NASCAR, ABC reports that "it will still have a presence on the racing tracks of the National Hot Rod Association, where it feels it gets more bang for its buck." That's an assessment based on what sports men aged between 18 and 34 are watching.
The National Guard's poster boy for IndyCar racing is driver JR Hildebrand. The IndyCar series made a point of telling Congress how important it was to recruiting National Guard troops, signing a letter saying, "Sports marketing has long been an important element in the U.S. Armed Forces' efforts to reach young adults and active duty personnel regarding the military's missions and objectives that serve our country." For now, all these sports leagues can rest easy--a point that will probably be a bone of contention if the automatic defense cuts go into effect in January.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.