Is NRA/NASCAR Relationship Bad?
With yesterday's announcement at Texas Motor Speedway of the NRA (National Rifle Association) sponsorship of April's 500-mile Sprint Cup race to be held in Ft. Worth, both sides of the gun control argument are letting their voices be heard. What about those of us in the middle? Is this bad? Is this good? Does this even matter? The answer is yes... or no... or maybe.
NASCAR may be seen by some to be sending mixed messages. After all, it was just a few short weeks ago that NASCAR allowed a driver's paint job to solicit financial donations for Sandy Hook victims. Now they're allowing the NRA to sponsor an entire race. Mixed messages? No. It's all about profit margin, and NASCAR (like any other business) knows that whoever the client, the money is the same shade of green. Bad for long term business? You betcha'!
NASCAR has made an all-out effort over the past decade to widen and expand its appeal north of the Mason-Dixon Line. If you watched any of the Daytona 500's pre-race festivities you'd have seen everyone from sport reporter/vixen Erin Andrews to rapper 50 Cent. NASCAR has held races as far north as Wisconsin in an attempt to reach into the wallets of yankees up north. This sponsorship could be just the thing to erase all the inroads they've made.
Everyone knows the NRA has never actually pulled the trigger in a school shooting, a mall shooting, or anywhere other than a gun range. That doesn't mean they're any less polarizing than those that committed the atrocities. The gun debate is as fierce a debate as this country has seen over the last half-century. Regardless of which side of the debate you're on, business is business. This may be a case of winning the battle but losing the war.
NASCAR has been attempting to shed its good ol' boy image as it looks to broaden its fan base. By appearing to side with the NRA, NASCAR has re-enforced (rightly or wrongly) that its fans are beer-swilling, gun-toting southerners out of touch with the 21st century. How much money is enough money to put the long-term future of your "sport" in jeopardy outside the NASCAR hotbed of the south?
It should be noted that the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway will not be the first race sponsored by the NRA. It will be the first Sprint Cup Series race sponsored by the gun advocacy group, having already sponsored the NRA American Warrior 300, a Nationwide Series race held in Atlanta last September. The world didn't end. The Sandy Hook tragedy didn't occur because the killer watched an NRA-sponsored NASCAR race. That won't stop those pushing for gun control from finding every possible angle to further their cause. The same can be said of pro-gun advocates.
The only question I have (being in marketing as long as I've had) would be: Why? Why would the NRA pay for the sponsorship? We know why NASCAR would say yes to the sponsorship... cash money. From the NRA's perspective you're already a household name for 99% of NASCAR fans. Why spend a massive amount of money on people already on your side? They've certainly received a lot of national news because of the sponsorship, but I've always argued that in this world of social media it's no longer "any publicity is good publicity".
The question I'd like to ask is this: With NASCAR's desire to expand into non-traditional demographics, will the NRA sponsorship hurt NASCAR in the long run?