Guard's NASCAR deal leads to virtually no recruits
Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his victory in the National Guard AMP Energy No. 88 Chevrolet following the Budweiser Shootout at the Daytona International Speedway Saturday night, Feb. 9, 2008.
WASHINGTON — The National Guard spent $26.5 million to sponsor NASCAR racing in 2012 to bolster its marketing and recruitment but failed to sign up a single new soldier to its ranks, according to data provided to USA TODAY.
Even though the Guard spent $88 million as a NASCAR sponsor from 2011 to 2013, it is unclear how many new recruits, if any, signed up because of it, according to documents. The Guard on Wednesday would not confirm the figures on prospects and recruits developed through its NASCAR sponsorship.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who will hold a hearing on the recruitment program Thursday, assailed the Guard for "wasting a bunch of money on a very expensive sports sponsorship."
The Guard received 24,800 recruiting prospects from the program in 2012, documents show. In those cases, potential recruits indicated the NASCAR affiliation prompted them to seek more information about joining. Of that group, only 20 met the Guard's qualifications for entry into the service, and not one of them joined.
In 2013, the number of prospects associated with NASCAR dropped to 7,500, according to briefing materials for the Senate subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight led by McCaskill. The National Guard needs 1 million leads to meet its annual recruiting goal of 50,000 soldiers.
The NASCAR initiative, along with the $38 million spent on an IndyCar racing sponsorship, over the same period, will be the target of the hearing led by McCaskill.
The contract entitles the Guard to plaster its logo on the team's car for 20 races, set up mobile recruiting displays at tracks and conduct the NASCAR-affiliated "Race-2-Achieve" recruiting effort in high schools, according to briefing materials for senators.
Rick Breitenfeldt, a National Guard spokesman, said 90% of Army National Guard soldiers who enlisted or re-enlisted from 2007 to 2013 indicated that they had been exposed to information about the service through NASCAR-related recruiting and retention materials. Sponsoring NASCAR and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. puts the Guard's name in front of 77 million fans, he said.
"In today's media-driven environment, a strong branding effort is a good value and helps create a fundamental awareness of the National Guard as a career option," Breitenfeldt said in a statement.
NASCAR draws sponsorships from major corporations because they value the return on their investment, said David Higdon, NASCAR's spokesman. Coca-Cola, Sprint and Toyota, he said in an email, "are in NASCAR for one reason: Because it works."
Earnhardt's win at the Daytona 500, for example, generated the equivalent of millions of dollars in advertising for the Guard, according to marketing research.
The Guard remains alone among the services in continuing its relationship with NASCAR.
"The Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Coast Guard all canceled their sponsorships with NASCAR due to cost, ineffectiveness and difficulty in measuring results," according to the briefing document. "The Army specifically stated that NASCAR was declining against the Army's core target audience and that NASCAR sponsorship had the highest cost per engagement in the Army's portfolio of sponsorships — three times the next highest program."
About one-third of NASCAR's audience is aged 18-35, the Guard's target audience for recruiting, according to the document.
"The leadership of the Guard is probably more in the target range," McCaskill said. "It's probably something they watch.I'm a fan of NASCAR, too. That's not a slam on NASCAR. It's whether or not tax dollars are being used for the intended purpose."
McCaskill intends to ask whether the sponsorship program included perks for Guard leaders at NASCAR events.
McCaskill has placed the Guard's recruiting under scrutiny. In February, she slammed the Guard for a recruiting bonus program that has resulted in criminal investigations of more than 800 soldiers. They allegedly gamed the system and obtained hundreds of millions in recruiting bonuses. Her subcommittee highlighted as much as $100 million fraudulently obtained by soldiers. In one common scam, recruiters registered an unwitting person as a recruiting assistant, then substituted their own bank account for direct deposit of the bonuses.
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