Congress cuts Guard’s ad budget for racing

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet.(Photo: Robert Laberge, Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Congress has stripped funding for the Army National Guard’s sponsorship of motor sports following revelations that advertising on race cars did little to generate recruits.

Lawmakers cut the Guard’s advertising budget by $13.8 million, the same amount the service had requested to sponsor race cars, said Maj. Earl Brown, a Guard spokesman.

“Aggressive recruiting is key to maintaining the strength of our military, but Congress has a responsibility to ensure that every taxpayer dollar spent produces measurable results, especially in an environment of diminishing recruiting budgets,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. McCaskill led a Senate panel that examined Guard spending on recruiting and contracting.

“For too long the Army National Guard maintained sports sponsorships that failed to reach target recruiting demographics and provided less value per dollar than other forms of marketing — so it’s my hope the Guard will be encouraged to take a hard look at better, more cost effective ways to get the right return on their investment.”

In August, the Guard announced that it was ending its sponsorships of Dale Earnhardt Jr. of NASCAR and Graham Rahal in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 2014, the Guard spent $105 million on advertising aimed at attracting recruits and enhancing its image. That included sponsorships for NASCAR that cost $32 million and $12 million on IndyCar.

USA TODAY reported in February that the Guard had spent $26.5 million to sponsor NASCAR in 2012 but failed to sign up a single new recruit. Senate briefing documents show that the Guard received 24,800 recruiting prospects from the program in 2012. Prospects indicated the NASCAR affiliation made them seek more information about the Guard. Of that group, 20 met the Guard’s qualifications for entry into the service. Not one of them joined.

From 2011 to 2013, the cost of the Guard’s NASCAR sponsorships totaled $88 million.

The Guard has said it sponsorship of NASCAR was aimed at building “brand awareness” for the service.

The Army National Guard fell just shy of meeting its recruiting targets, according to the latest Pentagon figures. It filled 97% of slots needed to meet its goal.

Scandal has plagued Army National Guard recruiting this year. Investigators have looked at more than 800 soldiers for possible criminal charges for gaming a Guard program that paid hundreds of millions in bonuses to soldiers who persuaded friends to sign up during the peak war years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As much as $100 million may have paid in fraudulent claims, with one soldier allegedly pocketing $275,000 in illegal kickbacks. At least four others made more than $100,000 each. The program paid soldiers $459 million bonuses for referring 150,000 recruits. With little monitoring, the system was abused by some soldiers who claimed referrals for recruits they’d never met.

For more details, visit www.usatoday.com

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