• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, March 09, 2009

SPORTS MARKETING UNDER FIRE

Sports marketing is in the cross hairs of Washington politics. Motorsports better take cover.

Anything that can be tagged as "wasteful" or "lavish" spending is getting denounced in the halls of Congress, by media hoping to tap into populist outrage, and in the court of public opinion. Recently, Northern Trust got headlines it could have done well without, for its title sponsorship and activation of a PGA golf tournament. Video of celebrity entertainment at a dinner for NT's customers found its way onto the network news and drew the oh-so-predictable ire of all the usual Congressional suspects. Wells Fargo, which now owns Wachovia, yanked W's name off a tournament and chose a non-corporate title rather than putting its own ID on it.

The message is clear: Any corporation accepting taxpaper money is going to be an easy target. What used to be considered legitmate marketing now is an unnecessary expense.

With word last week that even General Motors' auditors view it as a company on-the-brink, and Chrysler also on the receiving end of what is labeled with the generic "bailout," how much longer will it be before racing budgets get steered into the political center-stage? It probably already would have happened if not for NASCAR's own long-engaged lobbying efforts and the recognized electorial force of a voting strata known as "NASCAR dads."

A continued business downturn, and maybe evidence of attendance and TV ratings weakness, could help change that.

I understand why he did it, but it was painful to see Greg Biffle feel the need to offer a defense for sponsor Citi after winning the Nationwide race in Las Vegas.

I just read that Chevrolet is trying to sell-off its VIP suites at the NCAA Final Four and, if it can't, will leave them vacant. How many speedway suites and chalets and tents have gone unsold so far this year? How many more by season's end?

I truly pity the travel, leisure and hospitality industries, among America's largest employment sectors. Conventions and receptions in this economic and political environment are as taboo as peanuts used to be in the pits at Indy. Interesting to me that in four states which benefit the most from tourism -- Nevada, California, Florida and New York -- six of the eight U.S. senators are Democrats. Including, of course, senate majority leader Harry Reid.
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FAST LINES: Congratulations to good guy and fellow Scottsdaler Didier Theys (left), who announced his retirement last week. I first met Didier in 1986 when he won the championship in the old Bosch Super Vee series. He went on to success in Indy Lights, was in CART, and qualified for three Indianapolis 500s. But he's best known as a winner in endurance sports car racing, including Daytona and Sebring. Theys, 52, said he planned to retire at the end of 2009 but the worldwide economic downturn made it impossible to put together a sponsorship package for this season . . . Some people still get it: Thanks to Kelby Krauss for the outreach last week. Kelby did it the old-fashioned way -- He picked up the phone and called me. NHRA's Anthony Vestal sent a hand-written thank you note for my Firebird coverage. Kenny and Brandon Bernstein mailed their own thank you letter . . . Disspiriting -- Dave (King) Wilson off-the-air at WIBC in Indianapolis due to the economy . . . Please note Sunday's NHRA Gatornationals final eliminations this Sunday are on ESPN, not ESPN2, due to a coverage conflict with the World Baseball Classic. Qualifying and all other NHRA races are on "2" . . . One of the worst things I've ever seen -- The iconic yellow and black Ferrari Prancing Horse logo on a UPS-brown baseball cap. Whoever thought that was a good idea probably would like to see Reese Witherspoon with purple hair. (!)

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]