NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. reacts to loss of National Guard sponsorship


Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s emergence as a threat for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship was not enough to prevent the National Guard from announcing that it would drop its sponsorships of both him and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal at the end of the year.

Today at Watkins Glen, Earnhardt said that he didn’t really have any details on the matter: “That’s between the Guard and (Hendrick Motorsports) to sort all that out,” he said.

“Really enjoyed working with them over the last seven years and hope to be able to continue to represent them. It’s a huge honor.’’

In a statement released Wednesday night, HMS said that it had a contract in place with the Guard through 2015 while adding that it hadn’t been approached by the Guard about future changes to that pact.

HMS and Earnhardt have enjoyed the backing of the Guard since the 2008 season, when Earnhardt moved to the team from Dale Earnhardt Inc.

With the Guard’s departure, HMS now has to sell the 20 races that it covered on Earnhardt’s No. 88 car; right now, Nationwide Insurance (12 races), PepsiCo (five races), and Kelley Blue Book (one race) are set to be featured on the car in 2015.

The Guard’s acting director, Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons said in a Wednesday statement that “significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future” helped lead to the decision to abandon its motorsports sponsorships.

This year, the Guard is spending more than $40 million on the combined programs for Earnhardt and Rahal (Earnhardt’s drew $32 million, while Rahal’s drew $12 million).

In additional comments, Earnhardt acknowledged the ongoing debate over military sponsorship in sports but insisted that the Guard’s program has been “very, very effective” in regards to recruiting and brand awareness.

The Guard’s decision to leave motorsports has drawn mixed reactions from fans and also from politicians on Capitol Hill.

In a statement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) – who questioned the value of the Guard’s sports marketing efforts in a Senate subcommittee meeting in May – said that while she loved NASCAR and the Guard, “spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a recruitment program that signed up zero recruits, and that has been abandoned by other service branches as ineffective, just makes no sense.”

On the other side, Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.) relayed her disappointment and defended the Guard’s NASCAR program.

“…With a strong fan base of 77 million men and women, this partnership with NASCAR has resulted in significant exposure for the Army National Guard that has strengthened recruitment and retention,” she said in a statement.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”