BENTON – Auto racing and high-profile drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. are getting the bulk of attention, but Marshall County-based FLW Outdoors also has a sizeable stake in a debate going on in Congress.
The tussle is over sports marketing activities by elements of the U.S. military.
An amendment attached in the House Appropriations Committee Thursday to the Defense Appropriations Bill would prohibit the military services from spending any money “to sponsor professional or semi-professional motorsports, fishing, wrestling or other sports.”
Earnhardt’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is perhaps the most visible example of the National Guard’s sports marketing efforts, but the Guard is also the title sponsor of FLW’s College Fishing series and of the FLW Walleye professional tour.
The National Guard also sponsors six top-level pro bass anglers, including defending Forrest Wood Cup champion Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla.
Coincidentally, Martin took the lead in the FLW tournament being held just south of Washington, D.C., on the day the amendment co-sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum and Georgia Republican Jack Kingston was attached to the appropriations bill.
Martin went on to win the event, with another National Guard-sponsored fisherman, Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Ala., finishing second.
The National Guard was also the presenting sponsor of the event on the Potomac River at National Harbor, Md.
“It’s been a topic of conversation,” FLW public relations specialist Chad Gay said of the legislation, which now moves on to the House floor for more discussion.
McCollum raised the issue a year ago, with an unsuccessful filing of a bill that targeted NASCAR sponsorships for termination.
Kingston joined forces with her this year, questioning the value of the dollars spent in sports marketing.
Earnhardt, at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s NASCAR all-star race, challenged Kingston’s doubts, saying that the legislator had never been to a race to see racing marketing efforts in action.
Gay echoed Earnhardt’s claim that the sponsorship money is well spent.
“It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said.
The National Guard’s investments, according to McCollom’s website, are valued at $20 million for fishing and $90 million for motor sports in 2011-2012.
“We would certainly hate to lose that relationship,” Gay said. “They’re a big sponsor of ours. They’re great.”