Brandon Brown’s rejected deal has caused a stir.Brandonbilt Motorsports
NASCAR is poised to ban political sponsorships as it seeks to avoid controversies that most recently saw Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown sign a deal tied to the Let’s Go Brandon chant that has become a coded phrase for cursing President Joe Biden.
The sanctioning body started looking at banning political sponsorships in the summer of 2020, when the country was dealing with several issues including the pandemic and a social justice reckoning, but ended up not implementing the policy for 2021.
However, in recent weeks the sport got caught up in controversy around the sponsorship Brown’s team signed but NASCAR later rejected. After winning the Xfinity Series race at Talladega last October, Brown had his exchange with NBC Sports pit reporter Kelli Stavast turn into the Let’s Go Brandon phrase.
Late last month, Brown’s family-owned team, Brandonbilt Motorsports, announced a deal with a meme cryptocurrency based around the chant and said NASCAR had approved it. However, NASCAR sources later said the sanctioning body had not approved it and that a letter was mistakenly sent to the team from a mid-level employee suggesting it was approved. The situation brought scores of unwanted media attention.
Sources say a political sponsor ban could come down as soon as this week. Industry executives surveyed by Sports Business Journal said that they’ll be interested to see the wording of the policy. For example, will it include only political action committees (along with anything that NASCAR deems derogatory, as it did with the Let’s Go Brandon chant)?
Car sponsorship has frequently been used in NASCAR over the years to highlight various candidates and causes, primarily as one-offs at various events.
An outright ban could have a split reaction in the industry, according to executives surveyed. Many of the bigger teams and sponsors will be happy to see political sponsorships banned to squelch controversy, but some mid-level to smaller teams that are less likely to worry about political controversy and just need sponsorship money may not be as receptive. Sources close to the sanctioning body say such sponsorships are not an overly lucrative category.
“It’s the sensible thing to do, and consistent with how other leagues and sanctioning bodies view the issue,” former Richard Childress Racing CMO Ben Schlosser said in an email. “There was a Forbes stat last year that only one in four fans agreed that ‘when I tune into sports I want to hear about political opinions.’ So we know that fans don’t want ‘more politics’ injected into their sports. And this is likely more true when it comes to the casual fan.”
Schlosser said political sponsorship “also presents real challenges for other sponsors” that don’t want to be pulled into a political debate.
NASCAR has been viewed as being a bastion of conservatism for decades, and that’s something its leadership is working hard to shed and be viewed as politically neutral to appeal to more consumers.
“One of the challenges is how do you define a political sponsorship?” Schlosser asked. “Would that include a political lobbying body like the NRA? What about a foreign government like China or Saudi Arabia? I’m sure NASCAR has considered that and is drawing some practical lines.”