Politicians are brands, and as such there is a compelling case that just like other marketers they can benefit from the power of affiliating with sports and entertainment properties.
Political campaigns have long seen the value in reaching mass audiences by advertising during sports programming. According to Front Office Sports, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the campaigns of Donald Trump and Joe Biden purchased 2,801 ad spots during sports broadcasts between August 17 and November 3, the vast majority during NFL action.
But those ad dollars are spent with media companies. What if a campaign wants to benefit from stadium signage or other sponsorable assets? The purchase of sponsorship inventory directly from rights holders opens up a can of potentially nasty worms in today’s highly polarized political climate.
It wasn’t always like this. Twenty years ago, when the presidential primary campaign of Republican U.S. Senator Bob Graham sponsored a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, team owner Roush Racing received plenty of emails from fans on both sides of the political spectrum. But the messages from those who didn’t support Graham simply “expressed their political point of view” and didn’t take issue with the team for signing the deal, John Miller, Roush’s director of business development told IEG Sponsorship Report at the time. “They understand our business structure and the importance of sponsorships to our operation.”
Two decades later, NASCAR has banned sponsorships that are political in nature in the wake of the Let’s Go Brandon phenomenon that had its origins at an Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Properties that don’t have formal prohibitions in place would have to decide whether they would accept sponsorship from a candidate if a campaign came calling.
While the arguments for such a move range from the practical—revenue demands—to the philosophical—supporting free speech—accepting sponsorship from either side of the aisle risk creating a firestorm of negative publicity and alienating a large percentage of a team or event’s fans and followers.
Many sports owners and the athletes they pay will choose to enter the political fray with support, financially and otherwise, for their chosen candidate. But for the businesses they are attached to, remaining out of politics is the prudent decision.