Even when journalists try, they just don’t understand Middle America. CBS proved the point with a story on the multi-billion dollar business of NASCAR. Even in a story made possible by the enormous success of the sport, CBS’s “60 Minutes” depicted racing promotions as “hucksterism” and advertisers as “not wholesome” while the product itself was portrayed as an “good ol’ boy Southern Confederate flag sport” hostile to minorities.
Reporter Lesley Stahl’s October 9 piece described the depths of the free market that NASCAR was willing to delve into: “They'll even rename a race for a sponsor. Warner brothers got the “Batman Begins 400” this summer.” Stahl overlooked the fact that sporting events, like college football bowl games, are often named after advertisers.
Stahl also criticized NASCAR’s aggressive marketing, telling CEO Brian France, part of the sport’s founding family “You are unabashed in the hucksterism category.” France had nothing to apologize for. According to a September 5 Fortune magazine story, “NASCAR had total corporate sponsorship revenue last year of $1.5 billion, compared with $445 million for the NFL and $340 million for Major League Baseball.” Fortune added that 106 of Fortune 500 companies are involved as sponsors – “more than any other sport.”
That wasn’t enough to keep Stahl from criticizing NASCAR’s sponsors. When France told her, “I mean, we have limits,” about which sponsors are accepted, Stahl replied: “You do? Could’ve fooled me.” The exchange continued and Stahl complained that “You do Viagra, you do liquor.” Stahl then got to the heart of her critique: “You promote this sport as family values. You are sponsored by things that are just not wholesome. I mean, for years it was cigarettes. I mean, come on. Now it's liquor.” Stahl never mentioned that all of the products she criticized were legal. She was unhappy because they were “just not wholesome.”
Fortunately, NASCAR’s all-time winningest driver Richard Petty was on hand to explain the free market beauty of the sport and its founding family. “They took nothing, and kept working. And over 55 or 60 years this is what you see, okay? That's capitalism.”