Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) must be smiling somewhere in the sweet hereafter. His Golden Fleece Award for government waste, restored with the consent of his estate in 2000 by the non-profit group Tax Payers for Common Sense, has a new contender for 2008. On Oct. 17, 2008, the office of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Charlotte NC area native, announced that the agency was spending $350,000 of taxpayer funds appropriated to advance DTV transition eduction efforts to sponsor a middle of the pack NASCAR racing car driver's No. 38 car "as a high-speed billboard promoting the February 2009 national tansition to digital television." I kid you not. Not to worry, the FCC received a $100, 000 government discount on the deal. This investment, in the words of Terry Malloy, could be "a contender." Setting aside the obvious question of whether the demographic for watching NASCAR racing is among the most at-risk populations for what former FCC Chairman William Kennard called the impending train wreck of the DTV transition (obviously he had got the transportation metaphor wrong). That is, did the FCC's evidence indicate that stock car racing fans are more likely than the average citizen to rely on over-the-air television? One would imagine just the opposite, as avid sports fan in general -- and there is no reason to assume NASCAR fans are different -- seem more likely to be purchasers of cable and DBS services for expanded sports offerings than they are to rely on over-the-air television signals for their entertainment needs.
And, without even stopping to discuss the last time time "NASCAR" and "FCC" were linked in the same sentence, what signal does FCC sponsorship of a stock car racer send to the beleaguered American public in this autumn of our discontent? The FCC Chairman claims that this sponsorship is an "extremely effective way for the FCC to raise DTV awareness among people of all ages and income levels across the United States who loyally follow one of the most popular sports in America." Well, those loyal sports fans will have to be following No. 38 at the three sponsored races with some pretty high-speed binoculars to catch the DTV message. Although the $350,000 does get the government posting of its informational website URL, www.dtv.gov, along the track -- doubtless not the only advertisement to lure spectator eyeballs -- it is primarily receiving posting on the car's sides and on the driver's helmut and suit. Let's just hope No. 38 has a large fan base, does exceeding well in the three races, and, more importantly, avoids accidents, injuries, and fleeting expletives.
Maybe this is just another federal government bailout. On the same day that the FCC announced its investment in NASCAR, the Raleigh News & Observer ran an article entitled, "Global crisis threatens NASCAR." It seems that "motor sport" team sponsorship has been down this year, "with sinking auto showroom sales, declining attendance and rising operating costs." And let's not even talk about the carbon footprint of stock car racing.
The real question is why, in the midst of these troubled times and with only four months remaining before the cessation of analog television broadcasting, FCC leadership believes that this is good use of government resources. It is long past the time for Congressional overseers to do something about this runaway agency. In the meantime, non-racing fans can amuse themselves by thinking up the prize name for this high speed fleece.