|Rise Up and Register's ad has been banned by ESPN and is creating a buzz.|
Credit: Rick Ware Racing
Faith is deeply rooted in NASCAR as teams bow their head in prayer before every race. No one has ever protested that or called afoul that practice. Yet today the story came to light that ESPN banned a commercial featuring NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Blake Koch and his new sponsor Rise Up and Register, a campaign trying to get fans to register to vote during the crucial election year.
ESPN rejected the sponsor's ad air time due to "political and religious overtones." In a voicemail left for Koch, ESPN cited that they looked at his personal website www.BlakeKoch.com, which is where they found the religious overtones.
Koch appeared on "FOX and Friends" on Thursday morning to discuss the matter.
“I didn't think that my faith in Christ would have an impact on whether or not a sponsor could air a commercial or not,” he said. To view the segment, where Koch plays the voicemail from ESPN, click here.
But a statement from ESPN defended their stance, stating that their decision to deny the ad had nothing to do with Koch’s beliefs. “The spot did not meet our guidelines in regard to advocacy messaging. Blake Koch’s personal religious beliefs played no role in our evaluation.”
I spoke with Koch for his comments on the whole situation. First and foremost he said, "The reason for any of this is nothing negative on ESPN. That is something the fans have done on their own to write and call in, I am not encouraging that whatsoever."
As for Koch, he has been left out of the details since Daytona when this story developed.
"The first time I heard of this was at Daytona, that they would not air my commercial and then we were trying to figure out what to do because that was the activation part of the sponsorship. They would not air it, upfront they (Rise Up and Register) sponsored three races and after Bristol we could not get around this commercial thing so they did not sign on for any other races. I was left without a sponsor for California and that is when FOX News heard about the whole story."
"The main and weird thing is, the ad has nothing to do with religion or particular politics," said Koch.
Now without a sponsor, Koch and Rick Ware Racing intend on racing the entire season but face an uphill challenge.
"Rick Ware Racing is going to do their best to race me all year long, regardless but it's tough," Koch said. "Like in California, we had one set of new tires, that was it. It was a struggle and we do not want to race all year long like that. We had a good start to the year, while we were sponsored we were 10th in points."
Koch has never been quiet about his faith, nor should he have to be. Many NASCAR drivers are very outspoken about their beliefs including Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Michael McDowell and even team owner Joe Gibbs, who has penned books on the subject. Should they not talk on the subject? Furthermore, if they do speak of this in their personal time, should they be penalized?
The message in the advertisement has no religious overtones, as ESPN and Koch stated. As for the political nature of it, sure voting is political, but it is not an ad that is pro-Republican or pro-Democrat, so I personally do not see the problem. Go vote - you have the power to choose and have your voice heard, it is that simple.
If anything good can come out of Koch's story, the exposure could draw potential sponsors to Rick Ware Racing.
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