Many Nationwide Series drivers will do almost anything to get their sponsors more publicity.
Blake Koch and his sponsor were even willing to pay ESPN for exposure.
Blake Koch says that ESPN rejected his sponsor's commercial in part because of his religious activism. (NASCAR Photo)
But ESPN rejected the advertisement from Koch’s sponsor, the Rise Up and Register Campaign, which is designed to educate people about the importance of registering to vote in upcoming elections.
Koch said the network rejected the advertisement, in part, because of his religious activism. A devout Christian, the 26-year-old driver often speaks at churches on race weekends, at numerous religious outreach events and on television shows.
“Their whole campaign was to run that commercial on ESPN, and they wanted to get in front of the NASCAR fans,” Koch said about his sponsor in a phone interview Thursday. “They didn’t care about any other network.
"We found out Friday at Daytona (in February) that they weren’t going to air the commercials due to
political and religious overtones, and they said particularly on (my) BlakeKoch.com website.”
While the campaign's website does not promote specific religions, it does include links to Koch's site, which promotes his ministry and other religious programs.
ESPN issued a statement Thursday, saying, “The spot did not meet our guidelines in regard to advocacy messaging. Blake Koch’s personal religious beliefs played no role in our evaluation.”
The campaign, which Koch said is nonpartisan and not religion-based, has now decided to stop sponsoring the Rick Ware Racing car. Koch, who is 20th in the Nationwide Series standings, said he plans to continue to race.
“My goal is not to beat up ESPN,” Koch said. “I have nothing bad to say about ESPN. They can air whatever they want to air. It’s their network. I watch ESPN all the time; I think they do a great job of airing our races.
“That’s not what I want to come out of this at all. But one thing I’m not going to do is stand away from my faith just to please (someone).”
Koch admits he’s a little unsettled with the publicity the issue has generated. He was on “Fox and Friends” today to talk about the issue at the campaign’s request, telling host Brian Kilmeade, “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.”
The publicity sparked interest from fans, who began contacting him on Twitter, as well as from other media outlets.
“I’m not an argumentative person,” Koch said. “I’m not opinionated. I don’t like conflict. I just like to be accepted for who I am.”
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