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Busch goods for 21-and-over only

2/16/2005

Young fans of Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch will be confronted with a new reality if they visit the team's souvenir trailer at the Daytona 500 this weekend.

If they want to purchase a piece of licensed merchandise featuring Busch's 2005 car, they'll have to flash identification proving they are 21 years of age. And if parents are looking to purchase Busch merchandise for their children, that's not going to happen either, as all outerwear will come in adult sizes only.

Busch's young fans could be considered a casualty of the latest alliance in NASCAR, as alcohol sponsorship was expanded to include the hard liquor category this offseason. Jack Daniel's took Dave Blaney's car; Jim Beam scooped up Robby Gordon; and Diageo tabbed Busch to tout its Crown Royal and Smirnoff Ice brands.

Although NASCAR is requiring each of the companies to spend 20 percent on alcohol responsibility campaigns, Diageo officials voluntarily decided to impose an age limit on who can buy logo gear at the track, as well as avoiding clothing in children's sizes.

They also chose to attach Crown Royal and Smirnoff Ice diecast model cars to a base that will keep the wheels from moving, hoping to discourage children from playing with them.

"We don't want people to misunderstand our intentions," Guy Smith, Diageo's executive vice president, said. "We don't want people to say, 'They're doing this so that they could get toys with their brand into the hands of little kids.'"

Fans of Blaney's No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet also will face similar limitations, according to Richard Childress Racing's public relations manager Matt Klug.

"Eventually I think they plan to offer a [diecast] car for kids without the Jack Daniel's logo," Klug said.

There will be a separate line of Blaney clothing coming out for children that does not have Jack Daniel's name emblazoned on it, though it will carry the No. 07 car number, which also is a reference to the Old No. 7 Brand.

Blaney, who has three children -- ages 14, 11 and 6 -- said he is glad kids eventually will be able to buy T-shirts and diecast cars that do not include his main sponsor.

"We'll have a full kids' line, and I feel really good about the way Jack Daniel's does their advertising," he said.

As far as what he has told his own children, Blaney said it hasn't been an issue.

"It's my job to teach them about the ways of the world," he said. "If I do my job right, they'll be OK."

For NASCAR's part, the sanctioning body is taking a public stance that it is not regulating merchandising.

"It's every team's decision as to how they want to handle the sale of merchandise," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "Diageo has decided to do it this way, and they're taking a leading role."

Poston said that Diageo's conservative licensing program isn't entirely new. Dale Earnhardt Jr. model cars made for children are red and have the No. 8 on it, but don't have the Budweiser logos.

And it's not an uncommon sight this week at Daytona International to find parents wearing Junior's Budweiser shirts while their children sport Junior shirts with Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers logos on them.

Jim Beam, sponsor of Gordon's No. 7 car, says that its diecast cars will be made in a larger scale size to try to keep kids from playing with them.

Critics say the proliferation of restrictions on merchandising proves the alcohol business doesn't have a place in NASCAR.

"These companies shouldn't be sponsoring a car in a sport that, over the last decade, has been pushing more and more to become family entertainment," said Laurie Leiber, spokeswoman for the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog.

Despite Diageo's self-imposed restrictions at the souvenir stand, Leiber said a brand such as Smirnoff Ice -- which will appear on Busch's car on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day -- is clearly meant to target a younger demographic.

Smith disagrees with the premise that his company is using NASCAR to target youth.

"If I'm using NASCAR to target kids, I would have gotten an F in Marketing 101," Smith said. "That's because 88 percent of NASCAR's fan base is over the legal drinking age."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.