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August 3: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on sled dog race sponsors:

Posted: Monday, August 07, 2000

Face it, those big checks from Outside sponsors are the bane of the sled dog racing circuit.

Sure, the potential rewards are as tantalizing as lottery tickets. Observing the cash well-known sponsors willingly shower on all-so-civilized, competitions elsewhere, the lure of our mountain-conquering, ice-running, cold-defying dash across the Yukon wilderness would appear irresistible.

For beleaguered race organizers coping with the logistical nightmare of staging the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, obtaining long-term financial stability by landing a major corporate sponsor must hold appeal rivaling the Holy Grail.

But the lessons keep coming.

Time and again, Alaska's state sport has been jolted by the sudden loss of big sponsors. Iditarod, being the older, higher profile mushing marathon, has borne the brunt of attacks from the animal rights community, which extended to a boycott of major sponsors in the early 1990s. Some of those sponsors, notably Timberland, sought to dictate how Iditarod mushers dressed and behaved on the trail, even the placement of patches from team backers.

On a smaller scale, the Quest has witnessed the effects of attempting to please Fulda, a German tire company, which flooded checkpoints with European video crews, and dangled the promise of bigger checks if the traditional trail was jettisoned in favor of a looping run to and from Canada.

Sorel, the Canadian bootmaker landed as Quest title sponsor a year ago, promised to be a better fit.

Gripes about the addition of Sorel to the Quest's name faded in the presence of executives who seemed genuinely caught up in the spirit of the event. Assisted by the timely ascension of Aliy Zirkle, the first woman to the join the Quest's pantheon of champions, the partnership with Sorel looked to be the ticket garnering national exposure for the world's toughest race.

Alas, the bootmaker that generously put up $30,000 for the 2000 race with promises of more this coming season -- now faces bankruptcy, rendering its sponsorship contract unenforceable.

Fortunately, Quest organizers caught wind of the bootmaker's troubles this spring, a forewarning that cushions the loss of Sorel's check.

We suggest the events are a reminder Alaskans and Yukoners -- individuals, homegrown companies and local offices of national outfits -- must be viewed as the financial mainstay for sled dog race organizations.

Lotteries and raffles, fun-spirited events such as the Dog-gone Canoe Race, and the Quest's annual crab feed as well as the race banquets --locally based race promotions of this nature breed a sense of involvement, expanding the pool of fans supporting the race.

Perhaps the Quest might follow Iditarod's lead in staging a fund-raiser in the mold of the ''Idita-ride'' auction. By hauling paying riders through the streets of Anchorage on a ceremonial lark, Iditarod mushers routinely generate thousands of dollars for the purse divided between race finishers.

Big sponsors come and go.

The mettle of the Quest's dogs and mushers, and the challenge inherent in their gold-rush run, is best appreciated by those who share a love for this North country.



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