Iditarod troubles


The Nome finish line of the Iditarod/Wikimedia Commons

A California animal-rights group was Monday claiming credit for a longtime sponsor abandoning Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

“Victory!” headlined the website of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Wells Fargo & Guggenheim Partners End Iditarod Sponsorships”

The report Wells Fargo was cutting ties with the Super Bowl of Alaska was confirmed by a Wells Fargo official in Anchorage Monday evening. He said the company expected to issue a statement later on the end of its Iditarod relationship.  The Guggenheim report could not be immediately confirmed.

Wells Fargo has been associated with the Iditarod for almost 30 years. The relationship dates back to the national banking chain’s acquisition of the former Bank of the North.

Only three years ago, Wells Fargo officials gushed all over the Iditarod in an Alaska Business Monthly story which described the 49th state’s Last Great Race as one of Wells Fargo’s “signature events.”

The company was then co-sponsoring a hospitality booth at the race start, and independently sponsoring the Gold Coast Award for the first musher to Unalakleet on the Bering Sea, the Red Lantern Award given the last musher to finish the Iditarod, and the official finishers’ banquet in Nome to wrap up the race.

“This is such an important tradition; the race captures the Alaskan spirit and is all about Alaskans helping Alaskans,” Elaine Junge, vice president and regional marketing manager for Wells Fargo, told reporter Vanessa Orr. “Its rich heritage is so important to what we as a company believe; it reflects our values as a company.”

The Iditarod, which has long been under attack by animal rights activists, was then flying high. It had just run its first race without a fatality, something veterinarians considered a statistical improbability given the many ways dogs can die.

But two more death-free years followed in 2011 and 2012, and there was but one death in 2013 and that came because of a checkpoint handling error.

Iditarod was riding a wave and Wells Fargo along with it. Its Alaska branches were featuring “Iditarod Days”  where members of the Wells Fargo “team” sported Iditarod shirts crafted by well-known Alaska artist and musher Jon Van Zyle.

Dog deaths and bad publicity

From 2010 until this year, the Iditarod was little but positive publicity for the banking giant, but some of the glow left this year with five deaths – three on the trail and two associated with the handling of Iditarod dogs that dropped out of the race – and the screening of the documentary “Sled Dogs” which raised difficult questions about the businesses associated with sled dogs. 

PETA moved quickly to exploit the situation. With mushers across the north enraged by “Sled Dogs” and launching protests, PETA hosted a showing at its Empathy Center on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and embraced director Fern Levitt.

In the wake of the movie, PETA organizers are said to have put together a list of Lower-48 based sponsors to target. Wells Fargo and Guggenheim were reported to be on that list with Exxon Mobil and others.

PETA publicly issued an “action alert” requesting its members and supporters “use the form below to urge Beacon, Chrysler, Exxon Mobil, and State Farm to end their sponsorship of this abusive race in which dogs are run to their deaths.”

Dogs are not run to their deaths in the Iditarod, but dogs have died just as humans sometimes do while running marathons.

The latest animal-rights attack is bad news for a largely sponsored-funded race already struggling in the face of the Alaska recession, but the Iditarod has lived a history of difficult finances. The first race was run with prize money promised before it was collected, and there have been several occasions since when the race has teetered on the edge of financial ruin.

Rick Swenson, the race’s only five-time champ, once remarked that it didn’t matter to him what happened, that he expected the race would go on even if it came down to a small group of dog mushers competing to win a bag of dog food in Nome.

Iditarod finances

Wells Fargo was a second-tier “lead dog” sponsor for the Iditarod. It this year financed online coverage of the race. Lead-dog sponsors contribute $100,000 to $250,000 to the race.

Guggenheim is a “wheel dog” sponsor. Wheel dog sponsors contribute $25,000 to $50,000.

Guggenheim is a global investment firm.  Scott Minerd, the global chief investment officer for the company, has been a big advocate for Arctic development. Alice Rogoff, the publisher of the Alaska Dispatch News, introduced him to Nome and the Iditarod in 2011 when she was the owner of the internet start-up Alaska

Rogoff has long been an Iditarod fan, although after buying the Anchorage Daily News and merging it with Dispatch not long after checkpoint hopping the Iditarod by small plane in 2014, she was forced to drop the former’s long Iditarod sponsorship because of financial difficulties.  The Daily News for years provided the Iditarod with a little cash and a lot of free advertising to market raffles and other fund-raising events.

Both are vital to the race.

More than half of the annual budget of about $5 million comes from cash sponsorships donations. Another big chunk of the money comes from various fund-raising efforts that are fueled by free advertising.

“There are so many examples of this,” Iditarod Executive Director Stan Hooley told Orr. “We get airline tickets from Alaska Air and PenAir, and Anchorage Chrysler Dodge provides the winner’s truck and also gives us four vehicles to give away as raffle prizes.”

Tough times coming?

Anchorage Chrysler Dodge has long been the race’s biggest booster. It’s enthusiasm was driven by Rod Udd, the company owner and the race’s biggest fan. Udd passed away this year, and since his death there have been questions about the size of the role played by Anchorage Chrysler Dodge going forward.

Those knowledgeable as to the value of Alaska advertising say Udd was clearly contributing more to the race than his company was getting back in marketing worth.

As an Iditarod “principal partner” along with Exxon Mobil, Donlin Gold and GCI, Anchorage Chrysler Dodge donated more than $250,000 per year to the race. Donlin and GCI are Alaska-based company’s that get nothing but good spin from the Iditarod, a beloved event in the 49th state.

They are generally considered immune to Outside pressure.

ExxonMobil is a national energy company with more at stake. It already has problems with the environmental community after being accused of trying to cover up climate change.

Animals-rights groups have also been reported to be leaning on Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which now does the bulk of its business Outside. With the recent purchase of Virgin American, Alaska became the nation’s fifth largest airline behind American, Delta, United and Southwest.

PETA has also publicly upped the pressure on some smaller Iditarod sponsors.

“PETA and people all over the world who care about dogs commend the compassionate decision made by (Wells Fargo and Guggenheim),” it said in the Monday blog post, “but recognize that there is still work to be done. Even though many major brands—including Costco, Maxwell House, Nestlé, Pizza Hut, Rite Aid, and Safeway—cut ties with the Iditarod years ago, others, like Coca-Cola, continue to sponsor the event, and they need to hear from you.

“Until the Iditarod is canceled entirely or switches to using only willing, human cyclists, cross-country skiers, or snowmobilers, you can make a difference for the dogs who suffer on the trail. Please join PETA in urging Chrysler, State Farm, Coca-Cola, and others to end their sponsorship of this abusive race.”

Iditarod mushers and fans disagree with just about every word in that last paragraph, but whether they rally to support the race remains to be seen. The Alaska of 2017 is a very different place than the Alaska of 1973 when the Iditarod race began as an effort to save the rich history of sled dog travel in the north.

14 replies »

  1. Sorry … but the PETA stand is purely political and BS. We had owned a timber wolf when I was young, the best animal we’d ever had. He attacked a bear to protect my dad when his rifle jammed, no command, just that he understood the danger my dad was in. He, like these sled dogs, loved to run. While living in the woods, he’d go for a run and often bring back a rabbit for the pot.
    Crying against the Iditarod just shows their lack of understanding … like those that expect to keep children from every getting hurt. If it offends them so much, don’t participate, but leave the rest of us alone that enjoy such things as dog sledding and children playing.

  2. Any company that gives in to the terrorist blackmail of PeTA and HSUS are cowards and don’t deserve our funding or business. These dogs love to race and if they didn’t they wouldn’t do it. Animal rights PeTA is about eliminating animals from our lives in every possible way. They want all domestic species to die out thus their push for mandatory spay and neuter. PeTA does not care about animals at all. See and Read the truth about PeTA PeTA kills 97% of animals that come their way. Anyone who gives to PeTA gives to this murdering of pets. PeTA’s goal is to remove all animals from human contact. This is a very sick organization that only wants to take your money and use it to kill. They do not understand the biological imperative that drove dogs and cats to collaborate with humans. Many animals including Elephants found it to their advantage to work with humans. Note the so called Elephant rescue group in California refused all help to move the elephants they took from zoos and circuses to safety during the california fires. What were they hiding that they refused all help to move these animals to safety. Does any government entity inspect these so called sanctuaries? What were they hiding? How many of these elephants are still alive?

  3. It is ironic that their logo is a team of horses pulling a stagecoach. How many horses were killed? No one will ever know. We severed ties with Wells Fargo before the public found out about their business practices. I’d say good riddance. Pack it up and leave Alaska while they are at it.

  4. Craig,
    Your article is very good, although it leads readers to believe that Wells Fargo just dropped their sponsorship due to pressure from animal rights activists….I believe the truth is that a group of top executives sat down and watched Fern’s movie and decided for themselves to sever ties with the Iditarod. I am sure there will be more sponsors to follow since the movie is just “hitting the big screens” this summer.

  5. Why on earth can’t people see what a sociopathic organization PeTA is? How they continue to get support is beyond me. They USE animals to PUNISH people because they HATE humanity.

    • i could not have said it better PETA HATES HUMANS unless of course you give them money.. they are parasites

    From NC and establishing my own siberian rescue after years of volunteering at our orange and Durham county shelters, I find PETA detestable. The dogs all were labeled for termination. Because of running them, they all found new homes, over 80 in all before moving here to Alaska last year. I now concentrate on Alaskans because of time requirements in the races. I would like to see this changed if anything, which has been addressed this year. Unsure what could be a good answer, but still in hope for the dogs.

  7. Last time I visited San Francisco I was shocked to see a woman taking a Siberian husky for a walk. My Siberian’s idea of exercise was a twenty mile run at top speed across the frozen sound. Her favorite temperature was minus 20. And here’s a husky who lives indoors in California getting a walk around the block at 68 degrees? Where’s the dog abuse here? Not in Alaska!

  8. GET OVER YOURSELVES, PETA! This is an Alaskan TRADITION, these dogs are bred and trained to be Athletes and LOVE the race. So sick of you who try to impose your ideas and will on everyone else!

  9. I remember animal rights people complained to Wells Fargo about its sponsorship of the Iditarod for many years. Insiders say that the bank cut ties with the race NOW because it’s been dealing with a public relations nightmare. In September, 2016, the public learned that Wells Fargo employees created millions of fake bank and credit card accounts. The phony accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to boost their sales figures and make more money. The scope of the scandal was shocking. Customers were fuming. The public was fuming. This scenario along with years of emails against its sponsorship, many dog deaths, the site that popped up on lots of searches, PETA, other animal rights groups and the film caused Wells Fargo to cut the cord with the iditarod. They’re tired of all the bad publicity.

    • So what you’re saying is, if they hadn’t stepped on their own dick to begin with, they’d still be affiliated with the race

      • actually, i think a fairer summary would be too say that Wells Fargo is in a position where it is the most gun-shy of sponsors, Lev.

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