Some sponsors, nervous about controversy, are backing away from the Iditarod Trail International Sled Dog Race.
Animal rights activists complaints about how dogs are treated during the 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, has led outdoor apparel and equipment marketer Timberland Co., Hampton, N.H., and pet food maker Iams Co., Dayton, Ohio, to re-evaluate their sponsorships.
The Humane Society of the United States said at least one dog (more than 1,000 race) has died during the race in each of the last three years.
Ironically, the dog that died this year was owned by Susan Butcher, a four-time Iditarod winner whose love of her animals has been widely profiled. Martin Busher won in record time of slightly more than 101/2 days.
The Iditarod committee in recent years did, at the Humane Society's behest, increase medical supervision for the dogs and institute longer rest stops. But the dispute that broke out about the cause of this year's dog death prompted the organizing committee to kick out David Wills, chief investigator with the Humane Society and the group's representative on the committee.
Iams told the Iditarod Trail Committee in a letter earlier this month it intends to honor the final year of its contractual commitment in 1995, but will not otherwise support the race. Iams, which uses W.B. Doner & Co., Southfield, Mich., for its advertising, has been associated with the race for eight years.
"Rather than continue to ask for major changes in the current format of the Iditarod sled dog race, it is in the best interest of all concerned that the Iams Co. withdraw from active sponsorship of the race," said Bryan Brown, communications director.
The Iditarod committee said Iams' contributed $175,000 in money and dog food this year.
After initially resisting animal rights activists' pressure, Timberland struck a partnership with the Humane Society. Timberland, which had a sponsorship contract that expired 30 days after this year's event, was weighing whether to sponsor next year's race.
Jay Steere, senior manager-events and promotion, said Timberland's decision would be made shortly.
"We are disappointed [about the dispute between activists and the race committee] because we think the nucleus of the Iditarod, the idea of man and woman going on an equal basis against the elements, is a powerful story and one we feel helps us position our brand in a positive way," Mr. Steere said.
He said Timberland's involvement grew from $25,000 in cash and boots for the mushers in 1985 to $1 million this year-including $400,000 in cash for the committee plus expenses for marketing related promotional activities and products.
Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod committee, said this year's sponsors contributed $900,000 in cash and more than $1 million in in-kind services, like clothing and food.
Timberland has based its entire marketing campaign, including advertising by Mullen, Wenham, Mass., on the Iditarod.
"Timberland understands the value of sponsorship of this event for them," said Mr. Hooley. "The dilemma [for Timberland] is how difficult are these special interest groups going to make it for us."
More than 40 marketers are sponsors of the event. Alascom, an Alaska satellite communications and telephone company, backed out of this year's race. And Chrysler Corp. moved funding from the race itself to Alaska Dodge dealers.