News of sponsor leaked

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

ATLANTA For $80 million, NASCAR won't get a lot of bang for the buck today.

Nextel's agreement to become the title sponsor for what's now known as the Winston Cup Series is big news, but it was old news by the time the sanctioning body made their formal announcement Wednesday at Times Square in New York.

Much like news of a second race at California Speedway, NASCAR had so many leaks of information leading up to the press conference it was telling everybody something they've already known for weeks.

The telecommunications company will take over for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. as the primary benefactor on the nation's most popular racing series. After 31 years, RJR and its Winston brand will divert its dollars away from racing, only to be replaced by the fifth-largest cellular telephone company in the country.

Why? Television.

Even before RJR said it was leaving the sport last February, a plan to replace the tobacco company already was in place. Fox, NBC, TNT and FX all need advertising to recoup the $2.6 billion it pays NASCAR for television rights. Because it's handcuffed by conditions of the tobacco settlements and other laws, RJR can't buy advertising on television.

It's the same reason Union 76 is leaving the sport at the end of the season as the official gasoline supplier of NASCAR. It won't buy television time, so it will be replaced with a gasoline company that will.

Nextel will pay about $80 million a year to be the title sponsor. Nearly $50 million of that will go directly to NASCAR. The other $30 million is earmarked for television advertising.

In the past couple of weeks, NASCAR managed to smooth out the rough edges of the deal. Nextel wanted to be the only telecommunications company in the sport, but it apparently decided to allow Cingular Wireless and Alltel to maintain their sponsorships with race teams. No other telecommunications companies will be allowed in, and if and when Cingular and Alltel leave, they won't be able to return.

PIT STOPS: Citgo announced it will not return as the sponsor for Jeff Burton's Ford at Roush Racing next year. The CART Champ Car World Series is for sale. After going public several years ago, its stock has dropped by nearly 90 percent to about $3 a share last week. One interested buyer might be Formula One, which would turn the open-wheeled series into a training ground.

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