Sprint won't remain title sponsor of top NASCAR series past '16

BY Jared Turner • December 16, 2014

Citing a need to focus more directly on its core business priorities, Sprint announced Tuesday afternoon that the cellular phone giant has informed NASCAR that it will not extend its title sponsorship of NASCAR's top series after the current agreement expires at the end of the 2016 season.

The relationship between NASCAR and Sprint began in 2004 when Nextel signed a 10-year partnership with NASCAR -- then estimated to be worth at least $70 million per year -- for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. The name changed to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008 as a result of the Nextel/Sprint corporate merger. At the conclusion of the first 10 years, Sprint extended the partnership an additional three years -- taking the contract through the conclusion of 2016.

"NASCAR and Sprint have enjoyed a long and productive partnership that has returned significant value to both parties," NASCAR senior vice president and chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said in a statement. "We understand significant changes within Sprint and the highly competitive business environment it is in has led to a decision not to extend its Cup Series entitlement position following the 2016 season. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a very unique, premium sports marketing platform with strong momentum, so we are very confident of moving forward in 2017 with an outstanding new partner. In the meantime, we look forward to Sprint's partnership on the best racing series in the world for the next two seasons."

Sprint has undergone a change in corporate leadership over the past year, so the decision not to renew with NASCAR wasn't a total surprise. Reaction to the news was swift, nevertheless.

"They've really done a tremendous job marketing the sport from the digital side of things," said Jeff Gordon, who has four top series NASCAR championships but none since Sprint became the title sponsor of the sport's premier division. "I think it's been really great to have a partner to help transcend the sport. When you think of major players in how the sport has grown, I would definitely put Sprint very high up there."

Since the partnership began in 2004, Sprint has worked closely with NASCAR to bring many fan-friendly innovations to life, including the introduction of the FanView next generation scanner (2005), the creation of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile wireless application (2008) and the debut of Miss Sprint Cup (2007), an ambassador program that now has more than 1.5 million social media followers. The evolution of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race pre-race show and the improvements to the Sprint Vision trackside programming also highlight Sprint's portfolio of fan enhancements.

"Sprint has been a tremendous series sponsor for NASCAR's top-tier Cup Series and official sponsor of Texas Motor Speedway since they came aboard in 2004," Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. "While the news is disappointing that Sprint will not renew with NASCAR when their contract expires at the close of the 2016 season, Texas Motor Speedway as well as the entire industry is extremely appreciative of how impactful Sprint's sponsorship has been in helping the growth of the sport and we all look forward to the company doing the same over the final two years.

"Much like 2004, this is an enormous opportunity for a prospective sponsor to join one of the country's most popular sports on its highest level. NASCAR has reached out in advance to industry people like myself to assist them in identifying a replacement title sponsor. We encourage NASCAR to find an active, supportive and long-term sponsor with broad consumer reach and minimal category conflict that proves beneficial to the entire industry in the future."

Michigan International Speedway track president Roger Curtis also weighed in on Tuesday's blockbuster announcement.

"The loss of Sprint will be huge," Curtis said. "They've been such a great supporter of the sport -- everything from the activation with the fans and Miss Sprint -- bringing everything that they do to the track, the championship. They've really done an amazing job and helped us grow the sport from a technology standpoint, and helped us get into the next age. I think NASCAR is healthy and will find another series sponsor, obviously, but Sprint will be missed, no doubt."

NASCAR signed a deal with Xfinity this year to replace Nationwide as entitlement sponsor of the second-tier series, and NASCAR extended its current deal with Camping World through 2022 for title sponsor of its Truck Series.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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