Nationwi—err, Xfinity isn't the only NASCAR series that will have a new name. Sprint announced today that it will end its entitlement Cup sponsorship after 2016.
Sprint inherited the Cup entitlement sponsorship after it merged with Nextel in 2008. That original ten-year deal with Nextel was estimated to be for $70-$75 million a year, per Sporting News. In 2011, Sprint opted to extend its entitlement sponsorship for three years at a reduced rate.
As a series sponsor, Sprint was on the hook for the $22 million end-of-season points fund as well as marketing campaigns to promote the series.
Sprint was recently purchased by SoftBank in 2013, a Japanese telecommunications company. The company itself is in a state of transition, having named a new CEO in August and undergoing significant changes to the way it positions itself against larger mobile technology firms such as AT&T and Verizon.
The Sprint Cup entitlement sponsorship, unfortunately, was not part of that plan.
Steve Gaffney, Vice President of Marketing for Sprint, explained it as such:
We are proud of our association with NASCAR's top series but have made the decision not to extend our sponsorship beyond the next two years. As we look to the future, Sprint is focused on investing in maintaining a competitive edge and providing consumers with the best value in wireless.
Sprint has long benefited from the unprecedented level of brand integration available in NASCAR, and the passionate fan base that is the most loyal in sports. Without question, the NASCAR sponsorship property has been a valuable investment for us and will be for our successor.
I can't say this news comes as too much of a surprise. When was the last time Sprint was considered a major player in wireless? Most people I know have gravitated towards AT&T or Verizon with the exception of a small pocket in East Texas that only seems to get T-Mobile reception for some reason. While Sprint clearly appreciates the loyal fanbase in NASCAR, the return on its investment may not have been the best for a company that needs to focus on delivering a competitive product.
NASCAR Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes had this to say on the end of an era:
NASCAR and Sprint have enjoyed a long and productive partnership that has returned significant value to both parties. 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.
Fortunately, this gives NASCAR a full year to court a new entitlement sponsor for the [Insert Name Here] Cup.
If all else fails, they can always call it the ME Series, have a giant cougar trophy and call it a day.
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