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NASCAR Becomes Smoke-Free

Nextel replaces Winston as title sponsor in a 10-year deal believed to be worth at least $600 million.

June 20, 2003|Ed Hinton | Orlando Sentinel

NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. called it "the best-kept secret in pro sports," but that was all tongue-in-cheek. Moments later Thursday, he confirmed what the motor racing world already knew -- that Nextel will replace Winston as NASCAR's major series sponsor, beginning in 2004.

The 10-year contract is believed to be worth at least $600 million to NASCAR and the networks that televise its races. But neither NASCAR nor Nextel officials would discuss money figures at the news conference, held in New York.

What hadn't been clear was the precise new name of NASCAR's championship (it will be the Nextel Cup) and whether NASCAR's popular all-star race, previously known as The Winston, will continue (it will).

The deal is all about Nextel's ability and willingness to spend big money in areas where Winston, as a cigarette brand, couldn't -- such as television and radio advertising, and joint promotions with other companies.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Nextel CEO -- Nextel Chief Executive Tim Donahue was misidentified as Brian Donahue in a Sports photo caption Friday.

"We appreciate what RJR has done," said third-generation driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose family became wealthy largely because of his late father's seven Winston Cup championships.

"It's been a huge, huge catalyst for where we are now. But a lot of things change, and you have to be willing to accept that."

Nextel's direct sponsorship payments to NASCAR are expected to be $30 million a year, with at least that much additionally committed to television advertising. Estimates have ranged as high as $50 million annually to the networks, but knowledgeable neutral sources put the figure at closer to "another $30 million a year for TV."

RJR's three-decade sponsorship had come about soon after the 1971 government ban of cigarette advertising on television and radio. The inability to advertise on television had remained an issue, particularly with Fox, NBC and Turner, the networks in the middle of a $2.4-billion contract with NASCAR.

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