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Sprint to end NASCAR sponsorship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sprint has informed NASCAR that it will not extend its title sponsorship of the organization's top-tier racing series beyond the current contract, which expires after the 2016 season.

Sprint has been the entitlement sponsor for NASCAR's top series since 2004, when Nextel signed a 10-year agreement for the Nextel Cup Series. The name changed to the Sprint Cup Series in 2008 following the corporate merger between Nextel and Sprint.

Sprint agreed to a three-year extension that took the contract through 2016.

"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," Steve Gaffney, vice president of marketing for Sprint, said in a Tuesday statement. "Without question, the NASCAR sponsorship property has been a valuable investment for us and will be for our successor."

Now, the company is citing "a need to focus more directly on its core business priorities," in ending its relationship with NASCAR. SoftBank bought out Sprint in 2013 and the change in leadership has led to a new CEO and changing marketing strategies.

The announcement Tuesday gives NASCAR two seasons to find a replacement, and NASCAR chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said the series understands that significant changes within Sprint led to the decision.

"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," Jewkes said in a statement. "In the meantime, we look forward to Sprint's partnership on the best racing series in the world for the next two seasons."

Sprint's exit means NASCAR will enter a new entitlement agreement for just the fourth time since 1971, when RJ Reynolds began its 33-year sponsorship of the top series through its Winston brand. RJR pulled out after the 2003 season and Nextel stepped in until Sprint's corporate merger.

Sprint is responsible for funding the season-ending point fund, which was approximately $22 million this past season and awarded $4.8 million to first-time champion Kevin Harvick.

Nationwide recently ended its seven-year run as entitlement sponsor of NASCAR's second-largest series, saying that it planned to spend more on track sponsorships and in the Sprint Cup Series. Comcast Corp. bought those rights through 2024 and it will be called the Xfinity Series.

Camping World's sponsorship of the Truck Series runs through the 2022 season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.