Tobacco Company Picks NASCAR
NASCAR kept its top sponsor Tuesday when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. picked the Winston Cup stock car series as the one program it can bankroll under the 1998 tobacco settlement.
Under the Master Settlement Agreement, with which tobacco companies had to be in compliance by the end of the year, cigarette manufacturers had to reduce their sponsorship to a single program in a 12-month period.
RJR had to choose between NASCAR, the National Hot Rod Association and the Vantage Championship, a Senior PGA Tour event.
RJR said it would end its 27-year partnership with the NHRA at the end of the year. It is still deciding what to do with the Vantage Championship, a golf tournament held near its headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., since 1987.
RJR can continue to sponsor the event, but it can't be called the Vantage Championship because Vantage is another brand of cigarettes.
Rick Sanders, president of RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises, said the decision to cut its ties with the NHRA was difficult, but the opportunities NASCAR provided made it the obvious choice.
``Both NASCAR and NHRA deliver an excellent product to fans, are experiencing tremendous growth and have promising futures,'' Sanders said. ``In the final analysis, however, we had to choose a single sponsorship and felt that the NASCAR sponsorship had the edge in supporting Winston's overall business objectives over time.''
The Winston Cup has been the championship trophy of NASCAR's top series since 1971, with RJR's support of the point fund growing from $100,000 the first year to more than $13 million this season.
Through its partnership, RJR has contributed more than $112 million in NASCAR purse, bonus and points-fund money.
``We are fortunate to have had a long-term relationship with Winston and Sports Marketing Enterprises and look forward to that expanding in the future,'' said NASCAR president Mike Helton. ``Winston has played a key role in the growth of NASCAR.''
The support RJR gets from NASCAR is reciprocal because of the sports' growing popularity.
Because it is banned from advertising cigarettes on television, RJR needed to get maximum exposure through whatever series it chose to sponsor.
RJR gets that in NASCAR, where the average crowd for a Winston Cup race tops 100,000 and the events are televised each week as part of a multi-network TV contract.
Plus, RJR can keep various elements of its stock car racing program, continuing to sponsor bonus programs such as the Winston No Bull 5, as well as the Winston West series.
NHRA, on the other hand, fails to draw 100,000 fans in all three weekend days of racing and the drag races are shown only on cable, usually tape-delayed.
NHRA President Tom Compton was disappointed in RJR's decision.
``We know how much RJR and Winston valued our partnership and appreciate how closely they have worked with us in the decision-making process,'' Compton said.
RJR is also ending its sponsorship of the Team Winston Top Fuel dragster, driven by Gary Scelzi. The Team Winston Pro Stock motorcycle, driven by Angelle Savoie, in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series will also end at the conclusion of the 2001 season.
This isn't the first time the tobacco settlement has affected sponsorship in auto racing.
Three days before the Indianapolis 500 (news - web sites), Roger Penske's racing team agreed to remove the Marlboro name from its cars.
Under the settlement, Penske's team is allowed to use the Marlboro name when it competes on the Championship Auto Racing Teams circuit. But the Indy 500 is sanctioned by the rival Indy Racing League.