- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Sprint announced a three-year contract extension Friday night with NASCAR to remain the title sponsor of the elite Cup Series through at least 2016.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse announced the extension late in NASCAR’s season-ending awards ceremony at Wynn Las Vegas Resort.

He praised the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship as the best ever since its 2004 inception.

“Congratulations to all of the drivers and teams who contributed to the excitement of this amazing series,” Hesse said on stage. “Your passion for the sport and commitment to excellence continue to wow us.”

Steve Gaffney, vice president of corporate marketing for Sprint, said after that Hesse’s enthusiasm was evidence how valuable NASCAR is to the company and an indicator the company will want to continue the relationship beyond 2016.

Gaffney, who wouldn’t discuss the financials of the extension, said Sprint never considered not continuing the NASCAR partnership.

“I’d say the Sprint Cup relationship for us is not only about branding, but it’s also about the number of fans who show us their loyalty by becoming customers,” Gaffney said. “Not only do they become customers, but they are our most valuable customers. I’d say that overall, we see this as bottom line revenues to the company in terms of new customers and valuable customers.

“As we were looking through the negotiation period and considering the relationship and the success we’ve had over the last eight years … it probably wasn’t an option for us not to do it. It’s too important for us.”

The current 10-year contract Sprint signed with NASCAR was set to expire at the end of the 2013 season, but negotiations on an extension had been going on for some time. Sprint officials indicated during the Nov. 20 season finale that they were close to announcing a new deal.

NASCAR’s chief marketing officer Steve Phelps said closing the extension with Sprint would likely help teams in their sponsorship searches. The rough economy has made finding funding difficult, particularly for smaller teams, and the old business model of one company signing up for a full 38-race schedule is falling to the wayside.

Many teams are now cobbling together as many packages as they can and former series champion Matt Kenseth, who finished fourth in the Chase this season, has no sponsor lined up for next season. Although car owner Jack Roush has said he’ll fund Kenseth’s car out of pocket, he last week began laying off employees in anticipation of not fielding his so-far unsponsored No. 6 Ford driven by David Ragan in 2012.

“For our entitlement partner and our largest sponsor in the sport to come back and essentially renew early, for us, is huge,” Phelps said. “I think it provides us with a lot of wind at our back and help those teams that are still looking for sponsorship.”

On behalf of Sprint, Hesse presented champion Tony Stewart with a check for $5.8 million.



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