NASCAR Nextel sponsorship in jeopardy?

UPDATE Sprint Nextel officials Tuesday reiterated the company's commitment to NASCAR despite the recent merger of the two companies and the pending departure of two marketing executives who handled Sprint Nextel's management of its Nextel Cup sponsorship. Mark Schweitzer, the chief marketing officer from Sprint Nextel, said the company has no plans to back away from its 10-year deal (reportedly $75 million per year) that began in 2004 to sponsor the Nextel Cup Series. Schweitzer said there are not many outs in the contract and added that the sponsorship cannot be transferred and it cannot be sold. Sprint Nextel also has contracts with the tracks and is also committed to spend an undisclosed amount of advertising in conjunction with the sponsorship. Sprint and Nextel completed their merger in 2005, and the series name is expected to change. Schweitzer said original plans called for a decision on whether to make a name change by last February, but that decision has been delayed until "the middle of this year. We want to make sure that, if we were to make a change, it isn't detrimental to the equity that we've built up, particularly in support of our Nextel product," Schweitzer said. Schweitzer was speaking an attempt to dispel questions about the company's commitment to the sport with the pending departure of Michael Robichaud, vice president for sports marketing and Nextel Cup program marketing manager Jill Gregory. Gregory is going to Bank of America to help activate its NASCAR sponsorships, while Robichaud plans to pursue other opportunities. NASCAR Daily Scene 04/03/06 A major shakeup appears under way in the Sprint-Nextel sports department with two top players leaving, and that has the NASCAR garage abuzz with questions about the company's future in NASCAR stock-car racing. Jill Gregory, the director of NASCAR Nextel Series marketing since 2004, is leaving to join Bank of America's new NASCAR marketing operation. And Michael Robichaud, vice-president of sports marketing for Sprint-Nextel, and formerly Nextel's director of sports and entertainment marketing, is also leaving, though his next job is up in the air. And there is intense speculation here that Sprint-Nextel's chairman, Tim Donahue, who made the original deal with NASCAR before last year's merger, may be leaving, too. All that increases speculation that officials on the Sprint side of the company are taking control from all the key Nextel people. Sources here say that might not be good for NASCAR, because they say Sprint executives generally aren't fond of NASCAR and might try to unload the $70 million a year, 10-year sponsorship, perhaps by selling it to another company. Winston Salem Journal

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