Talks To Extend Sprint’s Cup Series Title Sponsorship Will Begin Soon

Feeling bullish after the first season of the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, NASCAR COO Brent Dewar expressed plenty of confidence about the future during a one-on-one interview yesterday at the '14 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum, held at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas. Dewar said the mainstream allure of the new knockout-style Chase reinvigorated both fans and the industry, leading to growth in ratings and the potential for new sponsorships. Dewar said he expects more drama in the early part of next season as drivers start to utilize what they learned this season about how the new format works. He added that he expects ESPN to continue to cover the sport meaningfully despite the fact that media rights are shifting to NBC and Fox. Dewar, a longtime GM exec before joining NASCAR, also revealed that he and other key execs will soon begin talks with Sprint, whose title sponsorship runs through '16, about a new deal. Citing Sprint's recent challenges in the telecom industry, Dewar conceded that the task will be a tall one. "That will be a big effort," he said. The following are other highlights from the interview.

* On the changes he has seen in the sport: "About five years ago, when I left General Motors, I met with (NASCAR Chair & CEO) Brian France and he talked about his vision of where he wanted the sport to go — technology, change, driving new fans, more transparency. I remember thinking at that time, 'Good luck with that, Brian.' And it's really gratifying to see, now five years later, a lot of the things that Brian talked to me about at that lunchtime in New York have really come to bear."

* On expanding fan demographics while remaining true to longtime fans: "What everybody loves about NASCAR is the exciting aspect of the sport and the fans that come with it. That's still alive and well. But to grow, we have to attract new fans. Every sport in some ways has to. We have to attract casual fans, Millennials and youth and also a much more diverse fan base. … [But] we need to bring our core fans with us. Our avid fans are our gold."

* On how NASCAR views the Racing Team Alliance: "The simplest way to say it is, an integral part of our sport is working closely with our teams. That won't change. I think it's an interesting thing. There's challenges to the ecosystem, for both the sanctioning body and the teams. I think we're more alike than different. And I think a lot of the things that they challenge with — on how to get their structural costs right, how to challenge on the revenue of the model, how to bring more into the model — those are not different. What we want to make sure the teams do is, they compete on the track as aggressively as they always have and will continue to do."

* On whether there should be a new ratings measurement: "The ratings are important, absolutely, because it's still a syndicated measuring device. But it has to change. We're changing. We look at fan consumption. At NASCAR, we have broadcasts. But if you look at myself — I'm not a Millennial, but I consume sports differently today, and many of the sports I consume are in a non-measured way. I saw more World Cup games than I've ever seen in my life, (but) I think I only saw two sitting in front of a TV set. I had them on my iPads because we're racing, traveling. And those are technically unmeasured. And I think we need to look at a much broader consumption metric. We still have very good numbers in broadcast — but the digital consumption is incredible. We have on any given race day 1.4 to 2.0 million race uniques on digital properties; more than 8 million per week. We have four different products and so (the ratings) have to reflect that."

* On what changes he'd like to see in broadcasts as NBC takes over: "It's really about the story lines. At the end of the day I'm a fan, so I want to be entertained. We've got so many great story lines. The first time I went to Lambeau Field and went on the frozen tundra, it had those story lines. I think there's an opportunity to go deeper than just the transactional aspect of the event. I think that's a challenge for not just NASCAR, but all sports. And I think if you want a deeper experience with our true fans, we have to have better story lines. That's not on ESPN and Fox; that's on us, as well."

* On growing NASCAR's international brand: "You may not realize it, but NASCAR has a very strong global brand. I was living in Brazil for six years and I watched NASCAR races broadcast in Portuguese, and there were a lot of fans besides myself. And what we're trying to figure out with the new IMG deal is how you build an ecosystem and brand more effectively in those markets. … We get tweets every week from a fan in the U.K. or Asia, so the connectivity is already happening on the social media and digital side."

* On growing corporate sponsorships: "Of all the different things I try to do, that's one of the most important: trying to understand how to present our product — from small companies to big companies — and trying to demonstrate that something new and different is happening at NASCAR. If you haven't been around NASCAR in the last four or five years, you haven't been around NASCAR. … The encouraging aspect is we've had more companies come back into the sport over the last three years. Some are just dipping their toe in the water; we’d like them to jump in with body suits. But that's the encouraging part: People aren't leaving the sport and there are more entries than exits." Adam Stern/

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