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Voices from the Heartland: King of Beers Removes NASCAR Jewel From Its Crown

Earlier this year, Brian France stepped up to a microphone and gave a positively glowing report on the overall “state of the sport.” Of course, part of that report reflected on the supposed multitude of corporations just dying to invest in stock car racing.

“There’s more than 100 Fortune 500 businesses investing in NASCAR,” France said at the time. “Investments in corporate America is another positive sign we got the momentum. They’re scrutinizing their budgets, scrutinizing their investments like never before.”

“Time and again, they’re choosing us and we’re real proud of that.”

Of course, it was already public knowledge at that point that Anheuser-Busch, who had been NASCAR’s entitlement sponsor of their second series for nearly a quarter of a century, was pulling out at the end of the year. To France’s credit, he did briefly mention that fact, and thanked them for their involvement in his fragmented manner of speaking that is so reminiscent of the first President Bush.

“Busch Series,” he stated so… confusingly. “This will be the final year of Anheuser-Busch’s long-standing commitment to this series. We want to thank them for their partnership. They’ve been a great partner. We’ll be looking down the road here very shortly at a new entitlement sponsor. This year, we’ll be headed to Montreal for the first time, headed north, building on the success we think we’ve had with going to Mexico City. Had a very successful couple years down there. That series, clearly the No. 2 motorsport (series) in the country, is going to be off to a good start. We’re going to manage through the sponsorship things in an intelligent way.”

“As I conclude today in my sort of update,” France continued back in February, with a straight face that even Bill Clinton would admire. “I think it’s undeniable, a few things. I think it’s undeniable that corporate America, the funding, the investment in the sport, the belief in this sport, the sport on the move, is better than we’ve ever had it. Look at the garage, the car counts, the quality companies that are making this investment. So we really feel good about that.”

During that report, it should come as no surprise that France, in the manner of most politicians whose lips are moving in front of a crowd, forgot to mention a few things. Things such as why Anheuser-Busch was leaving in the first place.

In case you have forgotten, or didn’t care to know in the first place, beginning in 2008, France was asking that company pay more than double the roughly $15 million a year that they had been paying to sponsor what’s now become the “Cup Lite” series. Facing a 100% increase for a division whose fanbase wasn’t exactly growing quite at that rate, the brewing giant promptly declared “last call!” and prepared to head out the door. NASCAR, meanwhile, in the self-inflated manner that has become the norm since Brian France took over, continued to assert that whoever decided to pay the $30-40 million per year would be getting one heck of a great deal.

“I can confirm that there has been great interest from a number of multi-national companies that are interested in this sponsorship,” said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston at the time. “The entitlement would provide the eventual sponsor over $100 million annually in brand exposure, and that, along with the partnership with ESPN2, makes this a very desirable position in sports.”

So, here we are, after the time it takes to create an actual human being from scratch, and that “very desirable position in sports,” believe it or not, has not been grabbed up! How surprising! But never fear: Tony Ponturo, an Anheuser-Busch Vice President in charge of global media and sports marketing, recently offered NASCAR a bit of advice to correct this unfortunate scenario.

“I think they’re probably a little surprised from the initial interest,” he claimed this week. “I think they’ve got to figure out what they have in helping other sponsors, but don’t put a disproportional amount of media support on it (the total sponsorship fee of the “Busch Series.” ESPN, I know, is a good partner, [and] they pay high rights fees, but you’ve got to make it affordable to people (the “Busch Series” sponsorship). They’ll figure that out.”

At the same time that A-B was announcing that Budweiser was going to sponsor Gillett Evernham Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne starting next year, Ponturo assured the media that it has no interest whatsoever in reconsidering its decision to leave NASCAR’s second-tier series. However, Ponturo did say that it was Budweiser’s intent to remain the official beer of NASCAR, and that an offer had been submitted.

“We have a proposal sitting on their desk as we speak,” Ponturo said. “So, we’ll see. Everything is in negotiation. It is our intent to continue. Like all deals, they see what the landscape looks like. It hasn’t been accepted yet, but it is our intent to continue, and they have an offer in front of them.”

Apparently that offer, as the rest of the world found out earlier this week, was Budweiser’s bottom line. A bottom line that NASCAR rejected, beginning a new era for the “Official Beer of NASCAR.”

Enter Coors Light. It’s a third-rate beer that, beginning in 2008, will be the new “Official Beer of NASCAR” after inking a five-year, $20 million deal that was announced this past Tuesday.

I specifically called Coors a “third-rate beer,” of course, in order to perform a highly unscientific poll of how popular it really is. The amount of hateful comments or email I receive among its faithful, to me, is a good indication as to just how “desirable a position” they now find themselves having purchased. No matter what, though, there’s no turning back now; what’s done is done.

In addition to be NASCAR’s official beer, word on the street is that France is also pressing Coors Light to sponsor its “second rate” series. It will be interesting to see what that final price tag will be.

Well, my hat is off to Budweiser through all of this. Perhaps their snubbing of Brian France along with their embracing of the fresh faced heartthrob Kahne will wake NASCAR up. But don’t hold your breath between drinks waiting for it to happen. If you do, your “Official” Coors Light will get warm!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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