Sports

Caffeine rush: Monster Energy to sponsor NASCAR's top series

LAS VEGAS — NASCAR announced an agreement with Monster Energy on Thursday that makes the energy drink maker the title sponsor of its top series in 2017, ending a lengthy process of finding a replacement for Sprint.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France declined to provide financial details or the length of the deal, saying it was a "complicated agreement" that includes option years. It was believed to be for less money than Sprint's multimillion-dollar sponsorship.

"It's a different kind of agreement, for sure, in that is has activation in different ways and media in different ways," France said at a news conference with the NASCAR and Monster logos serving as a backdrop. "But we're quite pleased with the agreement and there will be no changes at all (to operations budgets). In fact, I think you'll see some additional activation and additional things that will occur."

France indicated they're still in discussions with Corona, California-based Monster Beverage Corporation on the exact name of the 2017 Cup series.

Cellular company Sprint's 13-year run as title sponsor ended last month, when Jimmie Johnson captured his record-tying seventh series title in the season finale at Homestead.

NASCAR had hoped to have a new sponsor in place by early fall. The delay had produced uncertainty for a sport that has suffered attendance and television ratings declines in recent years.

"I'm so excited for it," said Joey Logano, who finished second behind Johnson and watched the news conference with several other drivers in a Las Vegas Strip hotel ballroom. "I'm sure it will be a great partner for our sport. Sprint has been unbelievable through my career."

The lack of a deal led NASCAR to announce details of its 2017 season-opening non-points race at Daytona without a sponsor, something Sprint had handled in the past. Monster Energy will sponsor NASCAR's All-Star race, which Sprint had done.

Steve Phelps, NASCAR's global marketing officer, said they talked with "hundreds of brands" about the sponsorship deal, finalizing it a day before NASCAR's season-ending banquet at the Wynn Las Vegas.

"I know the industry was starting to get a little bit nervous about the timing of this. But the timing is actually perfect," Phelps said. "We didn't step on our championship and what happened in crowning a seven-time champion. We didn't step on our existing partner, and we were very, very patient to find the right partner."

Monster's caffeine-filled energy drinks, known for its green clawed-M logo, are targeted to young consumers and NASCAR has stressed the importance of finding younger fans.

"We do have some ideas about how we can make NASCAR more attractive to what I would call a different audience," said Mark Hall, Monster's chief marketing officer.

Monster Energy was already involved in NASCAR, serving as primary sponsor of Kurt Busch's No. 41 Cup car at Stewart-Haas Racing. It has also sponsored Kyle Busch in the Xfinity Series.

Kurt Busch said his individual sponsorship deal and long-term personal services contract with Monster will continue.

"It won't affect our situation," Busch said. "They've been very happy with what we've done together."

Monster created additional publicity this week with its logo splashed on Tiger Woods' golf bag as he makes his return from injury in a tournament in the Bahamas. It has also been a sponsor in motocross and Formula One.

Monster Beverage announced last month that third quarter net sales increased 4.1 per cent to $788 million from the same period a year ago. It announced a strategic partnership in 2015 that gave the Coca-Cola Company a 16.7 per cent stake in Monster. The two companies share distribution networks.

Monster takes over for Sprint, which inherited the NASCAR deal when it merged with Nextel in 2008. Sprint announced in December 2014 that it would not extend the deal.

Nextel has replaced cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which had sponsored NASCAR's top circuit since 1971 under its Winston brand. That deal ended in 2003 in part because of the tobacco settlement with the federal government that reduced the industry's ability to advertise.

Thursday's announcement gives NASCAR and Monster a little more than two months to prepare for the start of 2017 season, which begins with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. Previous title sponsors have spent tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport.

"They understand motorsports. They understand NASCAR," France said of Monster. "They understand how to reach across and excite our core audience and help us deliver on a new audience. That was very exciting for us."