SBJ/April 30 - May 6, 2007/This Weeks News

Is NASCAR series ready to play chicken?

KFC has emerged as one of the leading candidates to take over title sponsorship of the NASCAR Busch Series, sources say. Subway remains a factor as well, putting two quick-service restaurants in the mix despite a crowded category.

KFC, a car sponsor in 2004, is a candidate
to name the NASCAR Busch Series.

Checkers/Rally’s, Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Arby’s and McDonald’s are among the team sponsors and NASCAR partners in the sport.

Several  companies have moved in and out of negotiations with NASCAR and ESPN sales officials, who are working in tandem to sell the title. The deal is expected to cost the new title sponsor an average of about $30 million a year, about three times what Busch has been spending.

Anheuser-Busch said in December that it would end its sponsorship after a 25-year run.

Yet another dark-horse candidate, Dish Network, could still emerge, sources say, but NASCAR’s existing relationship with DirecTV would seem to make that a longshot. DirecTV, which broadcasts “HotPass,” is NASCAR’s official satellite TV partner.

NASCAR’s top marketing brass will not comment on specific candidates. Spokesman Andrew Giangola said some conversations are further along than others because of the logistical challenge of getting corporate executives in the same room.

NASCAR is not following a timetable, other than the pursuit of a partner before the end of the 2007 season, Giangola said.

Sources also say that NASCAR is pitching at-track rights to prospective sponsors, something that wasn’t part of Busch’s package. Busch, for example, has not enjoyed certain promotional rights at tracks where a competitor had official beer status. That might change if NASCAR can work through conflicts.

KFC is one of five restaurants owned by Yum! Brands of Louisville, Ky. It’s uncertain if any of the other brands — Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, A&W All-American Food and Pizza Hut — might be included in the sponsorship.

KFC’s relationship with NASCAR goes back 20-plus years when it was a sponsor for Junior Johnson’s teams. The restaurant chain has been in and out of the sport since the 1980s, picking up part-time Nextel Cup and Busch sponsorships along the way.

Most recently, in 2004, KFC sponsored Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Busch car as part of a deal that included Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s. KFC sold more than 9 million buckets during that promotion.

Yum! Brands has a presenting sponsorship in another form of racing — the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands — a five-year deal that began last year and brought Yum’s name to the fore for the first time. It marked the first presenting sponsorship ever for the horse race.

Subway has been involved with NASCAR through Nextel Cup race titles at Phoenix and Martinsville, Va., and going back to 2002 titled the spring race at Rockingham, N.C.

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