So it seems that NASCAR (read: the France family) has won the second round of the legal fight with AT&T over the logos on Jeff Burton's No. 31 Nextel Cup car.
This story is about more than just paint schemes—it's a tale of corporate mergers, shady politics, and decision-makers taking money from both sides.
Think Eddie Murphy in The Distinguished Gentleman.
Here's the rub, in a nutshell: After the tobacco settlements, Winston pulled out as the primary sponsor of NASCAR's Cup series. In 2004, Nextel inked a 10-year, multibillion-dollar deal to fill the void.
As part of the Nextel agreement, two other telecommunications companies—Cingular Wireless and Alltel—were "grandfathered" in as sponsors, with stipulations. All others were excluded.
And everything went swimmingly...for a while.
Fast forward to last year, when AT&T reacquired Cingular Wireless. As part of an overall rebranding effort, it was announced that AT&T logos would replace the Cingular logos on Burton's ride.
Needless to say, NASCAR and Nextel were not happy, and the battle ended up in court.
In May, AT&T sought and received an injunction from U.S. District Judge Marvin H. Shoob allowing the logo change. Earlier this month, a three-judge panel from the 11th District Court of Appeals vacated that injunction, allowing NASCAR to demand that AT&T pull the logos immediately.
Score round two for NASCAR and Sprint/Nextel.
Wait, did I just say "Sprint/Nextel"?
And am I the only one seeing a problem here?
I'm not in the telecom industry anymore, but I still keep an eye on what's happening. As of next year, due to a merger, the Cup will be known at the "Sprint Cup."
How is it that it's okay for NASCAR to allow the rebranding of the series title, but not the rebranding of one of the cars? Isn't it a one-for-one trade in either case?
Herein lies the hypocrisy of NASCAR and the France family.
On June 23rd, the NASCAR Busch Series ran the AT&T 250 at Milwaukee. So it's a different series under the NASCAR banner...but NASCAR still collects the sponsorship money, right?
Another example: Not only do the France family run NASCAR, they also own International Speedway Corporation, which operates a number of tracks NASCAR runs on. Victory Circle is sponsored by Gatorade (a Pepsi Co. product), and the July race at Daytona (an ISC track) is the Pepsi 400...but the official soft drink of NASCAR is Coca-Cola.
Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?
The France family is like a politician on the fence—they're taking money from both sides, and acting like it's all okay.
Now, they've finally been forced to choose one wallet over another.
The telecom contradictions don't even end with AT&T. Robby Gordon's No. 7 car was set to be sponsored by Motorola...until NASCAR and Nextel put the nix on the deal. Last I checked, though, Motorola doesn't have a network—and thus doesn't offer the same service as Nextel.
In fact, Motorola makes phones for Nextel, so the too are hardly competitors.
Still, in a sport where sponsor money and product placement are everything, the France family seems intent on playing favorites—while taking money from all.
And man—after all that chicanery, I could use a Coke and a smile.
Or maybe just a Pepsi and a sigh.
Somebody please 'splain that to me!
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