Friday, September 7, 2007

Settlement: AT&T can appear on Burton car through 2008

RICHMOND, Va. - AT&T, wanting to use the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing car to promote the transition of the Cingular to the AT&T brand, has settled its lawsuit with NASCAR and Sprint over the logos on the Jeff Burton entry.

AT&T will be allowed to sponsor the NASCAR Nextel Cup car through 2008 but must come off after next season, said David Garver, AT&T executive director of business development and wireless sponsorship. As part of the agreement, NASCAR agreed to drop the $100 million countersuit against AT&T.

AT&T wanted to replace the Cingular logos after the two companies were involved in a merger in December 2006 and the Cingular brand was being phased out.

With NASCAR approval, the AT&T logos were being put on the Burton car on Friday afternoon at Richmond International Raceway.

"The primary importance for us in this whole situation has been through our brand transition," Garver said. "The opportunity to ensure that we'll be able to use the No. 31 car as a brand transition vehicle for the next 16 months is of real importance to us.

"Looking across the spectrum of potential outcomes, we were interested in making this agreement so that we were guaranteed the opportunity to have our branding on the car during this all-important brand transition."

NASCAR had denied the use of the AT&T logo, saying it violated the NASCAR contract with Nextel (now Sprint Nextel) that granted Nextel exclusivity beginning in 2004 with sponsorship of the Cup Series.

AT&T sued NASCAR in March and won an injunction in U.S. District Court to get the logos on the car May 18. The injunction was overturned by an appeals court Aug. 13.

There was another injunction hearing scheduled for Sept. 18, but that is no longer necessary.

"We are finalizing an agreement that protects the integrity of our sponsorship," said Dean Kessel, director of NASCAR Nextel Cup Series marketing for Sprint Nextel. "We are giving RCR and Jeff Burton an appropriate amount of time to transition to a new sponsor while remaining focused on winning the championship. That is the best solution for RCR, NASCAR, Sprint and racing fans."

Kessel said that the key reason for the settlement was that it put an end date on the AT&T sponsorship.

"The certainty is key," he said Friday in a news conference at Richmond. "Having that date certain, knowing at a point in time where this takes place and where this transaction will come to a conclusion is important. When you get into litigation, you just don't know. You don't know how much further it is going to go or what the process is going to be moving forward. You've got the certainty in hand, and that's attractive."

Team owner Richard Childress expressed relief that the settlement had been reached.

"We're very pleased to have the AT&T logos back on the No. 31 Chevrolet and to have AT&T continue as a primary sponsor for Jeff Burton and Richard Childress Racing," he said in a statement.

Garver said the company has not decided whether it would stay in NASCAR as a sponsor of a Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series team.

"It's kind of too early to tell," Garver said. "Our focus has been on this particular situation. We've had experience in other areas of NASCAR, and we're not closing any doors by any means."

NASCAR officials said that it was good that a compromise had been reached.

"This agreement represents compromise from all sides that ultimately serves the sport well," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France in a statement. "No one likes litigation, most of all the NASCAR fans, and it was time to find a mutually agreeable resolution. We're now happy to move forward with the exciting conclusion of the season as we approach the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup."

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