Nextel is starting to promote new role as NASCAR sponsor

The communications giant is replacing Winston as NASCAR's sponsor.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- After seven months of virtual silence since becoming the title sponsor of NASCAR's top series, Nextel finally is making some noise.
It began Sunday with a 30-second television spot promoting its new association with NASCAR during the NFL's NFC Championship game, something former sponsor Winston could not do because of government regulation of advertising by tobacco products.
Tim Donahue, president and CEO of the communications giant, said Monday it was his decision to have Nextel remain in the background until after Winston, NASCAR's primary sponsor for 33 years, had said its good-byes.
"Until January, this was still the Winston Cup, not the Nextel Cup, and R.J. Reynolds has been such an important part of this sport, we thought it was important for us to stand back and let them get their accolades," Donahue said. "Now, we're getting started."
10-year deal
Donahue pointed out, however, that Nextel has not been sitting idle since the announcement in June that his company had signed a 10-year, $700 million deal with NASCAR.
"While there hasn't been much said, there has been plenty of work done in preparation for this," Donahue said. "We've opened an office in Charlotte with 15 people. I think you can see we are really committed to this and, we're going to spend the dollars it takes to really enhance the experience."
Nextel officials, including COO Tom Kelly and senior vice president of marketing Mark Schweitzer, laid out a far-reaching plan of action Monday. They hope the plan will reach out to the estimated 75 million NASCAR fans, as well as many more millions who have not yet discovered the sport.
Currently, Nextel has 12.3 million subscribers for its cellular products, but Donahue said that is only about 8 percent of the market.
"There is plenty of room for growth and we believe that our partnership with NASCAR will play a major part in that growth," Donahue said.
Marketing plan
The Nextel marketing plan includes the kind of national television and print advertising Reynolds was precluded from pursuing.
Donahue said Nextel has been involved in other areas of sports marketing for years and goes into its association with NASCAR excited about the potential for both companies.
"We worked very hard to try to convince NASCAR we'd be a good fit, a good match for them," Donahue said. "We want to see the sport step up to the next level."
George Pyne, NASCAR's COO, said his company is very pleased with Nextel's marketing initiatives.
"The creative and authentic approach Nextel is taking will resonate with our fans," Pyne said.