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Roush Fenway loses key sponsor

29 June 2011

Crown Royal, the Canadian whisky brand owned by global drinks company Diageo, has announced that it is to reduce its sponsorship involvement in NASCAR and is to withdraw altogether from sponsoring the #17 Roush Fenway Racing car currently driven by Matt Kenseth.

However, the company will continue to sponsor the Crown Royal 'Your Name Here' initiative that allows a NASCAR fan from a military service background the opportunity to have their name as the title sponsor of the April NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway.

"In evaluation of our NASCAR programming and after much consideration, we have made the decision to make a strategic shift to focus our resources," the company said in a press release. "In shifting our strategy, we will end our sponsorships with Roush Fenway Racing and NASCAR upon the conclusion of the 2011 season.

"We have developed strong relationships with the people at both organizations – they have not only been fantastic business partners, but have also become our friends. We thank them for working with us throughout the years to showcase the importance of our social responsibility initiatives.

"We look forward to a strong finish to the 2011 season and like the many fans we've gained along the way, we'll never stop rooting for the #17 car on its way to Victory Lane."

Crown Royal has been the main sponsor of Matt Kenseth's car since the start of the 2010 season, providing the funding for 18 of Kenseth's 36 annual Sprint Cup entries. Its parent company Diageo entered NASCAR after the ban on alcohol sponsorship was ended late in 2004, and has been associated with former Roush drivers Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Losing Crown Royal is a huge blow to the team, as Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark conceded in a company statement following the announcement. "We are obviously disappointed with the news ... They have been a first-class partner all the way around.

"It's unfortunate that they will not be able to continue to be a part of our organisation," he said, before going on to add that the search for a replacement sponsor was already underway. "The #17 is an attractive, championship-winning program with a storied history and Matt Kenseth an elite driver. We have already opened the door for discussions and are currently in the process of speaking with companies interested in taking over the program for next season and beyond."

The company had already lined up clothing brand Affliction as sponsors for two of the non-Crown Royal events coming up - Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona and the mid-July Lenox Industrial Tools 301 race at Loudon, New Hampshire.

Roush Fenway recently managed to sign a three-year renewal of 3M's sponsorship of the #16 car of Greg Biffle in April. 3M have been involved with Roush Fenway Racing in NASCAR since 2005, originally with their 'Post-It' brand, and hit victory lane with the team for the first time just five weeks into their association. However, the most recent renewal was said to be for fewer races per season from 2012, reducing 3M's overall investment into Roush Fenway - although exact terms of the contract are inevitably commercially confidential.

The team also has to worry about renewing the backing of another major backer, the international shipping company UPS that is the primary sponsor of the team's #6 driven by David Ragan, which is also set to expire at the end of the current season.

And the team also have to negotiate with medical insurer Aflac who are the main sponsors of Carl Edwards' #99 car. Despite being the championship leader, the sponsorship backing for Edwards has been thought to be particularly soft and at risk in the current depressed economy, and has led to rumours that Edwards might be drawn to sign for Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the #20 car, which comes with one of NASCAR's most secure sponsorship backing arrangements with The Home Depot.

The Home Depot is particularly keen to have a car that can compete with that of their arch business rivals Lowe's, which sponsors the #48 car of Jimmie Johnson that has won the Cup championship for the last five consecutive years: bringing in the championship leader (and current favourite for the 2011 championship) Carl Edwards to race the #20 at JGR under their brand would be a particularly effective way for The Home Depot to achieve this.

With the clock ticking to re-sign UPS, find the money to retain Carl Edwards and now to replace Crown Royal, the business and financial pressure is definitely on Roush Fenway.

As well as the sponsorship of the #17 car, Diageo also has a sponsorship deal with NASCAR itself and the company confirmed that this too is to end after the current season. However they were keen to stress the continuation of the popular 'Your Name Here' program.

Crown Royal said that this had "provided NASCAR fans with an experience that is unrivalled in sports and in recent years has shed light on some of the remarkable military servicemen and servicewomen who proudly serve our country," adding: "We look forward to elevating this program as well as continuing our presence in the sport through an experience that our fans have grown to love."

However, it's not certain whether the 'Your Name Here' event will continue to be held at Richmond International Raceway or whether it will switch to a different venue or calendar slot.

This year's winner of the 'Your Name Here' program was United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Matthew Hansen and also his twin brother Daniel who had been killed in action two years previously. At the end of the evening, the 'Your Name Here' race this year therefore awarded the Crown Royal Presents the Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 trophy.


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