Telecommunications giant AT&T filed a motion Monday, asking that
its logo be added to Jeff Burton's car immediately.
The motion was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, where
the company also filed its lawsuit against NASCAR. A hearing on the
motion has not yet been scheduled.
Burton is sponsored by cell phone service provider Cingular.
AT&T recently took full ownership of Cingular as part of its recent
merger with BellSouth and intends to eliminate the brand name.
AT&T sued NASCAR on March 16 after racing series officials
refused to allow AT&T to put its logo on Burton's car because of
NASCAR's deal with Nextel, which sponsors NASCAR's top series -- the
"We must bring this issue to resolution," John Burbank, vice
president of marketing for AT&T, said in a statement. "The season
is well under way and so are our rebranding efforts. This filing is
a logical next step for us in the process, and one we must pursue
so that we can simply move forward with our paint scheme --
something our agreement with NASCAR allows us to do."
NASCAR's Nextel deal forbids teams that race in the series from
signing new sponsorship agreements with competing telecom
companies. The deal does contain a provision that allows teams with
existing telecom sponsorships -- such as Richard Childress Racing,
the team Burton drives for -- to keep their sponsors.
NASCAR officials said that even with the restrictions, the
Nextel sponsorship -- along with similar deals with fuel supplier
Sunoco and tire supplier Goodyear -- benefits every team. Money from
Nextel, for example, goes toward the drivers' year-end points fund.
"While it is unfortunate that there is a matter in litigation,
it is important to know that NASCAR is defending every driver, team
and track by protecting a sponsor that benefits everyone," NASCAR
spokesman Ramsey Poston said.
AT&T officials acknowledge they agreed to a contract with
Childress' team that contains provisions saying Cingular can't
increase the size or placement of its logo on the car and can't
switch its sponsorship to another team. But they say the contract
does not contain language preventing a logo change if Cingular's
ownership structure changes.
NASCAR and Nextel officials declined comment when the lawsuit
The lawsuit seeks permission to make the logo switch and damages
for the "substantial harm" NASCAR has caused to the company. The
lawsuit calls altering the design of the No. 31 car an "integral
part" of the company's brand name switch, and that NASCAR's
refusal to allow it inhibits the company's ability to "attract new
customers and retain existing ones."
With so many sponsors, Poston said it's inevitable conflicts
"On a positive note, it is flattering that so many companies
are eager to invest in NASCAR, its drivers, teams and tracks,"
Poston said. "Currently, more than 100 of the Fortune 500
companies participate in NASCAR -- more than any other sport."