Monster Energy to sponsor NASCAR's top series starting in 2017

LAS VEGAS -- NASCAR got a boost Thursday when it announced it had signed a deal with Monster Energy to replace Sprint as the sponsor of its top series.

How much of a boost? NASCAR wouldn't say. But something likely is better than nothing as NASCAR faced the prospect of having its top series not sponsored, with Sprint departing after this season.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Thursday it was a multiyear deal with options but would not comment on how much the deal was worth nor say what the name of what is currently the "Sprint Cup Series" would be starting in 2017. Monster also will sponsor the annual all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"They're fun," France said. "They know how to make a lot of plans, and when you see this unfold, they're going to interact with our fan base differently, at the speedways in particular but all over the place. In market, they've got some robust plans, depending on that."

ESPN's Darren Rovell tweeted that the Monster deal is 40 percent ($20 million) of the current Sprint deal, which was estimated at $50 million. A powerful force in the energy drink category and 16.8 percent owned by Coca-Cola, Monster Energy turned a $546 million profit in 2015 and has been heavily involved in various forms of motorsports.

"It's a different kind of agreement for sure in that it's got activation in different ways and media in different ways," France said at a news conference at the Wynn Las Vegas. "But we're quite pleased with the agreement, and no, there will be no changes at all [with how we operate].

"As a matter of fact, I think you're going to see some additional activation, additional things that will occur, so this is a more, not less, in that regard."

Sprint announced in December 2014 it would not return after the 2016 season, and NASCAR has spent nearly the past two years searching for a replacement.

Coming down to the wire to get a sponsor for 2017, NASCAR needed a sponsor if it didn't want to foot the bill for what the sponsor contributes to NASCAR as well as marketing the sport.

Past sponsors R.J. Reynolds, Nextel and Sprint spent tens of millions of dollars promoting the sport. When Nextel signed its deal in 2003, it was reported its total spending was approximately $70-75 million a year.

Sprint (which assumed the sponsorship through its Nextel merger) renegotiated its deal when it signed an extension for 2014 to 2016 that reports have pegged at closer to a $50 million minimum annual commitment. It also sponsored two exhibition races -- the preseason race at Daytona and the all-star race at Charlotte.

"[The priority is] just to see them promote the sport and maybe [bring] some fresh ideas, maybe just how we can come in with new ways of introducing it to the fans," NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick said.

Monster has been involved in NASCAR for several years, currently sponsoring Kurt Busch and previously his brother Kyle. Kyle is sponsored by Nos, which is owned by Monster Beverage Company, in the Xfinity Series. Monster also has been involved in motorsports by sponsoring the Supercross motocross series. It plans to continue all those efforts. "The energy, the vibe -- to work with them since 2012, it's fun, it's a lifestyle, it's a brand that can translate to the youth," Kurt Busch said. "There is so much that they connect with the youth and yet it's a brand that is respected in all of motorsports.

"Their DNA ... is to give 200 bucks to a snowboarder at the X Games just to put their logo on a kid's helmet that they thought had a chance at medaling. And now look at the potential and what's in front."

However, Monster, which is the subject of class-action lawsuits and other legal challenges over the health impact of energy drinks, doesn't market directly to youth -- a key component of NASCAR's marketing efforts.

"Our company has standard guidelines about the bottom age at which we market, and that's not inconsistent with what we're hoping to do with our involvement here," Monster Chief Marketing Officer Mark Hall said. "It's just really about being responsible."

Monster will carry "official energy drink" status and any energy drink not currently sponsoring a driver in Sprint Cup will not be able to sponsor a Cup car, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said.

Higdon would not talk about the details of the grandfather clause and whether 5-Hour Energy, sponsor of Erik Jones at Furniture Row Racing, would be included -- as an energy shot, it is slightly different from an energy drink. 5-Hour Energy, according to the agency that handles its NASCAR marketing, has not gotten details yet from NASCAR on whether it will be affected.

While Monster competitor Red Bull once owned a team in the sport and then got out as it struggled on the competition and marketing sides, Monster believes it can help NASCAR trend to a younger demographic.

"We do have some ideas about how we can make NASCAR more attractive to what I would call a different audience than is currently there without detracting from what is already a great audience and a great fan base," Hall said. "Like I said earlier, we have experience with that, and those fans do relate to our brand, and we think there's an opportunity to bring some new ones in."