In the latest skirmish in the bitter telecom wars, AT&T filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, demanding that Nascar allow an AT&T-sponsored car to change its rear quarter to reflect the retirement of the Cingular brand name and the introduction of the AT&T global logo. The car, No. 31, is owned by Richard Childress Racing and driven by Jeff Burton, currently the third-ranked Nascar driver.
Nextel in 2003 took over Nascar's premier sponsorship in a 10-year, $700 million deal. AT&T said a grandfather clause in its Nascar contract allows Cingular to continue as a sponsor as long as it does not increase the brand position on the vehicle or move to a different race team. The current paint job would not make any of those changes, AT&T said.
"What could be clearer?" asked John Burbank, VP-marketing, AT&T, in a statement. Richard Childress, president of RCR, added that there has been no change in Cingular's ownership. "They're simply trying to change their brand name."
But Nascar, while saying it could not comment on a lawsuit it hasn't seen yet, said its position hasn't changed since it signed the whopping Nextel deal with the company now known as Sprint/Nextel. The sponsorship contract grandfathered in both Cingular and Alltel, allowing them to participate in the Nextel Cup Series as team sponsors -- as long as the companies didn't change the scope of their sponsorship (beyond a team) or the name or brand on the car. Only the "Cingular" and "Alltel" brands are permitted, Nascar said.