TOBACCO PLAN AIMS TO CHOKE SPORTS SPONSORSHIP

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Motorsports and other events relying heavily on tobacco brand sponsorship will hit the skids if President Clinton's plan gets the green light.

Only tobacco marketers' corporate names-but not their brands-could be used in conjunction with event advertising and promotion under the proposed rules, aimed at discouraging youth smoking.

The president's plan would wipe out the biggest and best known stock and hot rod car races named for cigarette brands, such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s Winston.

Also getting snuffed out would be Philip Morris' title sponsorship of the new Virigina Slims Legends women's exhibition tennis tour. Philip Morris already had discontinued sponsorship of Virginia Slims amateur tennis tournaments; the marketer is notorious for glamorizing smoking among girls and teenagers.

Slammed would be numerous events on the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing and National Hot Rod Association circuits, along with events within Indy car, motorcycle and power boat racing. Altogether, around $80 million is spent annually by tobacco marketers on racing events, say industry insiders, who contend racing sponsorships provide excellent marketing value.

"If tobacco marketers are forced to exit racing, it will leave a vacuum that will be difficult to fill, especially for races with long-term association with one cigarette brand," said Tom Mueller, executive director of American Motorcylist Association Pro Racing, Westerville, Ohio. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. last year dramatically cut back spending on AMA racing; it now sponsors only one team, Smokin' Joe's, under the Camel brand.

Nascar has relied for more than 25 years on RJR's Winston brand as title sponsor of the Nascar Winston Cup Series, its lead series, as well as the weekly Winston Racing Series events held in smaller markets.

Although Nascar racing is hotter than ever, the association would be loath to replace Winston as its title sponsor.

"Winston has contributed so much to the sport, and we have a 25-year relationship with the brand. That's not something you can go out and replace," said a Nascar spokesman.

RJR has also been primary sponsor of the hot rod association's lead Winston Drag Racing Series since 1975.

"We could recover if cigarette marketers are legislated out of our activities, but racing owes a great debt to tobacco marketers, and cigarette brands have benefited from the enormous, ongoing growth of interest in motorsports," said Brian Tracy, VP-broadcasting for the group.

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