After a seven-year run, Nationwide will end its entitlement sponsorship of NASCAR's top development series after the 2014 season.
The company will remain in NASCAR as an official sponsor for auto, home, life and business insurance through 2017 and also focus on NASCAR marketing programs on the Sprint Cup Series. In addition to its series entitlement, Nationwide also has had endorsement deals with Cup drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. "Nationwide Insurance will look to build a more consistent presence in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enabling its message to reach an even larger NASCAR audience," according to a release from NASCAR.
NASCAR vice president vice president and chief sales officer for corporate marketing Jim O'Connell told USA TODAY Sports said Nationwide is expected to increase their investment in Cup.
"We're very excited that Nationwide is staying in the sport," O'Connell said. "They've gone on record as saying they will up their spend in the Sprint Cup Series and probably spend more money in 2014 and 15 then they are now, so we think it's fantastic they've decided to stay in the sport and increase their investment. They've been very pleased with their results from the series entitlement, but they thought it was important for them to increase their investment on Sundays."
"The NASCAR Nationwide Series is a great proving ground not only for drivers and crew members, but for sponsors, too," Nationwide chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius said in the release Wednesday morning. "We're proud of the success Nationwide Insurance has attained through our relationships with NASCAR and the Nationwide Series. It's a natural evolution for Nationwide Insurance to move our marketing investment to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and we'll continue to put tremendous effort behind all of our NASCAR marketing platforms in the years to come."
NASCAR will begin a hunt for its third title sponsor in eight years for its No. 2 series, which was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch from 1982-2007. The circuit is viewed as a ladder series to Sprint Cup. Stenhouse advanced to Cup this season after winning consecutive Nationwide championships in 2011-12.
O'Connell said the replacement for Nationwide could be a current or new sponsor. NASCAR has had preliminary conversations with some existing partners about expanding their sponsorship but hadn't begun an external search for a replacement for Nationwide.
"This is a phenomenal asset," O'Connell said. "It's unrivaled integration and ownership. We anticipate in speaking to a number of Fortune 500 companies that will be interested. Nationwide showed NASCAR is a great place for business. We're very confident at the beginning of 2015, we'll have another great partner on board as the series entitlement sponsor."
O'Connell said NASCAR wasn't focused on any particular business segment for the new title sponsor.
"It's not necessarily categories but more the right kind of partners that will activate the way Nationwide did and embrace the sport," he said. "It's more about partners and marketing plans and how they can grow the sport."
Nationwide also will become the presenting sponsor of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.
"As a series entitlement sponsor and savvy marketer, Nationwide Insurance has been an ideal partner to our sport and we're proud to have them continue to be part of our family of Official NASCAR Partners," NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps said. "The company has been highly successful in using our sport as a platform to enhance its brand and drive its business and has stated publicly how much value they glean as a series sponsor. The fact that Nationwide will continue its investment across our sport – in a variety of ways and for many years to come – is encouraging and speaks to the power of NASCAR as a marketing platform."
NASCAR's premier series is sponsored by Sprint, which extended its deal in December 2011 through the 2016 season.