LAS VEGAS (AP) — NASCAR's top circuit has been called the Winston Cup, Nextel Cup and Sprint Cup.
Starting in 2017, the sport could have a Cup-less name, one of many changes expected as Monster Energy takes over as title sponsor with a desire to attract younger fans to a sagging sport.
"Young people set trends in fashion and then older people adapt," said Mark Hall, Monster's chief marketing officer. "Fashion is set by a small group of influencers. The challenge is to make your product relevant to that group and then have them influence the others. If we've been successful in the past, we've followed that model."
A decade ago, NASCAR was the cool sport, drawing record television ratings and numerous sponsors as it branched out from its Southeastern roots. The recession hit the sport hard, then the fans started to scatter and TV ratings dwindled. Sprint, which inherited the sponsorship of the sport's top series when it merged with Nextel, announced in December 2014 it wouldn't renew.
It took nearly two years to find a replacement, and it's believed Monster is paying much less. But NASCAR hopes the relationship with the California-based maker of caffeine-filled energy drinks will reinvigorate an aging fan base.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France kept saying "fun" and "edgy" in describing Monster at Thursday's news conference announcing the agreement.
"They get at a millennial audience in a different way than we've ever been associated with," France said. "They know what they're doing."
France declined to say what the name of the circuit will be in 2017. NASCAR's press release of the multiyear agreement referred to NASCAR's "premier series," hinting the Cup name will go away. An official announcement of the name and logo is expected within a couple weeks.
"We've got some real good options on that," France said.
NASCAR and Monster will have to move quickly. A marketing plan, signage and other sponsorship issues are pressing ahead of the Feb. 26 season-opening Daytona 500.
"It's a brand that can translate to the youth," said driver Kurt Busch, whose car has been sponsored by Monster since 2012. "Yet it's a brand that's respected in all of motorsports."
The culture change from a cellular company as face of the sport to an energy drink targeted to millennials was apparent as models in form-fitting outfits flanked both ends of the stage at Thursday's announcement.
"We want to bring some good shows and entertainment for NASCAR fans so they can interact with our brand and understand what our culture is all about," said Mitch Covington, Monster's vice president of sports marketing. "Of course, they will have met the fabulous Monster Energy girls. We're going to have a lot of fun at NASCAR, both in the parking lot and inside the oval."