If Sprint can’t stop bleeding, will AT&T still be leaving?

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Sprint is the title sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series

Roger Cheng of Dow Jones Newswires published an article today which reports a $29.5 billion…. yes, billion, fourth-quarter… yes, quarter loss for NASCAR’s elite series title sponsor, Sprint. This doesn’t really surprise me when I consider their reputation as a wireless phone service provider. Against my own best judgement and gut feeling, I actually signed up my wife and I for their service one time. I was back to the store within 48 hours to cancel the service and turn over my phones because the cellular service sucked so bad. And no they didn’t refund my connection fees per line, and yes, I had to pay for the minutes I used. All of which I knew and accepted because I did indeed read the contract. However, in an odd sort of way it was OK that I had to pay for those minutes. There weren’t that many minutes to pay for since THE SERVICE SUCKED SO BAD! If they haven’t changed (and it sounds like they haven’t according to the experiences I hear about from friends and acquaintances) then it’s no wonder they’re bleeding customers nearly as fast as the Iraq war is bleeding our tax dollars. The article states that Sprint is expecting a loss of 1.2 million customers in the first quarter and that that total is roughly equal to the total loss off customers for ALL of 2007. The second quarter is not expected to improve either.

Michal Lev-Ram and Scott Moritz’s article claims that the problems … can be traced at least back to the ill-managed 2005 merger with Nextel. Nextel’s customers were heavy users of push-to-talk systems, and when Sprint neglected to maintain and upgrade networks, they found the system unreliable and have left in huge numbers.” Push-To-Talk systems? They mean those annoying phones (and their users) who subject everyone within 50 yards of the phone to suffer through not only the continual beeping throughout the conversation, but also subject us to both sides of the conversation. Arrggghhh…. if you’re one of “them”, then know that you and your push-to-talk systems are even more annoying than the people who walk around all hours of the day with their Bluetooth ear pieces stuck in their ears. Here I thought the push-to-talk fad was dying out because people were growing out of that fad. Instead I learn it’s just that disgruntled customers are changing providers because the service isn’t meeting their push-to-talk needs. You see, I’ve never understood why someone would pay more money to use an inferior communication method, a.k.a the walkie-talkie. I hear that characteristic “beep” and I think of the movie Tommy Boy and the line I can’t hear you, you’re trailing off and did I catch a niner in there? Were you calling from a walkie-talkie?” Perhaps I should send Sprint a check for $20 in a ‘Thank You’ card thanking them for not maintaining and upgrading that network.

What does all of this mean for Jeff Burton and Richard Childress Racing’s #31 AT&T sponsored car? Will it mean anything in time? And by “time” I mean by the end of the 2008 season. The sponsorship and related legal issues between series title sponsor (Sprint) and car #31’s primary sponsor (AT&T) was the subject of quite a bit of media attention throughout 2007. It was attention that was focused on action off the track vs. action on the track, something NASCAR hopes doesn’t repeat itself in 2008. The sponsorship conflicts between the two wireless providers resulted in court hearings and eventually an agreement outside the courts with NASCAR acting as the mediator. The agreement stipulated that AT&T could stay in the sport to close out the 2007 season, as well as the full 2008 season, but they would then have to refrain from sponsorship in the Cup series. However, AT&T’s contract with RCR goes through the 2010 season, and neither AT&T nor RCR want them to leave the Cup series. While Richard Childress has reportedly lobbied NASCAR to keep AT&T in racing, NASCAR’s position remains firm that after the 2008 season AT&T must go.

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NASCAR driver Jeff Burton 31 AT&T

NASCAR has seen a lot of series title changes over the last few years. They lost long-time sponsor Winston and replaced them with NEXTEL. Then Sprint acquired NEXTEL and with it came another re-branding of the elite Cup series. Last year NASCAR seemed to have trouble finding a replacement for the title sponsorship role for the Busch Series (now the Nationwide Series), and reportedly the price tag was significantly slashed. If that hurdle wasn’t enough, at the end of the 2008 season NASCAR will once again loose a series title sponsor as Craftsman terminates it’s title sponsorship role for the Truck Series. Craftsman has been that series sponsor since it started in 1995.

One has to wonder, if Sprint keeps bleeding, will AT&T still be leaving?