(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
By now, if you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you know that IZOD has been announced as the official title sponsor of the IZOD IndyCar Series, effective immediately and running at least six years.
If you’re looking for more in-depth details, I suggest you read any number of the other websites that will be able to give you all the ins and outs of the sponsorship. What I’m more concerned with is what the immediate effect will be on us — the IZOD IndyCar Nation of loyal race fans.
So what does this sponsorship mean? First and foremost, their name in front of the term IndyCar Series brings a certain amount of credibility to the Indy Racing League. Obviously, these are very difficult economic times for all race teams, not just IndyCar teams. At a time when most companies should be increasing their marketing efforts, most of them are pulling back and hoarding their dollars. The fact that IZOD sees the IndyCar Series as a worthy recipient of their $10 million (or whatever number is actually is) per year should show other companies that this is a good place for their smaller investments and a sporting entity that is primed for growth. When teams are making their sales pitches to potential suitors, the fact that other mainstream, big-name companies are already present should only help the process along. It still isn’t going to be easy, but it is definitely another piece of the pie that teams can use to sell their product.
The fact that this sponsorship is from a non-automobile related company, I think, is also a good thing. The fact is, if the sponsorship had been from Lucas Oil or Firestone, it would have been tough to really take the Series to a new audience. We can hope that the Indy Racing League has realized that trying to convert N-word fans to IndyCar is a losing battle. Sure, you might get a handful of folks to buy into the IZOD IndyCar Series, but by and large, if a fan has stuck with N-word for this long, their allegiance is probably already set for good.
New growth of the IndyCar fan base needs to come from the portion of the population that is not already familiar with racing in general. The IZOD sponsorship will take the IndyCar Series to those places. Just as Sprint puts commercials on CSI and Extreme Makeover, IZOD will do likewise and expose the general populace to the drivers and the cars of the IZOD IndyCar Series. To be fair, Versus did a fantastic job this past year of running ads during their non-IndyCar programming so that anyone who watched Versus probably got a good dose of IndyCar promos. However, IZOD needs to help get the word to other sports channels, to the Big Four networks, to those venues that aren’t already being served by IndyCar marketing (insert standard fan line here about IndyCar’s lack of general marketing practices). I really hope that folks in the New York area might get exposed to the Series while visiting the new IZOD Center, home of the New Jersey Nets. Surely, some type of cross-promotion would fit naturally there!
Along those lines, it’s important that IZOD be ready, willing, and able to support the entire League with their promotion, not just Ryan Hunter-Reay. Yes, I completely understand that RHR has a personal services contract with Izod. But to really make the Series grow, all of the drivers need an increased amount of exposure. If we’ve learned anything from the past five years of Danicamania, it’s that one person alone cannot make the IndyCar Series thrive. One of the most common complaints is that the people who watch the races casually don’t know any of the drivers. There are many great personalities in the League who are engaging, edgy, controversial, and jovial. IZOD needs to make sure, especially in the lead-up to the 2010 season, that those personalities get put in front of the public and that the drivers’ names at least become recognizable.
Finally, now that the title sponsor search has ended, hopefully the IRL marketing and commercial division folks can devote efforts to other projects that need attention — namely helping the teams themselves attract new sponsorship and the development of a new engine/chassis specification. The folks at 16th and Georgetown have been chasing a title sponsor for several years and have devoted a significant amount of time to nurturing this relationship with IZOD. Getting someone to cough up $10 million per year is not an easy thing to do, and it take a lot of time and resources. We can hope that those resources will be redirected now to other objectives that will continue to spur growth within the League.
The introduction of IZOD as title sponsor definitely isn’t the panacea that is going to make all of the League’s troubles go away, but it is most certainly a step in the right direction. Remember the date: November 5, 2009. Let’s visit this page again a year from now and see how much of a game-changer this announcement has really turned out to be.