Despite the departure of two key marketing directors, the Indy Racing League has continued full throttle with its initiative to raise drivers' profiles.
Director of Driver Marketing Chris Bowers and Director of Brand Marketing Jayme Sabo departed earlier this year. That leaves two of the four director positions in the department vacant.
John Griffin, Indy Racing League vice president of public relations, insists the departures are not a sign of instability in the series' marketing ranks.
"I don't think it was anything more than two people electing to go in a different direction," Griffin said.
National Speed Sport News reported a key member of the IRL marketing department was fired for failure to meet performance standards following the race at Motegi, Japan, April 30. The magazine cited an unnamed IRL official.
Griffin said two people within the marketing department still work full time on driver marketing.
The IRL has brought in two outside firms to assist with marketing: 141 Worldwide in Chicago for series and driver brand marketing, and locally based Innovative Edit to develop a promotional DVD and other materials. 141 Worldwide is on retainer and Innovative Edit will work on projects as needed.
Despite the departures and rumors of other staff shake-ups this year, Eric De Bord, president and CEO of PROtential, a Woodridge, Ill.-based firm that pairs sponsors with motorsports properties, has seen improvements in IRL's marketing.
"I've been a critic at times of the IRL marketing department," De Bord said. "They lacked direction and they were inconsistent. But now I see a new focus, and they're putting contemporary tools and marketing materials together."
De Bord said the initiatives are evident in ABC's and ESPN's coverage of races. The series and its drivers are also getting much better play on ESPN's "Sports Center" and mentions and exposure through some of ABC's prime-time sitcoms and dramas.
As an example of the series' new marketing initiatives, the IRL, for the first time, is sending all 33 Indianapolis 500 qualifiers to Times Square in New York May 23 for a photo and interview opportunity.
"They've really done a great job of getting these drivers out of their car and focusing on their lifestyles and personalities," De Bord said.
Bill Long, IRL vice president of marketing, and Chief Operating Officer Brian Barnhart are credited with the league's enhanced marketing.
"I feel as good about the leadership of the IRL's marketing department as I have in a very long time," De Bord said.