IndyCar Series officials have approached two existing sponsors, Verizon Wireless and Firestone, about becoming the open-wheel race series’ presenting sponsor in a deal motorsports business experts said could be worth $3 million annually.
Sources familiar with discussions said series officials are pitching a multiyear deal valued in the high seven-figure range, plus an advertising commitment to the series’ television partners, ABC-TV and NBC Sports Network.
A racing industry source said Sunoco Inc., the official fuel partner of IndyCar, and another company not currently involved in IndyCar sponsorship are also possibilities.
“I’d like to see us have a presenting sponsor by next year,” said IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard. “This is where our focus is, and I don’t think it’s out of the cards to get this deal done for next year.”
Part of the pitch to potential sponsors involves an agreement that would let the presenting sponsor replace Izod as the series’ title sponsor at some point in the future if Izod chooses to leave, said sources familiar with IndyCar’s pitch. Bernard declined to speculate on that possibility.
Bernard on Monday told IBJ the series’ relationship with Izod is “great” and that he “is confident” the clothier will continue as the series’ title sponsor through the 2015 season.
The series is in the third year of a six-year title sponsorship deal with Izod. The deal includes two two-year extension options.
Before it signed its pact with Izod in 2009, IndyCar had been without a title sponsor since Internet search engine Northern Lights left the series in 2001.
With many of Izod’s IndyCar-centric television ads and in-store promotions disappearing this year, there’s been speculation that Izod wants out of its IndyCar sponsorship. The speculation follows a management change at Izod’s parent company, New York-based Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., including the retirement of Chief Operating Officer Allen Sirkin, who championed the IndyCar deal.
Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. officials did not return calls seeking comment about the company's future with IndyCar.
Bernard maintains that Izod is doing as much advertising and series promotions this year as it was a year ago.
“They’re spreading their spending around more this year, but the thought that they’re spending less on advertising and promotion this year is completely wrong,” he said.
The series’ cancellation last month of its new race in China—a market Izod encouraged the series to enter—fueled speculation that the relationship between IndyCar and Izod was on the rocks.
The China cancellation also reduced the schedule to 15 races, running afoul of Izod’s title sponsorship contract that called for a minimum of 16 races.
But, Bernard said, IndyCar and Izod officials mutually agreed to remove the contract stipulation mandating 16 races in a season.
The number of races on the series schedule won’t be a problem next year, Bernard said.
“We want 19 races on the schedule next year, and I think that’s realistic,” Bernard said. “Sixteen races is too short. The ideal number in two years is 22 races. We think it’s easier to carry and create momentum when you have 22 races.”
The search for a presenting sponsor has more to do with increasing revenue and enhancing the series’ long-term stability by securing solid sponsorship deals in important categories such as technology and tire manufacturers than in finding a possible replacement for Izod, Bernard said.
If Firestone signs a bigger sponsorship deal with IndyCar, it will mark quite a change in heart from its relationship with the series 15 months ago.
In March, 2011, Firestone announced it was leaving as series’ tire supplier and sponsor after the 2011 season. Bernard and his lieutenants, however, stepped in to broker an 11th-hour deal to keep Firestone at a critical time when IndyCar was about to unveil its new chassis and engine package. In addition to supplying tires this year, Firestone is one of the series’ biggest sponsors and promoters, including a title sponsorship deal with the Firestone Indy Lights feeder series.
Verizon entered the IndyCar Series as a sponsor in 2010, and has increased its sponsorship commitment with the series and Penske Racing each of the last three years.