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Sports Business

Verizon promising to go faster, farther than previous IndyCar title sponsors

March 14, 2014

IndyCar Series honchos on Friday made it official that Verizon Wireless will be the series’ new title sponsor. The series will now be known as the Verizon IndyCar Series.

IBJ first reported the news March 7.

IndyCar has been down this bumpy road before, but those close to this deal say Verizon is far different from the open-wheel series’ prior three title sponsors.

Pep Boys and Internet search engine Northern Light both had financial problems. Pep Boys also had a serious lack of commitment in the latter stages of its relationship with the series.

While Izod started off hot with all kinds of splashy ads and in-store promotions, the energy behind the deal faded after a management change within the company.

There will be no such problems with Verizon, said Zak Brown, founder of Zionsville-based Just Marketing International, which represents Verizon.

“Verizon is one of the best, biggest companies in the world, and they’re committed to IndyCar at every level of the company,” Brown said. “They’re already in the sport with Penske Racing, and they know what they’re getting into. They’re all in.”

Here’s a very important element of the deal that wasn’t highlighted in today's press release. There’s virtually no opt-out clause. Izod wiggled out of its deal after the IndyCar Series slipped below minimum thresholds, namely that the series held fewer races than promised.

The Verizon deal is for five years—with an option for a five-year extension. Verizon will pay the series $5 million in cash and another $5 million in marketing and promoting the series.

Important to note, that $5 million in marketing won’t just be used for preaching to the choir. In addition to running ads during IndyCar radio and television broadcasts and running promotions at the races, the wireless communications company also is promising to run promotions in its—and other—retail outlets.

The IndyCar Series has had precious few sponsors that have truly taken the open-wheel series to the masses the way NASCAR sponsors have done for that series. Izod started to, but fizzled after two years.

“Verizon is in this for the long haul,” Brown said. “You’re going to start seeing their activation and promotions by the season opener in St. Petersburg and it’s only going to grow from there.”

As important as the mass promotions is Verizon’s commitment to help the series improve its app, social media and other technological fan engagement and outreach efforts.

So why is a company with so much going for it interested in IndyCar, which has struggled with low TV ratings and stagnant live attendance?

“The IndyCar Series is a good platform for Verizon to showcase its technology,” Brown said. “IndyCar fans are a good consumer base for the company. They tend to be technologically engaged. With the size of Roger Penske’s company and other businesses engaged in IndyCar, the business-to-business element has also been very good for them. Overall, their involvement in the series has been very good for them.”

So when Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles approached Verizon officials about a title sponsorship deal last year, Brown said “they were ready to listen.”

Miles' involvement in the series was another factor in snagging Verizon as title sponsor. Miles became Hulman & Co. CEO 15 months ago, and Verizon officials are confident he can grow the IndyCar Series, said sources close to Verizon.

Verizon has been an official category sponsor of IndyCar the past four years and the primary sponsor of the No. 12 Team Penske car driven by Will Power. The relationship with the team owned by Roger Penske will expand for the 2014 season as Verizon also will be the primary sponsor of the No. 2 entry driven by 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya for at least eight races.

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