Indy 500 teams still lack sponsors

May 23, 2008
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grahamFor all the touting of higher television ratings, attendance and series Web site visits, there’s one glaring shortcoming that shows the Indy Racing League still has challenges.

Fourteen of the 33 cars that qualified for the Indianapolis 500 either have no or little sponsorship money coming in. And if not for a few last minute deals such as Eli Lilly & Co. Inc. sponsoring A.J. Foyt IV and the city of Las Vegas swooping in to sponsor John Andretti for one race,  it would be even worse.

The first four rows look rock solid, with the likes of Target, 7-11, Motorola, Panasonic and WilliamRast plastered all over the cars. Those are legitimate paying customers.

But two-thirds of the drivers in the back seven rows are either driving cars with empty sidepods or emblazoned by sponsors that are ponying up little or no money--or have promised money, but have a history of non-payment.

“Empty sidepods, plain and simple, show there’s a problem,” said Dennis McAlpine, a New York-based motorsports analyst. “It shows there’s excess supply and not enough demand.”

And if the IRL can’t attract team sponsors to its cornerstone race, McAlpine said, that shows a potentially deeper problem. “Come on, this is the greatest spectacle in racing,” he said.

It’s not just little-known, no-talent drivers that don’t have sponsors. The likes of Graham Rahal, who won IRL’s St. Petersburg, Fla., race this year, former Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and fan favorite Sarah Fisher are all without primary sponsorship.

Zak Brown, president of Just Marketing International, is optimistic things will be different within two years. His firm has been hired to hunt title sponsors for the league.

“You have to be patient,” said Brown, whose firm represents some of the biggest sponsors in NASCAR and Formula One. “A lot of the Champ Car teams came over with no sponsorships, and these deals don’t get put together overnight.”

Brown expects about 25 cars to have solid sponsorships next year, and even more in 2010. Brown said several of his clients, including Hilton Hotels, have shown interest in the IRL since its unification with Champ Car and will be attending the Indianapolis 500 Sunday to sample the product.
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  • Where to begin...

    1) The split...it was the equivalent of the baseball strike, turning fns off at the same time NASCAR went gonzo.

    2) The cars stopped going faster 12 years ago, the year Arie ran a 239.260 in practice, so that excitement ended.

    3) Nascar and F1 are the best in the world at marketing, and IRL is horrible.

    4) Tony George seems aloof as a robot, and ineffective.

    5) Just about anybody can drive an IRL car, so the race doesn't attract top talent. Sarah Fisher was running midgets before IRL, and in 2005 when she lost her IRL ride she went back to the NASCAR minor leagues - not even the Busch series. Graham Rahal was running Formula Atlantic in 2005. Nobody who's any good in NASCAR or F! jumps to IRL.

    So there you have it - there's no sponsors because IRL is basically a minor league racing outfit. IRL is to F1 and NASCAR what the Indy Indians are to MLB. There's not much sponsorship in the minor leagues.

    For all this you can thank Tony George.
  • I might tend to agree with Nos. 1 through 4, but I would take issue with No. 5. Just how many Indy 500s did Tony Stewart win? F1 star Nigel Mansel? The IRL can be major league again with better sales and marketing. Taxi cab driving, more difficult, Ha!
  • The IndyCar Series will be back. The racing is great, and that's all fans and sponsors care about. It just needs some sponsors to pump up the volume. F1 ... yawn!
  • Mansell came to Indy (in 1993) only due to a contract dispute:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Mansell#CART_IndyCar_World_Series

    Tony Stewart started at Indy and left for Nascar. Star drivers do not come *to* the IRL - they might do Indy as a publicity thing.

    There's no other major race in the world that averages as many rookies as the 500, with 11 this year. There's been a new winner of the 500 every year for 10 years, except for 2002.

    Indy's purse is only 60% of that of the Daytona 500. The winner's share of the Daytona race caught up to the Indy winner in 2000.

    I stick by my assertion that the 500 has dropped from the major leagues, and it now flounders in the same way as the NHL.

    Another effect of this decline in popularity is that 500 tickets are readily available, even at the box office, when in the past they sold at a premium.

    The 500 could help itself out through better use of TV - more coverage behind the scenes - make it like a 3-week reality show. And bring back the d*mn infield. Ever been to the Derby infield ? Best party around.
  • Eugene,

    As they say, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but you lost any entitlement to an opinion when you stated, Just about anyone can drive an IRL car. NOTHING could be further from the truth. The greatest drivers in the history of auto racing have passed through the hallowed halls of and competed in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. And if you don't know that by now, you should be sentenced to take a Donald Davidson class. You are my nominee for Mike and Mike's Just Shut Up award.
  • Eugene, you are spot on with your comments. The blame all comes down to one person...Tony George. He has done so much to destroy the majestic event that his grandfather worked so hard to build. Such a shame.

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