The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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IndyCar Series / Indianapolis 500 / Indianapolis Motor Speedway / Tony George / Auto Racing / Sports Business

Izod brokers deal to put fan at the head of IndyCar race grid

November 5, 2009

There’s lots to consider and discuss when it comes to the Indy Racing League’s new title sponsor, Izod.
First of all, it will be a six-year deal with options for more. Izod officials promise to spend tens of millions of dollars to market the open-wheel racing series through mainstream pop culture avenues.

From here forward, the series will be known as the Izod IndyCar Series. Here’s hoping the company formerly known for its alligator logo does better than former title sponsors Pep Boys and Northern Lights, who also came in with big promises.

Izod thinks the open-wheel series will grow its clothing market share in South America, Europe and Asia. Currently, overseas sales comprises only 4 percent of Izod’s total revenue.

Izod officials think the open-wheel series is on the come and NASCAR is fading. The clothing company plans to put drivers like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal front and center in their mass marketing campaign. Izod unveiled an Izod IndyCar billboard today in New York’s Times Square.

Izod put on a heck of a show at its official coming out party today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They had lots of attractive models wearing really cool sunglasses and played music loud enough to make the eardrums ache.

And upon questioning by the IBJ, Izod executives said they had no hesitancy to pull the trigger on the deal even after former series chief Tony George was deposed and replaced by Jeff Belskus mid-way through negotiations for the deal. (I’ll write more about that tomorrow.)

But for now, I’d like to focus on one rather interesting element of the agreement. Izod brokered a deal to have a two-seat IndyCar emblazoned with the Izod logo at the front of every starting grid during the start of each race. Well, almost.

The car will exit two laps before the green flag drops. Still, some lucky stiff will be sitting in an open-wheel car during parade and pace laps going over 100 mph, with the entire grid breathing down his/her neck. That includes at the Indianapolis 500.

The IndyCar series will provide the driver and Izod will decide who sits in the second seat, likely a company VIP or some type of Izod contest of sweepstakes winner.

“We think this element is going to be a great marketing tool and sales driver,” said Mike Kelly, executive vice president for Izod parent Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.

This type of initiative has never been tried before in a major racing series. I’m not sure if it will work the way Mr. Kelly hopes, but you have to give Izod and the IndyCar series an 'A' for creativity. Now, let’s hope the series' liability insurance doesn’t go through the roof.

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