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Sports Business

Alfa-Romeo ponders joining IndyCar, new sponsors jump in

November 16, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

It’s a big day for the IndyCar Series.

According to series officials, it’s been a big year. But how big? Well, that depends on who you ask.

This much we know: Dallara, the series’ chassis maker, is breaking ground today on a $7 million facility in downtown Speedway. It is the company’s first location outside Italy, and it’s being designed to be a tourist attraction as well as manufacturing plant.

But that’s not all IndyCar officials are crowing about these days. Last week, they announced the addition of Chevrolet as the series’ second engine supplier in 2012. And motorsports insiders are chattering ever louder that Alfa-Romeo is seriously considering joining Honda and Chevy as the open-wheel series’ third engine maker. That’s not likely to happen until 2013, but sources said series leaders are still holding out hope Alfa-Romeo could join in 2012.

If that comes to fruition, it will be a stunning development for a series that could muster little interest from suppliers in recent years. But that was before the board of directors hired Randy Bernard away from the Professional Bull Riders in February. He took the IndyCar CEO post March 1.

In the spring, Bernard didn’t know much about motorsports, but he sure knows how to get up to speed.

Yes, he’s made missteps, including a near-mutiny among team owners over his ICONIC Committee’s decision on a new chassis for 2012. A few owners even favored restoring Tony George to power. That commotion seems to have subsided, but Bernard learned the hard way how political and volatile this sport can be—off the track.

There have been other bumps in the road, too, like losing the series’ 2011 race in Edmonton. And challenges remain, including attracting top American drivers. I assume Bernard is well acquainted with the likes of Conor Daly.

Television viewership is up, though the numbers are still too small to get a sniff from the types of big-name sponsors Bernard needs to push this sport back in the fast lane. Still, Chevy officials were especially stoked about a 40 percent increase in younger viewers this year over last.

One thing that might have caught some people by surprise is the fact that the IndyCar Series has added 14 new sponsors in the last year. I scratched my head at that one, too. So I asked IndyCar officials for a list. The list shows how far the series has come—and in some ways, how far it has to go.

For those as curious as I am, here are the new sponsors and the categories they fit in:
—Larsens, promotional partner
—Magnum, promotional partner
—Philips, official health care equipment
—Safefreight, official mobile security supplier
—Sunoco, official fuel retailer
—Z-Line, official home office and entertainment furniture company
—Verizon, official wireless partner—Global Corporate Alliance, official insurance program
—Cenveo, official integrated print and visual solutions partner
—Just Pop In, specialty popcorn and other snacks
—Avis, official rental car company

IndyCar Series spokeswoman Amy Konrath said three new sponsors still have not been announced, but will be soon. Presumably, though, those deals are signed.

This fall, the IndyCar Series also announced a deal with Cafes do Brasil, which did not make the list provided to me by series officials. So maybe that’s No. 12. Or maybe since that deal is an outgrowth of the series’ Apex deal, that doesn’t count.

And I haven’t forgotten that Terry Angstadt, president of the series’ commercial division, in late September said that I should expect a major sponsorship announcement within a few weeks.

“It will be a category-exclusive deal with mega activation,” Angstadt told IBJ. “It will rival the [promotion] done by our series title sponsor, Izod. So it’s very exciting.”

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