Indianapolis Colts sponsors appear to be rallying behind, not abandoning, the team following owner Jim Irsay's March 16 arrest for driving under the influence and illegal drug possession in Carmel.
"The support level for the organization is at its highest point ever," said Dave Moroknek, CEO of Indianapolis-based MainGate Inc., a Colts sponsor which also handles the team's merchandise sales. "The sponsors are behind this team. People want to be there for the team at its time of need. We're certainly behind the man [Jim Irsay] right now."
The reason for the support is simple, Moroknek said.
"That man has done an unbelievable amount for this city," he said. "He's done a ton of charitable work and a lot of things people don't know about and will never know about because he hasn't sought to publicize them. People feel it's time to support Jim and his family since he's supported this community and the fans here."
Colts executives have been busy contacting sponsors since Monday, the day after Irsay's arrest, to explain to them the situation. Colts Chief Operating Pete Ward said that much of the response has been supportive.
Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Co., one of the team's biggest sponsors, was contacted by the Colts Monday.
"I didn't hesitate to put my support behind Jim," Lucas said. "I'm not for drunk driving or drug abuse, but I think he's addressing those issues. None of that erases all the good this man has done for the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana."
Lucas said he knew Irsay wasn't well during this past season.
"I saw him in the suite at the playoff game in New England (Jan. 11)," Lucas said. "He was so stooped over with pain in his back and hips his hands were dragging the ground. He has a serious physical problem. He's not well. And apparently that's led to other issues. But I'm confident those things are now being addressed."
Moroknek and Lucas said they are being kept abreast of Irsay's situation by team executives.
"They've wanted to make sure [sponsors and team partners] are getting the news straight from the team," Moroknek said. "They wanted us to know what the organization's philosophies are and what the team stands for and assure us that isn't going to change."
Moroknek and Lucas don't seem too concerned about the team's short- and long-term future. Until Jim Irsay is back leading the team, his oldest daughter, Carlie Irsay-Gordon, 33, will sit in his chief executive's chair.
"My only concern is I hope Jim gets well," Lucas said. "He does not look healthy, and he hasn't for a while. As far as the team goes, it's running well, and I think that's a credit to what Jim has set up. They also have a group of experienced [executives] there to steer things while he's gone."
Lucas is less concerned about the team as he is about Indianapolis' ability to land the 2018 Super Bowl in the wake of Irsay's arrest. In 2008, Lucas Oil Co. signed a 20-year $121.5 million naming rights deal for the Colts home venue.
"Hosting the Super Bowl is a big deal to our company since our name is on the building," Lucas said. "I felt Indianapolis had the momentum before this, but now I don't know, especially if the NFL looks at this as though Jim Irsay has been disgraced. One thing is certain, [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell has to do something [to punish Irsay]. No matter what your problems are, no one is allowed to act the way [Irsay] has."