IndyCar seeking deep-pocketed title sponsor willing to spend up to $30M per year

IndyCar Series officials are seeking a title sponsor to replace Verizon that is willing to pay up to $30 million annually.

Ideally, a source close to IndyCar told IBJ, series officials would like a sponsor willing to pay the open-wheel series $10 million to $15 million in cash and another $10 million to $15 million to advertise and promote the deal. That's per year.

Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent Hulman & Co., won’t say how much the series is seeking for its title sponsor, but is optimistic about finding a good replacement for Verizon. This year marks the last year in Verizon’s five-year deal as IndyCar’s title sponsor.

It’s a busy time for Miles and his staff. They’re also looking for a new television partner. The series' deals with ABC and NBC Sports Network expire at the end of this year. Miles hopes to have a TV/media deal firmed up in the next month, and IndyCar officials envision the new media/TV partner (or partners) helping them sell the title sponsorship.

If IndyCar officials achieve their goal in finding a new title sponsor, it would mean a considerable boost from what Verizon is paying.

Sources familiar with that deal said Verizon pays $6 million annually in cash and about $4 million annually to advertise and promote the deal. Some within the paddock have complained that Verizon in recent years hasn't been promoting the series as much as it should.

And the series' ideal sponsorship would be in the ballpark of what NASCAR is getting from its title sponsor, Monster Energy. According to multiple reports, Monster pays $20 million in cash annually to be the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top series. It’s not clear how much the energy drink maker pays to advertise and promote its NASCAR sponsorship.

Verizon replaced clothing maker Izod, which signed on as IndyCar's official apparel provider in 2008 and graduated to title sponsor in 2010.

Attitudes vary on IndyCar’s chances to land the type and size of title sponsor it wants. One executive that represents companies involved in sports sponsorships told IBJ that IndyCar officials are “dreaming” if they think they can land a title sponsor willing to pay $20 million—cash and promotion combined—annually.

But Ken Ungar, a former Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) executive, thinks the series has a realistic shot at attaining its goal.

“I’m bullish on the series,” said Ungar, owner and president of Charge, a locally based sports marketing consultancy whose clients include motorsports sponsors. “You have several things—attendance and TV ratings—that in recent years have been headed in a positive direction for the IndyCar Series. The management team that has been put in place has really put all the fundamentals together and is building the brand. They’re gaining traction.”

While IndyCar's TV ratings dropped slightly from 2016 to 2017, according to Nielsen Media Research, they’re up more than 30 percent since 2013.

That’s not to say landing a big sponsor will be easy.

“Yes, it’s a cluttered market right now with a lot of properties looking for sponsorship, but it’s possible,” Ungar added.

Ungar thinks a technology company would be a perfect fit as title sponsor.

“IndyCar has always been a brand synonymous with change and technology,” Ungar said. “What’s next has always been on display at Indy. It’s a great place to showcase technology.”

While Ungar thinks foreign tech companies would be interested in IndyCar’s title sponsorship deal, Miles told IBJ he is focused on finding a U.S.-based title sponsor.

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