Has IndyCar Found The Right Connection?

Verizon’s announcement ensures a marketing and promotional partner for the series without any lag for IndyCar. (IndyCar Photo)
Verizon’s announcement ensures a marketing and promotional partner for the series without any lag for IndyCar. (IndyCar Photo)
Verizon’s announcement ensures a marketing and promotional partner for the series without any lag for IndyCar. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — After its previous sponsor was not the right fit, IndyCar Series officials are confident it has the right connection with Verizon.

When IZOD dramatically scaled back its promotion as the series sponsor last season it became apparent that IndyCar would need to find a replacement. It began courting Verizon last season and on Friday announced the wireless carrier would increase its involvement to become the IndyCar Series sponsor in what will know be known as the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“It’s a huge day for IndyCar,” said Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles and is in charge of IndyCar. “I think of this day as a game‑changer for IndyCar, for the series, for our fans, the teams, our drivers. In a real sense I think it represents a kind of confirmation of the strategies we’ve put into place and where we intend to take the sport and is the beginning of the next phase of IndyCar’s growth.”

Verizon was already the official wireless partner of the IndyCar Series for the last four years and currently sponsors Will Power for the full season and Juan Pablo Montoya for eight races at Team Penske. Those agreements will continue because they are grandfathered in to the new contract.

“While it protects existing relationships that are in the paddock, it does provide exclusivity for Verizon going forward,” Miles said.

The new arrangement is expected to be $10 million a year for 10 years for IndyCar.

“I think about what is fundamentally IndyCar; speed and the daring of the drivers and the skill of the drivers are, we think, a huge part of what we offer the public,” Miles said. “But at the same time, going back to our earliest roots, innovation is part of our brand and part of what we stand for. The more we’ve thought about it, innovation has a role on the track, and we expect to be more innovative, again, over time.

“But innovation also has a lot to do with how we go to the market and how we captivate the fans and present the sport in all its depth and excitement to fans, and I cannot imagine a more perfect partner to be true to those roots and to take us to the next level of leadership in sports for the way we use innovation to put the sport forward. We cannot wait to begin to activate, as the sponsor folks say, and to take this to a new level.”

When IZOD made the expected move that it would get out of its contract at the end of the 2013 season it put IndyCar in a position where it would enter the 2014 season without a sponsor to help promote the series. Verizon’s announcement ensures a marketing and promotional partner for the series without any lag for IndyCar.

“We like to think we’re aggressive in growing IndyCar racing, and so time is of the essence,” Miles said. “That’s not a financial answer. Financially the series, the company is in very solid shape and we’re very much in an investment mode this year. But we are just eager to get on with taking this sport to another level, and what Verizon brings is a long list of attributes.

“I’ve come to already not think of them so much as a wireless company as a technology company, and it’s the Verizon IndyCar Series, but they’re our technology partner. We’ve had a chance to have a lot of conversations about the potential for the development of technology, and it just knocks your socks off and gives me a lot of excitement about the way we can reach fans, provide more value for the teams and the drivers.

“We’re so eager to get on with it. I haven’t thought of it in the past as whether we skipped a beat or might have from one year to the next, but I can tell you that I expect impact this year, and for all the journalists that cover us and for fans who watch us and fans who don’t know they’re going to watch us but will, there will be a discernible difference this year.”

It’s also important that IndyCar was able to entice a well-known, very recognizable consumer brand that the public is very aware of.

“It’s huge,” Miles admitted. “Verizon as an institution is one of the most compelling companies in this country. It isn’t lost on us that they have a pretty substantial advertising budget, and they’re so good at the development of their company and their brand. I just don’t know how we could have a better partner in terms of what they stand for as a company and what they bring to us in the way of an informed sponsor.”

Brian Angiolet is the vice president of marketing for Verizon and spoke about how IndyCar racing is a great fit for the brand.

“With this agreement, and when you look at the roadmap that we have both in the agreement and from a product standpoint, I think we feel that we now have a platform really here to demonstrate what all of our technology can bring to the fan base, inside and outside the venue,” Angiolet said. “So it’s a perfect match at a perfect time.

“We’ve got cars with the teams, we’ve got drivers, the Indy League itself, the technology position, the commercial spots that we’re creating around that I think are going to be very exciting, kind of visceral, and that’s part of the muscle that we would bring and will bring.”

Verizon becomes the fourth series sponsor for IndyCar since its inception in 1996. Anybody remember the Pep Boys Indy Racing League or the Northern Light Indy Racing League?

When IZOD entered the 2010 season as the series sponsor it did it with a splash and with flare but never had a coherent message what it wanted to do with the sport. When popular two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011 IZOD took a major step back.
That fatality, combined with dramatically changing marketplace conditions in the apparel industry, led to IZOD’s early exit from the sport.
Verizon answered IndyCar’s call for a new sponsor.

“Think about the kind of company that Verizon is and what they can bring to IndyCar racing,” Miles said. “When they begin with us to roll out effectively products, technology products that will enhance the experience of all our stakeholders starting with fans, I have no doubt that fans are going to be delighted for the value that Verizon brings to IndyCar racing.

“I think fans want to see the sport grow, too, and what Verizon can do in helping us effectively promote this sport and Verizon together will be important and will generate a lot of excitement by open wheel fans and now Verizon IndyCar Series fans.

“I guess I don’t think much about the past, to be frank. I’m thinking about how we’re going to take the sport forward. I’ve never spent a second thinking about comparing this situation to prior ones because I’m so completely convinced about how this one makes sense, how this partnership will make sense.”