(The second in a series of looking back on the 2009 season and what the IndyCar Series can do moving forward.)
Quick question: how many official sponsors of the IndyCar Series can you name without looking? Off the top of my head, I can go Firestone, Honda, Ritmo Mundo, Peak, Apex Brasil, Izod. Now, take a look at this page - are you surprised there are that some of these sponors exist?
It makes sense for Coca-Cola to be involved, but how much activation comes from that? Have you seen a display in a grocery promoting the IndyCar Series and their relationship with Coke? I can't remember seeing it, outside of my local Marsh on the northeast side of Indianapolis that builds their own display for every race at IMS.
And this brings me to the second way the IndyCar Series can do more to bring its brand to the masses - increased sponsorship and sponsor activation.
I'm sure all of the sponsors on the Indycar.com sponsors page do a fantastic job with activation. Hopefully Coke will send employees to Alabama to support that race, since IndyCar no longer races in Atlanta. But when it comes down to it, how many of those brands listed do you use?
I suppose we can buy Firestone tires or a Honda (or better yet, a Penske Honda), but what the IndyCar Series needs is to expand its "official" sponsors.
For instance, can you name the Official Beer of the IndyCar Series? (Aside from Pressdog.com's various beer selections, of course.) The unfortunate answer is that the Series does not have an official beer. I know that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has an official beer, Miller Lite, because Miller Lite makes a point of it to put the IMS wing-and-wheel logo on their cases of beer during the summer.
Does that cause me to buy Miller Lite exclusively? Probably not. And because I live in Indianapolis, I already know about IMS. But to a racing fan in say, Indianapolis, Iowa, would putting the IndyCar Series logo on a case of Miller Lite increase the visibility for the series? Yes. Would that fan be more likely to look up the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway because Miller Lite is putting the ICS logo on a case of beer, and/or putting up displays in the local grocery promoting the race? Probably.
Finding a brewer to be the official beer for the IndyCar Series is a simple, yet big-picture step. Coors Light is the official beer of the NFL - how many times do they beat that over your head both during the race and on billboards around a city? A similar deal could be reached with a brewing company, allowing the IndyCar Series to be promoted via Budweiser/Coors/Miller ads throughout the country, especially areas with IndyCar racing.
Again, does the IndyCar Series have an official energy drink? Nada. Candy bar? Nope. But I've seen sponsorship of Marco Andretti with Venom Energy Drink (Venom is a product of Dr. Pepper/Snapple, which sponsors Andretti
/Green Racing) and I've seen Snickers advertising at St. Petersburg. So what would it take to get Venom on board for a full season of sponsorship? Would making them the Official Energy Drink of the IndyCar Series help? Probably.
Would making Snickers the Official Candy Bar of the IndyCar Series bring in more sponsorship, outside of some signage at different tracks? I would think so. Would Snickers be willing to put Dario Franchitti (who, henceforth, will be called Sideburns in this blog) in one of those kitschy commercials (like this one, for instance)? I'm sure they could find a driver.
My basic point is this - it's great for the IndyCar Series to have so many official sponsors. However, so many of these sponsors are high-end products (Ritmo Mundo) or niche-oriented (K&N Filters), that the IndyCar Series needs to find some sponsors that the middle-class American can not only relate to, but see on a regular basis, whether at the grocery store, an auto parts store (or better yet, an auto parts store becomes a sponsor) or in a shopping mall.
Firestone, Honda, Sirius-XM, et al, are good starts. But for the IndyCar Series to become more mainstream, more viable, more visible, the Series needs to find some more generic, larger-picture sponsors.
When I go to Marsh in the future, I don't want to see just the store-built display of Coke 12-packs mixed with Sprite packs to spell out 'Indy 500.' I want to see a stand-up showing some IndyCar drivers promoting an upcoming race with Cokes in hand. I want a display in the beer section that not only promotes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but promotes the IndyCar Series as a whole (Keep in mind this was the type of racing that Miller and Budweiser used to sponsor, and I hold out hope that they will come back one day). I want to see a cheesy commercial from Snickers involving an IndyCar driver. (And if it involves E.J. Viso scaring Jack Arute with a snake, even better).
If the IndyCar Series can find some of these sponsors - some sponsors that the average American already knows, then they can begin to relate again to the average American (who isn't buying a Ritmo Mundo watch anytime soon). With a relationship with the average American, the IndyCar Series can begin to activate those people to returning to the track. And when that happens, the sponsorships will grow, too. It's very cyclical and hopefully is on the way back up.