The Verizon IndyCar Series – A New Era

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By now, we’ve all heard that Verizon has officially been named title sponsor for the IndyCar Series. From this point forward, the series is now officially known as the Verizon IndyCar Series. We have also read and heard just about every accolade that has been said about this announcement. Believe me, it is all well deserved. I think even the Legions of the Miserable would be hard-pressed to find any negatives at all about this deal.

Supposedly, this is a ten-year deal potentially worth over $10 million annually in cash and marketing & promotion. The second part of that sentence is the most important part – marketing & promotion. Reportedly, the series will receive $6 million in cash, but it is the marketing power that the telecommunications giant brings that makes this such a lucrative deal.

Between CART and IndyCar – there have been several series sponsors over the last twenty years. Loyalty and promotion count for a lot in a corporate sponsor, but brand recognition among the masses is a key ingredient as well.

PPG was an excellent and longtime partner to CART, but it was more a B2B (business to business) sponsorship. Most if us don’t think of the choices in automotive finishes on a daily basis. But when Jim Chapman of PPG retired and subsequently passed away, the longtime partner that had become synonymous with the PPG Cup soon left the series.

Enter Federal Express. I happened to be living in Memphis – the home to FedEx- at the time that FedEx came on board to sponsor the CART FedEx Championship Series. Of course, I did everything I could to get a job with FedEx to work with CART and promote the series, as well as the FedEx brand – and of course, my efforts were fruitless. As it turned out – my son, who was eight at the time, could have done a better job than whoever was in charge of promoting this relationship. Sure they had a nifty logo and a few print ads, but FedEx did little more than write a check; when they had the opportunity to promote fast cars along with fast delivery. They opted out of the deal as soon as they could.

When the IRL announced their alignment with Pep Boys for the 1998 season, I had never heard of them. Although they have since ventured south, there were no Pep Boys outlets anywhere near where I lived. A good friend of mine from Philadelphia had to clue me in on who they were and what they did. Yes, they provided a consumer service, but how much credibility does a series have if many parts of the country are totally unaware of the brand?

Pep Boys lasted only two years and went away almost as quickly as they appeared. For 2000, they were replaced by Northern Light. Some younger readers might ask Who? In the late nineties, there was no Google as an internet search engine. There was Yahoo and a couple of minor players. Then the savvy internet users of the day started talking about how sophisticated Northern Light was and how superior it was to Yahoo.

I never liked it, I guess demonstrating how unsophisticated I am. But when they aligned with the IRL to sponsor the Indy Racing Northern Light Series, I tried my best to use it whenever possible. Their deal turned out to be a lot of hype and promises and very little cash. They also left after only two years. The sponsorless series changed its name to the IndyCar Series in 2003. It wasn’t until 2010 that IZOD came on board.

There was a lot of hype when IZOD came in. There were glitzy announcements and parties that had Hollywood written all over it. The first year, they bombarded the audience with the same single commercial that would air probably at least fifteen times in a race. As tiresome as that one got, the commercials in following years featured underwater dancing and hairless metrosexuals that didn’t always mesh well with the typical IndyCar demographic.

But the initial energy flamed out quickly with IZOD. There was a change in personnel at the top along with a change in marketing philosophy. Like FedEx, IZOD wrote their required checks, but got out at the earliest possible moment – leaving after the end of the 2013 season.

Most, myself included, wrote off the 2014 season as a year when the series would lick their wounds from the departure of another corporate partner and try to simply regroup before hopefully landing a replacement for IZOD by 2015.

Give credit where credit is due – Mark Miles. Whether he is directly responsible for convincing Verizon to place their name on the series, or if it was some of his recent hires – Miles is the one in charge and deserves the credit. Like a quarterback or head coach – when a team loses, they receive a lot of the blame; but when they win, they should get credit. Mark Miles deserves a lot of credit for getting this done so quickly.

Think about it – the series had IZOD as a corporate sponsor when they ran their last race at Fontana in October. Before a wheel has turned in competition for the very next race, another title sponsor is in place – and this one is so much better than any they have had yet!

My biggest problem now is a closet full of IndyCar polos and caps with the old IZOD logo that became obsolete after Fontana. Not only is it no longer fashionable to be sporting those shirts at races – it’s unfair to Verizon. Why prominently display support for a company that bailed on the series instead of the new partner that is actually glad to be here. They have already unveiled their black primary logo along with their red alternate. I’m assuming shirts will be available soon.

Verizon Black

Verizon Red

It has been pointed out several times how this can lead to so many positives. Verizon is No.16 on the Fortune 500. They are their industry leader in size and cutting-edge technology. Major corporations use their services every day. Companies that may have passed on sponsorship programs in IndyCar, could potentially rethink their stance since such a powerful company as Verizon is now behind IndyCar. Many Verizon partners such as Apple and Samsung may see this as an opportunity to join the series in a major way. While potential new fans couldn’t relate to PPG, Pep Boys or even IZOD – who can’t relate to Verizon – even if they use another carrier.

I’m not savvy enough to even think about the technological benefits to race fans, but there are undoubtedly many. I’m also thinking that since we’ve been informed that there will not be a Social Media Garage at IMS this May, surely Verizon could offer fans something even better. So, without sounding overly dramatic – this is big. Really big. This has the potential to be the single biggest development for IndyCar in over a decade. Verizon has the power to not only jump-start this series, but to carry it higher than some of us could have imagined possible just after Fontana.

With the season starting in less than two weeks, I was already excited. With Friday’s announcement, I can’t wait to get the Verizon IndyCar Series kicked off in this new era.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “The Verizon IndyCar Series – A New Era”

  1. Yeah George, Verizon is gonna be great for IndyCar! But let’s remember the sudden loss of Gary Bettenhausen today, who passed away last night at the age of 72. When I was a kid rooting for AJ at the Hoosier Hundred blocks from my house in Indianapolis we would root for Gary if Foyt broke. He was a great guy with fans and one helluva race driver!

  2. dzgroundedeffects Says:

    On the surface it sounds great. Best news I’ve heard in 3+ years actually. If all goes to plan, it *should* elevate the series notably. Still I’m not looking for miracles from Verizon here.

    While the potential of their promotion is significant, it’s also up to Indycar to do the work of making Indycar something many more people want to see. Otherwise, Verizon will be looking at their ROI, just as every one before has, and evaluating the relationship.

    I sincerely hope in several years and see this as the start of a very long and very fruitful period for Indycar.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    The shocking news of Gary Bettenhausen’s sudden death has taken the edge off of this Verizon deal news for me. Perhaps his death is so shocking to me because we are the same age. His father Tony was my favorite driver in the 50’s and I always cheered for Gary and his brothers as well.

    Hopefully the expected benefits of the Verizon sponsorship will filter on down to the track owners and promoters. So many tracks are barely breaking even financially. In my opinion we need more races in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and the existing races need stability from year to year. One of the reasons for the continued popularity of the Indy500 is the continuity and traditions of the race. Fans can count on it being on the schedule each May. The same cannot currently be said for the other tracks on the schedule.

  4. Even with the doom and gloomers out there explaining their case (or at least trying to), I can’t see this NOT being a huge deal for the series. Verizon is the perfect series sponsor.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Very sad to hear about Gary Bettenhausen. Tremendous racer and competitor on dirt and pavement.

    I think I said back when Miles hinted at a new title sponsor/early “Christmas present” that it would be a real feather in his cap if he was able to pull it off. All credit to him and the Indycar team that got this deal done. Title sponsorship is critical in today’s motorsports landscape and a sponsor who can (and hopefully will) promote the sport via advertising in media and at retail locations is a real find. Kudos all around.

    Not to pick a nit too much, but Google was around in the late 1990s, one of the dozens of small fish search engines competing for hits. Unlike Northern Light, Yahoo, Excite, and Lycos, they did not spend money on large scale advertising (like motorsports) back then.
    I particularly enjoyed your description of the Izod’s race to the party and dolphin man ads, George.

  6. Verizon is a big deal but it is worth remembering A. that Izod could and should have been a big deal and B. that they are ultimately spending less money per year than National Guard or Target. I really think that Verizon will be a good title sponsor for Indycar and it will be game changing. But I am a little cynical perhaps, as Izod/Chevy/NBC Sports were also suppose to be game changing, and here we are, still waiting.

  7. Its good that Indycar has a sponsor but this is far from the panacea some think it is. Unless they fix their problems, the same thing could happen here that happened to IZOD.

    The best thing they could do with this money is to use it so they could reduce the sactioning fees charged to the tracks. I kind of doubt that is how it will be used.

  8. Ballyhoo Says:

    Verizon! Everyone has heard of Verizon and some of us are actual subscribers. Let’s hope that this will entice other sponsors to join up. $10 million a year sounded great until Dylan pointed out it was less than what the National Guard and Target contribute as team sponsors. However, I don’t think Verizon will disappear off the face of the earth like Izod did in the middle of their contract. I also feel that their presence at races (at least in my very limited experience) is very positive. Their staff is very friendly. And lastly, Verizon does create good commercials.

    Just a note to say RIP to Gary Bettenhausen. Best to his family , friends, and fans.

  9. I wish IndyCar had taken the opportunity to CHANGE THE DAMN CAR IN THEIR LOGO! They still use an IRL crapwagon. Someone should have noticed that, and updated the look of the car.

    I’d like to think the Verizon deal is a game-changer for IndyCar, but I’ve been around too long to get my hopes up. It’s a change for the better, no doubt, but the cost of going racing is still more expensive than it should be, and low TV ratings on NBCSN are both enabling pay drivers to get seats that the Bryan Clausons and Sage Karams of the world should get. But I hope I’m wrong and that Verizon is the best thing to happen to IndyCar since Randy Bernard.

    • billytheskink Says:

      The car silhouette in the longtime IRL-Indycar logo is not likely based on and IRL car. The IRL used the tilted silhouette logo in its inaugural season in 1996, when teams were still running CART equipment. And the silhouette itself predates the IRL by at least a couple years, as I have a 1993 Indy 500 program where it appears in the logo for one of the divisions of IMS.

      Indycar actually did update the series logo slightly back in 2011, presumably in anticipation of the new car. Changes made to the car silhouette were moving the mirror mounts to the top of the sidepods and hollowing out the area in the top of the car to appear as a roll hoop. Funnily enough, we subsequently saw photos of the new Dallara with an airbox and mirrors mounted up around the cockpit…

    • Chris Lukens Says:

      I Googled Indycar logo and found this.

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