Does That Mean I Have To Like It?
The emotions tied to sports are an interesting study. When it comes to everyday decisions in my life, I consider myself very logical, rational and consistent. Some would wrap all of those up and just say I’m boring. Something has got to make sense in order for me to act on it. That’s probably why I’m so opposed to change. I really need to see a good reason to change something. Changing for the sake of change is not good enough.
With sports that I’m passionate about, logic and reasoning take a back seat to emotional outbursts and irrational behavior. My sports passions are the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing, the Tennessee Volunteers football team and the Tennessee Titans. Before the Vols began their resurgence a couple of years ago, some may have said that I follow nothing but sinking ships and I’m a glutton for punishment.
My rational side of everyday living is always in conflict with my emotional side when it comes to sports. Deep down, I may know that something makes sense and is done with the good of my sport in mind – but I may actually hate whatever has been done in the name of good sense.
Such was the case when I saw the news that a traditional sponsor in open-wheel racing has signed a three-year agreement to become a presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 – beginning this year with the 100th running.
From this point forward, this year’s race will be known as the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, or something to that effect.
What is PennGrade, you might ask? Well, that’s a good question. It is an oil designed for high-performance racing and street engines. It is marketed by D-A Lubricants, a sponsor that has ties going back decades with IMS – but on cars, not the name of the race.
The deal reportedly pays IMS $1.5 million a year over the course of three years to be part of the name of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (presented by PennGrade).
I knew this day was coming, but does that mean I have to like it? I also know that one day I will surely die. Does that mean I have to like it?
Sponsorships of sporting events are nothing new in sports. In fact, I’d say motorsports sponsorships were the very first sports-related sponsorships, going way back to the birth of the sport. In the mid-eighties, college bowl games started adding brand names to the name of the bowl. There was the USF&G Sugar Bowl, The FedEx Orange Bowl and the Mobil Cotton Bowl. Soon afterwards, some bowls dropped their traditional names. The Sun Bowl simply became the John Hancock Bowl.
In the nineties, sports venues took on corporate names. Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium became Pro Player Stadium. Candlestick Park was renamed 3Com Park and Jack Murphy Stadium was suddenly Qualcomm Stadium. Newer facilities sold their naming rights before they were built. The Titans Stadium began life as Adelphia Coliseum. The Carolina Panther’s home was originally Ericsson Stadium. One of the most surprising moves was when Humpy Wheeler sold the naming rights of Charlotte Motor Speedway to Lowe’s. For ten years, the historic track was known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Beginning in 2010, the name reverted to Charlotte Motor Speedway, as it is still known today.
Other tracks sold their names as well. For a while, Sonoma was known as Infineon Raceway. Canada’s Mosport Park is now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. California Speedway at Fontana is now Auto Club Speedway.
For years, races have carried sponsor names. The Valvoline 200, the Texaco-Havoline 200, the Marlboro 500, the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama and the Firestone 200 are just a few names from the past and present that have dotted the IndyCar landscape.
But through it all, there were a few events and venues that were considered off-limits. Yankee Stadium, Lambeau Field, the Rose Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 were thought to be stand-alone events or venues that needed no sponsor to prop them up.
But times have changed. The Rose Bowl has been presented by AT&T and Vizio in recent years. The Kentucky Derby has been presented by Yum! Brands and the Daytona 500 has been presented by STP, Dodge and Toyota in past years. In fact, the Indianapolis 500 was the last to fall to the big corporate payout. But does that mean I have to like it?
There have been signs pointing to this for years. Several years ago, Shell had signage on the outside wall in Turn Four along with the logos on the pit wall pointing away from the track. Then there were logos painted in the grass infield just inside of Turn One. Within the last year or two, TAG Heuer had signage on both walls facing the track at the famous yard of bricks.
It could be worse. This is a presenting sponsor, meaning it comes after the title of the event. A title sponsor comes at the beginning. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m just not ready for the Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Indianapolis – no matter how much they made off of it.
But if they were going to sell their collective souls at 16th and Georgetown, I wish it had been for a less obscure product. You’ll notice that those other brands mentioned above; STP, Dodge and Toyota were all brands that everyone has heard of. Shell/Pennzoil, Verizon, Target, Samsung and Apple are all household names that anyone would recognize.
IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 need to work to remove the perception that this type of racing is not an obscure niche sport with presenting sponsors you’re never heard of. NASCAR currently has well-known sponsors like m&m’s and FedEx. IndyCar has Mi-Jack, NTT Data, Hydroxycut and now PennGrade. It creates the perception that IndyCar can’t attract the top-name sponsors, so they have to go for the names that few have heard of. Whether that is actually the case is debatable; but you know the old saying – perception is reality.
Proponents of this move will say I need to get with the times. They think I’m too hung up on tradition and I need to pull my head out of the sand. They will say that I’m an idiot if I didn’t see this coming and that it is for the greater good of the sport.
My response to them is that I did see this coming. We were told a year ago by Mark Miles that this was probably the next step. It creates much-needed revenue. I get it. My rational side tells me it ,makes sense. But does that mean I have to like it?