The Way A Partnership Should Be

One thing that seemed to go somewhat unnoticed during the IndyCar finale at Sonoma is the fact that Last Sunday was the final race for Verizon as the title sponsor of the series. I’ll admit that I’ve only watched a little bit of the broadcast since we returned from the race, so maybe they mentioned it on the broadcast – but it seems to have slipped way under the radar for the most part.

Not to single anyone out, but I read one comment within the last few weeks where someone said they’ll be so glad when Verizon is no longer the sponsor of the series. My question to that is…why?

Verizon did practically everything that a title sponsor is supposed to do. Aside from writing a very healthy check to IndyCar once a year – they had a major presence at every race from hospitality and signage to multiple sponsor activation efforts. If I wanted to nitpick, I would have preferred them using IndyCar in their commercials. After all, Will Power or Josef Newgarden would have been a lot better as a spokesperson than Annoying Verizon Guy.

Let’s not forget that Verizon erected temporary cell towers at every race. That was a big deal, especially at tracks that are out in the middle of nowhere as most road courses are. That has been a luxury taken for granted by fans for the past five years that will be missed starting next season.

I have no animosity whatsoever towards Verizon. They fulfilled the terms of their contract, unlike IZOD, and there was hardly a drop-off in support once they gave official notice that they would not renew once the five-year contract was up. Over time, CEOs change, business goals change and the market climate changes. I give them credit for sticking with the contract.

On the other hand, IZOD and their parent company Phillips van Heusen slithered their way out of fulfilling their contract. IZOD hit the ground running when they first came on board for the 2010 season. They had a commercial with rock-jawed, slick-haired male models in the desert complete with a front-drive Novi. We saw that commercial about eighty-nine times per race weekend. Those three things just didn’t go together – male models that had no idea what a Novi was, somehow located in the desert. It was a very odd commercial. It’s been over eight years, but it is still seared into my brain.

But to their credit, after that one – IZOD came up with some fairly creative commercials using IndyCar drivers; Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe among others. But by 2012, which was the beginning of the third year of the contract – the ads were gone, the IZOD IndyCar apparel was gone and even most signage was gone. By the 2013 Indianapolis 500 – it was obvious that IZOD would be gone. They were by the end of the season, with an entire year left on the deal.

Verizon had been a Will Power sponsor on a part-time basis since 2009. Recall that Power had a part-time deal with Team Penske that season as a potential replacement driver for Helio Castroneves, who was embroiled in a tax-evasion trial. As it turned out, Castroneves only missed the season-opener at St. Petersburg and the opening practice of the second race of the season at Long Beach. As Castroneves got back in the car on Saturday, Team Penske wheeled out a Verizon-liveried car for Power. Although they were on just a few races, including Indianapolis, for Power that season – it was the start of a long relationship. Verizon went on Power’s car full-time in 2010 and has been there ever since. They also expanded to a part-time presence on the No.2 car of Juan Montoya and then Josef Newgarden and even to the No.3 car of Helio Castroneves for the IndyCar Grand Prix.

Supposedly Verizon will continue to be a strong sponsor for Power and Team Penske, but they will no longer be the title sponsor for the series. That’s a shame, but I don’t hold a grudge against someone that does everything they agreed to do. They aren’t squirming out of the contract. They simply chose not to renew it once it expired.

Things have been quiet on who CEO Mark Miles may be courting to replace Verizon. I know he has been in conversations with multiple suitors, but how far any discussions have gone still remains a mystery. At times I have had some unkind words for Mr. Miles on certain topics, but this is an area I think he excels in and I expect him to come up with a solid replacement. Unlike when IZOD bailed, Verizon gave Miles plenty of notice that they would not be returning when this season was over. He has had a lot of time to try and find a suitable replacement.

Remember, he was able to lure Verizon in a matter of months after IZOD bolted. When the 2013 season ended at Fontana, IZOD was still officially on board. I assumed that the series would go for at least one full season with no title sponsor. But by the time the 2014 season started at St. Petersburg, Miles had already secured Verizon to take IZOD’s place. Miles has had over a year to work on Verizon’s replacement, so I’m not too worried.

I’m not naïve enough to think that Mark Miles will secure a title sponsor for the next couple of decades. The days of Winston and PPG providing long-term title sponsorships are over. I think FedEx lasted about three years with CART and NEXTEL/Sprint was about ten years with NASCAR. I think five years is about what you can hope for and maybe get a three year extension after that, if you’re lucky. Anything after that is gravy.

Who it might be is anyone’s guess. I’m confident that a partner that makes sense for the series will be found, and one that will have solid footing and will last the life of the contract. I’ve trashed IZOD for leaving early, but at least they stuck around longer than Pep Boys. And at least Pep Boy was a real deal. Does anyone remember the Northern Light fiasco?

The name I’ve heard more than once as a potential replacement is Amazon, but that could be pure speculation. I’ve heard them mentioned a few times, but that could just be a rumor repeated by a lot of anxious fans. I would like to see a prominent company with deep pockets such as Amazon come on board, but that could be nothing but wishful thinking. But whoever it is that comes on board, I’ll be glad to have them.

Verizon has been the best title sponsor that IndyCar has had since PPG and perhaps ever, although PPG was a very good partner to CART in the eighties and nineties. Nothing lasts forever, especially in motorsports – but I’m very sorry to see Verizon go away as title sponsor. While they’ll still be involved with the series through Team Penske, their presence will be missed. Whoever becomes the new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series has some big shoes to fill. Thank you, Verizon!

George Phillips

7 Responses to “The Way A Partnership Should Be”

  1. Everyone is worried about what Gabby Chaves or Connor Daly will do and here we are without a title sponsor for a growing series on a new TV network. This should be more concerning! Verizon did a wonderful job! Also note they sponsored 2 cars!

  2. With each passing year Verizon seemed to have less of a presence at tracks. I do appreciate their completing the contract.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Verizon did a fine job. I think there was a reasonable hope or expectation among fans that there would be more activation from the company (via television and especially Verizon’s many, many retail outlets), but they probably pushed IndyCar as much as its share of their marketing budget justified.

    I would not put them ahead of PPG or FedEx in title sponsor history. PPG poured untold millions into CART’s prize money fund for years and FedEx (which was with CART for their entire 5 year contract, 98-02) spent millions facilitating CART’s fly-away races.
    They are, of course, ahead of Northern Light, Pep Boys, and IZOD on tenure alone, if not many other things. I’m not sure how to rank Marlboro or Citicorp, who had short tenures but only left because of USAC’s poor management.

    More prominent in that strange IZOD desert commercial than the models checking out a Novi, I thought, was the fact that Weezer was there playing a concert for an audience that I presume consisted entirely of a couple models, Ryan Briscoe, and Roger Penske.

    Speaking of Mr. Penske, we ought to thank him for bringing Verizon to IndyCar in the first place.

    And let’s not forget to thank Ryan Newman in all of this too, there is no Verizon in IndyCar without him either. Thanks Ryan, hope that #6 Roush car carries you to multiple top 20 finishes next season.

  4. I have had great interactions with the Verizon folks at races for several years. I kept my promise to one person to switch to Verizon when my contract with AT&T expired. I think Verizon did quite a bit, but then I only have IZOD to compare them to. I sincerely hope Mark Miles secures an excellent replacement with a multi-year contract.

  5. Verizon is the ONLY carrier that works where i work.
    others have to borrow mine to get anything done.
    INDYCAR might have to borrow, too.

  6. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Well, I’m one that had an issue or two with Verizon as the title sponsor, the main one being that they made the mobile app virtually useless to anyone other than Verizon customers. The app offers some wonderful stuff, especially if you’re attending the race in person, but it’s only available to maybe half of the IndyCar fans and the rest are left with a generic news feed and not much else. I understand why they did it, but from IndyCar’s point of view does it really make sense to leave half of your fanbase without access to those useful features? So at the very least one positive will probably come from them leaving, that being ALL IndyCar fans having equal access to the mobile app.

    The other issue I had was the whole extra cell towers at the track thing. I’m not sure how all that works, but again it seems to only benefit Verizon customers because whenever I’m at an IndyCar race, whether it’s at Indy with a quarter million people or at Gateway or Mid-Ohio with 30,000 people, my cell phone loses all connection once the stands start to fill up.

    I hope they find a good sponsor but it could be difficult, when your product barely reaches a half a million people per event it’s probably a hard sell. Amazon could be a great title sponsor, they have the means, finances, and desire to really add some value to the series and bring attention to it. Of course they’d probably put some things behind the Prime paywall too, but at least Prime is available to anyone at any time and pays for itself over the course of a year. They might even make some films about the series/drivers to put on their video service which would be great!

  7. The reigning NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. can’t find a sponsor for 2019 ……….. and he’s the CHAMPION ………. so Furniture Row Racing are closing their doors and quitting the sport.

    So what does that say about a new Indycar series sponsor? …….. I dunno but it’s going to hard to find with corporations thinking only of investor roi and executive salaries.

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