Should A Title Sponsor Be A Household Name?

Last week, Adam Stern was a guest on Trackside. If you don’t know who Adam Stern is, he is the Motorsports Reporter with the SportsBusiness Journal. He is the go-to person for the latest on any business dealings within the motorsports realm. If you are on Twitter and such things interest you as much as they do me, he is a good follow at @A_S12.

He was passing on what he knew about the search for a title sponsor for the IndyCar Series, replacing Verizon who completed their five-year obligation at the end of this past season.

Stern has been on this story for quite some time. He says that IndyCar is certainly zeroing in on a company, but they are being very tight-lipped as to who the company is. If he really knows who the targeted company is, he is also being tight-lipped. However, he did share what he said he knows.

According to Stern, what he has been able to decipher is that the company is a B2B based company (Business to Business) meaning that it is not a company that produces a consumer product or service. He is also of the opinion that the company is based in Asia.

I think most fans would prefer that the next title sponsor be a company that most people have heard of and likely use. Being an Asia-based B2B company does not check either of those boxes, but my question is…is that really important?

Like most everything, there is not an easy answer to that question.

When Verizon came on board, this was a company that everyone had heard of and that many people used in their homes on a daily basis. The argument was that if a company this well-known and powerful found IndyCar to be worthy of their sponsorship, it must be good. As an added bonus, they had the ability to take part in sponsor activation on multiple levels and even showcase the series and some drivers in their commercials. Looking back, I think Will Power or Josef Newgarden would have been far better choices than the bearded annoying Verizon guy that we have been bludgeoned with for the past couple of years, but I digress.

B2B companies are different. While they can provide as much, if not more, money as a mainstream consumer brand; they don’t have the name recognition or ability for as much activation as brands we all know – like Amazon, Coca-Cola or Verizon.

BASF is a good example. Many have heard of BASF as a company, but few of us know what they really do. Back in the eighties and nineties, BASF was a prominent brand of VHS video tapes. I thought that was all they did until they started running this commercial that many of you remember.

It became readily apparent that they were much more than video tapes. As it turns out, BASF is a German based company that is the largest chemical producer in the world. While they don’t make products that you buy directly, their products help make up the products you buy. So while we as consumers may be unfamiliar with many B2B companies, that doesn’t mean they would be undesirable as IndyCar’s title sponsor.

Although we were able to buy some PPG products, I would easily classify PPG Industries as a B2B company and they have been one of the best partners and title sponsors in IndyCar history.

Of course, Stern also said he thinks the company that Mark Miles is courting is an Asian-based B2B company. That makes name recognition even tougher. While we are very familiar with several Asian-based companies, they are mostly consumer product companies like Panasonic, Sony, Honda and Toyota.

Stern never mentioned this as a possibility, but I’m wondering if the company isn’t NTT Data. They are the largest of all the IT services companies that are based in Japan. That satisfies both criteria that Stern laid out – B2B and Asian-based. Since coming on board as Ryan Briscoe’s sponsor in 2013, NTT Data seems to have increased their presence on a yearly basis. In 2017, they ended up sponsoring two cars for Chip Ganassi Racing halfway through the season – the No. 9 of Scott Dixon and the No. 10 of Tony Kanaan. They have reportedly been very happy with their IndyCar exposure, so that would not surprise me at all – but that is pure speculation on my part. I’ve heard no rumors to that effect, I’m just connecting some dots.

Now how would that sound if it were true, however? The NTT Data IndyCar Series. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?

But other than not sounding aesthetically pleasing when you say it (or type it), don’t get discouraged if you’ve never heard of the company that’s announced, or don’t know what they do. Quite honestly, NTT Data has been on Ganassi cars for the past six seasons, and I’m still not sure exactly what they do other than IT services. That covers a vast spectrum.

One of the best partnerships IndyCar has had in the past decade was with ApexBrasil. They actually contributed more annually to the series than IZOD did and did a lot of behind the scenes activations with their US and Brazilian partners. Yet, I’ll bet less than five percent of the fan base had any clue as to what they did or who they were. Sadly, it was another partner that had a change of leadership that viewed IndyCar sponsorship differently than their predecessor and they left after fulfilling their contract at the end of the 2014 season. But while they were involved, ApexBrasil was an excellent partner that few had ever heard of.

Stern mentioned that Miles expects to announce the new title sponsor in December. That means it could be today, tomorrow or sometime after Christmas. Of course, if the deal collapses for some reason – we may never know who it is (or was).

When it comes to this sort of thing, Mark Miles is no dummy. I am assuming that he has a Plan B in place in case this primary deal collapses. Keep in mind, it was late February (I believe) when Verizon was announced just before the 2014 season – and that was after IZOD bailed one year early with no notice. Miles has known for over a year that Verizon would not renew their contract when it expired at the end of this season, so he has had plenty of time to get several things lined up. While I criticize Miles in some areas, this is not one of them. I have full faith that he will find a solid partner for the next IndyCar title sponsor – just don’t panic if you’re never heard of them.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Should A Title Sponsor Be A Household Name?”

  1. My initial thought is that an obscure (to the consumer) Asian business-to-business sponsor does nothing to lend credibility to Indycar as a mainstream sports entity. A household name would be preferable as that would seem to indicate stability and I’d think an American company would be preferable in terms of recognition and brand loyalty–but financial support and (buzzword alert) activation is most important. It sounds a bit Northern Lights or whatever that was to me, but we’ll see what Miles has in mind I suppose. On the other hand they’re talking to Australia and Japan is on the way there I think.

  2. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George…I know there isn’t much going on right now but I feel we are worried a little too much about a title sponsor. If they find one, great, if not we have the INDYCAR series.

  3. Sure would help to have a major brand as title sponsor . NBC is only on board for the next three years . Have to make the next three years work and increase TV ratings or this series will just fade away slowly on the Pluto TV network free app .

  4. billytheskink Says:

    A consumer-focused brand is ideal for the activation possibilities and benefits the series’ credibility, but the money is needed first and foremost. NBC is surely watching for a title sponsor who promises to purchase quite a few commercial slots. I expect they and the series were pleased with Verizon on that front.

  5. Those ApexBrasil commercials were nauseating.

    • I don’t know about the Apex Brasil commercials, but I sure do remember the IZOD commercial (or was there more than one at any time? Hardly what I would consider a “campaign”.)

      Look, let’s look at this from a business perspective. Billy is right: The MONEY comes first! The series BADLY needs to replace the $10M shortfall in order to keep things rolling in a positive direction.

      Who besides me remembers Northern Lights or Manny, Moe, and Jack a/k/a Pep Boys. As long as the check clears, I could give two whoops in Hell about who writes it.

      Would I prefer it to be a consumer recognized entity? Sure, but I care about financial stability more. The series has a lot going for it right now, particularly when you look at the fall of NASCAR’s numbers.

      Did any of you watch the NASCAR PLAYOFF race at Texas? My guess is they drew the same or less than IndyCar does there in terms of butts in seats. There was a lot of aluminum cleverly disguised as race fans, and you can be sure Eddie Gossage knows it.

      So let’s make sure we keep the series on sound financial footing.

  6. Asia is not just Japan.
    different business models in play.
    Do Not Lose Face.

  7. ecurie415 Says:

    A B2B sponsor isn’t a great idea for a sport that struggles for attention. Is it a good cash grab? Probably. But it’s the same kind of short-term thinking that has plagued IndyCar for years. Brand loyalty was great for NASCAR; IndyCar needs to head in that direction. But the reality is probably that no one is ponying up to do it. Title sponsors haven’t done much for the series in a long time; maybe it’s time to put that old saw to bed.

  8. […] wrote a post on Dec 3, speculating who the sponsor may be after Stern was a guest on Trackside. When he […]

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