It’s a Bigger Deal Than Some Think

There was a fairly significant announcement on Monday that some fans chose to ignore and while a handful of others criticized it. The announcement was that NTT was extending the title sponsorship of what has been known as the NTT IndyCar Series since 2019. The original five-year deal is set to expire after the end of the 2024 season. The multi-year extension goes into effect after that date.

The reaction from fans was either subdued or critical. Some fans complained that NTT was a company that no one had heard of. It’s true that NTT is not a household product like Winston, NEXTEL, Sprint, Monster Energy Drink, IZOD or Verizon. But NTT is a major global technology company that many corporations around the world are very familiar with.

I saw some social media comments criticizing the fact that the title sponsor was a Japanese company, and not an American based corporation. IndyCar is based in North America and has limited its travel to the US and Canada in recent years. But there are thirteen countries represented among the twenty-seven fulltime drivers. Nine of those drivers are from the US. So to expect the title sponsor to be an American-based company is not realistic. Besides, one of the two automotive partners (Honda) is Japanese, and the parent company for Firestone (Bridgestone) is based in Japan, although their North American Headquarters is in downtown Nashville.

I’m sure when IndyCar officials began scouring the corporate landscape a few years ago for a new sponsor it was probably their preference to land a US-based company. But when NTT stepped up, IndyCar rightfully jumped at the opportunity.

IndyCar has not had the best of luck with US-based companies in this role. If you go back to CART, PPG stuck around for about fifteen years or so. Had Jim Chapman not passed away, it probably would have been longer. But PPG left shortly after his death and was replaced by FedEx. That sponsorship lasted roughly five years. To the dismay of fans, FedEx did nothing but write a check. Fans had envisioned a series of FedEx racing commercials that never happened.

At around this time, the fledgling IRL was having its title sponsorship problems also. Pep Boys came on board as the title sponsor in 1998, but by the end of the 1999 season, they were gone. Northern Light was an internet search engine that desperately needed exposure. They signed a whopping five year $50 Million contract, but they pulled out of the deal less than two years into it.

For the next seven years, IndyCar had no title sponsor. Once Tony George was ousted from the series he founded, finding a title sponsor became a top-priority. IZOD had sponsored cars since 2008 and they signed a five-year agreement to become title sponsor for the series beginning with the 2010 season. Somehow, the five-year deal was terminated by IZOD’s parent company, Philip Van Husen, after the 2013 season.

Following a successful sponsorship with Team Penske beginning in 2010, Verizon eagerly stepped into the role of title sponsor with yet another five-year deal, beginning with the 2014 season. Unlike IZOD, Verizon actually fulfilled their agreement, but did not extend their entitlement sponsorship beyond the 2018 season.

Many thought that IndyCar would have to go at least one season with no title sponsor. Credit IndyCar CEO (now Penske Entertainment President) Mark Miles for acting quickly and convincing Ganassi sponsor NTT Data’s parent company, NTT, to come on board as the title sponsor beginning in 2019.

We are one race into the fifth season of the original deal, and NTT has chosen to extend the contract beyond the fifth year. This is new territory for the IRL side of things, and something we haven’t seen since PPG was title sponsor for the PPG IndyCar World Series with CART in the 80s and 90s.

Instead of yawning at Monday’s announcement or criticizing it, IndyCar fans should be overjoyed. This is really a big deal for IndyCar and gives the series a sense of stability with a title sponsor that they haven’t enjoyed in…well, forever. I don’t know the financial details, but title sponsorships are not cheap. This gives the series the freedom to make long-term plans and projections without having to worry about a strained financial situation.

This is also good for the perception of IndyCar. NASCAR went decades with Winston as the title sponsor for their top series. Once the tobacco legislation no longer allowed that after 2005, parent company RJ Reynolds decided to end the relationship in 2003. In the past twenty years, NASCAR has had NEXTEL, then Sprint (which bought out NEXTEL), then Monster Energy and now the top series is simply known as the NASCAR Cup Series with four various premier partners. To me, that screams “we couldn’t find a fulltime sponsor”.

Like most things on social media, the few who criticized this move does not represent the majority of fans. Most fans who realized this was a big deal probably stayed silent like I did when I learned it. But when I saw the comments from a few short-sighted fans, I felt the need to explain why this was a good thing. I am sure I am preaching to the choir here, because most readers here get it. But just in case there are a few that don’t understand why this is a big deal.

Those who know me know how much I hate change. I live by the mantra Change is Bad. Obviously, I see it as a good thing that the series known as the NTT IndyCar Series will remain as such for the next several years.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “It’s a Bigger Deal Than Some Think”

  1. NTT are a great title sponsor. They back individual drivers too as we know. Anyone who has not heard of them outside Indycar is probably too best placed to comment. Thank you NTT.

  2. What I take most from this post is that the new agreement will make NTT the longest title sponsor since PPG. I didn’t realize that until reading this. That speaks volumes in my opinion. Yes, it is a big deal.

  3. I’m ecstatic they re-upped. As long as there is a consistent title sponsor, everyone wins!

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I don’t really disagree with those that make the point that a more consumer-focused title sponsor would/could be better for Indycar than NTT. But to suggest that Indycar turn down NTT’s money while they pursue such a sponsor is ludicrous.

    In a series that has seen such turmoil and turnover, stability like this sponsorship extension is something to be appreciated. Once the series is stable and growing, it can afford to be picky.

    PS… beloved PPG was not an especially consumer-focused company during most of its time sponsoring Indycar. It generally used its sponsorship to promote automotive paint (as DuPont did in NASCAR), a product largely purchased by businesses.

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