DiZinno notebook: Deals and tweets in off-season

DiZinno notebook: Deals and tweets in off-season

A month has passed since the final checkered flag of the IndyCar Series season. There have been several newsworthy developments since Dario Franchitti captured his second series championship at Homestead and we now take a look at ...

A month has passed since the final checkered flag of the IndyCar Series season. There have been several newsworthy developments since Dario Franchitti captured his second series championship at Homestead and we now take a look at those.

Mike Kelly, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Creative for Philips-Van Heusen (right) greets Brian Barnhart, President of Racing Operations for the Indy Racing League, (center) and Jeff Belskus, CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp..
Photo by Steve Swope.

Examining the IZOD deal

First and foremost, IndyCar has now added something of substantial value to its brand. IZOD signed on as title sponsor last Thursday, giving the IndyCar Series its first since 2001.

What IZOD is planning to do -- although no official numbers were released -- is utilize their marketing savvy in a serious attempt to grow the series beyond its shrinking niche in the world of motorsports.

Quite honestly, the fact that IZOD has pledged several million dollars in a recovering economy to a series whose ratings rivaled test patterns and infomercials in its first season on VERSUS, is something of a stunner.

Sponsors are driven by television ratings more than anything -- regardless of whether series officials spin it otherwise -- and the ratings this year were nothing short of abysmal on VERSUS. And this remains the catch-22 for the series as collectively, VERSUS did a far better job of caring and promoting the series.

The problem is that it isn't available in enough homes, and the fallout when DirecTV dropped VERSUS from its satellite lineup reduced even that number.

That aside, IZOD still sees enough value in the product to make a serious investment. The company has pledged several million dollars in terms of activation as title sponsor and for each car on the grid as part of the TEAM (Team Enhancement Allocation Matrix) program.

SPEEDTV.com's Robin Miller estimated the number at $10 million annually, half of that going directly to promotions and marketing and $100,000 per car as part of the TEAM program and potentially several million to fund wherever IZOD's featured driver Ryan Hunter-Reay will be racing next year (Andretti Green Racing has been rumored but not confirmed).

IZOD cultivated the partnership over a three-year period first with a billboard of Hunter-Reay's likeness after his win at Watkins Glen in 2008. That same year the company became the official apparel partner of the series.

Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Photo by Indy Racing League.

The company showed their dedication to "RHR" even despite being left in the wilderness all off-season. But in an 11th hour deal for Tony George, Hunter-Reay drove to second place in the 2009 opener at St. Petersburg.

And now IZOD has taken the plunge as not only the series' title sponsor but a future active marketing partner.

"Despite the recession, we have seen growth and sense the potential for even greater opportunity as the sport is re-energized on the American sports landscape, as well as abroad," said Allen Sirkin, president and CEO of IZOD's parent company, Phillips-Van Heusen.

Naturally, IndyCar commercial division president Terry Angstadt agreed. "Their strong marketing skills, national retail partnerships and ability to bring fresh eyes to the sport have already proven powerful in our short time together," he said during Thursday's announcement.

Rather than a traditional motorsports company, IZOD is a clothing company and brand whose main demographic is a younger crowd. Speaking as a rare IndyCar follower in that magical 18-34 age bracket (whose level of fandom has been tested more this year than in any past) -- this is exactly who IndyCar needs to target to bring into the sport.

IZOD's commitment at this time, in this economy, is very much a leap of faith. But under the new leadership structure of IndyCar, and given the amount of money invested by the company, this could very well be a serious coup that Angstadt and other series officials have managed to pull off.

Milwaukee Mile future in flux

The late Paul Newman famously said in the movie "Winning" that "everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis." Flash forward to 2010 and for IndyCar, that ain't happening. The question is whether any series will be going to Milwaukee next year.

The potential promoters who were announced in July, Historic Mile LLC, have pulled out of the running. Historic Mile partners Tony Machi, a former sports car racer and retired judge, and Jim Beaudoin, a managing partner of a local investment firm, had idealism and hope to save the track but the thing they lacked was investors.

Ernesto Viso, HVM Racing .
Photo by Andy Sallee.

Last week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board was in negotiations with a new group, headed by Milwaukee businessmen Frank and Dominic Giuffre, to secure the track's future. Dominic Giuffre ran the track from 1983 to 1991.

The new team includes longtime IndyCar supporter John Menard, who was reportedly interested to be the title sponsor of the series for $2 million. It is unclear whether Menard will continue to sponsor Vision Racing and driver Ed Carpenter next season.

Races at Milwaukee are listed for the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series for 2010, but IndyCar wouldn't be returning until 2011 at the earliest, and that's if this deal gets done.

Driver market news

There isn't too much to report other than Dan Wheldon will return for Panther Racing after a lackluster season, E.J. Viso will not be back at HVM Racing though the team intends to field two cars, and a deal is close for Will Power to run full-time in a third car at Team Penske. The Australian has spent the last couple months recovering from his injuries in a practice crash at Infineon Raceway in September.

Also of note, 2009 Atlantic champion John Edwards will test an IndyCar later this month but a team and track has not yet been determined. Edwards has been linked to a jump up to the series for 2010 with Eddie Wachs and Newman Wachs Racing, but nothing is confirmed.

In the Indy Lights ranks, Martin Plowman has been confirmed at AFS/Andretti Green Racing for 2010. It's not likely series champion J.R. Hildebrand will return to the class as he is worthy of a promotion to IndyCar for 2010, but finances dictate movement and that is Hildebrand's main hindrance.

Plowman's teammate from 2009 at Panther Racing, Pippa Mann, has tested for Sam Schmidt Motorsports so far. Panther Racing will not resume its Indy Lights program in 2010.

Third year the charm for Sarah Fisher Racing

Monday was a banner day for Sarah Fisher as she enters her third year as a driver and team owner. A wealth of her sponsors, Dollar General, Direct Supply, AAA, Hartman Oil and Tire Kingdom, have all signed on for another season. In each case the company is back for at least their third year with Fisher.

Sarah Fisher, Sarah Fisher Racing.
Photo by Andy Sallee.

"They're almost like family to us," Fisher said in an interview. "It's incredible to have a relationship where it's enjoyable to do events. We'd hang out with them as much as we would our families."

On-track the small team --and for that matter Fisher as a small business owner -- has grown exponentially into its third season.

The trials and tribulations of a backer pulling out just prior to the team's debut at the 2008 Indianapolis 500 nearly knocked her off the rails, but it's been a rally since.

"We've become quite a tight family at the shop," Fisher said. "It was definitely a roller coaster ride, and it was my first year of marriage! There were more bad days than good at the time, but the good outweighed it."

Not only that, but the team said they have been IndyCar's chassis supplier Dallara's main customer.

"We went from not even being able to pay for fuel in '08 to being 75 percent of Dallara's business this year!" she said. "But we can't grow too big, we have to do things that make sense. If we mess up, as a small business, it wipes us out. Every decision has to have a positive effect on the overall bottom line."

Fisher will race in nine events and Jay Howard four in the 2010 season.

All the IndyCar world a-Tweet

Fisher (SarahFisher67) is one of many IndyCar drivers, officials and fans who are sprucing up the off-season via their Twitter accounts (twitter.com/username). Because frankly, what isn't worth listening to in a 140-character message?

In a lot of cases the news has disseminated via Twitter. For instance, I was in class during the IZOD announcement last week -- there is still this strange thing called college that occupies most of my life -- and missed the announcement.

But during that time the series (IZODindycar), media members and bloggers (CurtCavin, LindyThackston, pressdog, MyNameisIRL, etc.) and teams and drivers (notably the Tweeting kings VisionRacing) were all keeping the Twitter-verse abreast of everything going down in Indianapolis and New York that day.

Paul Tracy, KV Racing Technology after the race.
Photo by Yanick Gougeon.

There's also been a renewed effort to use Twitter as a means to create sponsorship opportunities. Paul Tracy has used his Twitter account (PaulTracy3) to attract his followers to commit a "Shout Out" on his personal sponsor, Monster Energy Drink's, Web site.

The hope is that enough followers and "Chrome Horn" fans will utilize the shout outs to promote Monster into sponsoring "PT" for a full-season ride in 2010. I'd love to see it happen.

Finally there's the much-anticipated "Winter Indy Tweetup" in December that will see a wealth of IndyCar fans, team members, and serial tweeters converge to do this rare thing called "meeting in person." Oh, and discuss IndyCar topics. Vision Racing's PR ace Pat Caporali initiated a lot of the "Tweet-ups" during the season.

I won't be attending the said "Tweetup" -- again, this weird thing called "college" -- but I have my own random thoughts on the world of motorsports and everything else that pops up at twitter.com/tonydizinno.

Out for now. Cheers.

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