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Harris: IZOD Will Dress Up The IndyCar Series

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 5 2009
News that the IndyCar Series has a title sponsor went up on the big screens at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Thursday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

News that the IndyCar Series has a title sponsor went up on the big screens at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Thursday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – It appears the IndyCar Series is going to at least be the best-dressed group in racing for the next six years.

But the announcement Thursday that apparel manufacturer IZOD has signed on as the title sponsor for the American open-wheel series is far more than just great news for the drivers’ sartorial choices.

“To be honest, this is probably the first legitimate title sponsor we’ve had,” said Brian Barnhart, vice president of competition for what will now be known as the IZOD IndyCar Series.

He’s right. This is not a title sponsorship in the mold of previous league partners like Northern Lights, Pep Boys and FedEx, all of which came into the sport with fanfare over the years but delivered little in actual promotion or much needed dollars before quietly departing.

It’s also a huge step for the struggling series which has been hit hard by the crushing recession and has had little good news to spread since the unification of the two American open-wheel series 18 months ago.

Now this, on the heels of glamor girl Danica Patrick’s decision to re-up with Andretti Green Racing for three more years, is a tremendous step for the series.

Although the announcement said only that it is a multimillion dollar deal, reports put the investment by IZOD parent company Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation at somewhere close to $50 million over the half dozen years in the contract. There is also an option for two more years.

The company has also pledged to “activate” the sponsorship – meaning it will spend millions more on marketing and promotion.

The reported numbers would put the IZOD deal in the same ballpark with NASCAR title sponsor Sprint.

Barnhart said the IndyCar teams will see some of that new cash funneled directly to them beginning in 2010, although he would not say how much.

The mood at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the announcement was made, was about as upbeat as it could get.

“This may be the biggest day in the history of the league,” Barnhart said. “Frankly, we now have a partner who can help us raise the value and participation in this sport.”

He said perhaps the major factor at play here is that IZOD, which has been the official apparel company of the IndyCar Series and a personal sponsor for driver Ryan Hunter-Reay since July 2008, is not an automotive company.

“It’s a company that’s non-endemic,” Barnhart said. “It’s outside the motorsports realm and will reach people that we’ve never reached before.”

Mike Kelly, executive vice president of marketing for PVH, was as enthusiastic as a college cheerleader at the Homecoming game.

“We’ve been happy with this from the moment we got involved,” he said. “We saw nothing but growth and opportunity in the league. We believe we can sell the unbelieveable speed of this sport and we believe we can take this out to pop culture.”

IZOD, which has close ties with Macy’s and other department stores, announced its new title sponsorship on a billboard in New York’s Times Square Thursday and plans to use all the IndyCar drivers in its marketing strategies, including personal appearances, ads and television commercials.

Two-time and reigning IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti wasn’t at the announcement, but he was enthusiastic about it.

“It’s a really good sign for the IndyCar Series to have a company like IZOD step up to their commitment to the title sponsor level,” Franchitti said. “Hopefully, we as drivers, along with the teams and series can work together to give IZOD the maximum value on their investment.

“First unification of the two open-wheel series and now a title sponsor: I think you’re seeing the IndyCar Series continue to head in the right direction.”

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 5 2009
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