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Strategy Moves From Tracks To Board Rooms

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 3 2011

Roger Penske is still able to attract sponsorships for his IndyCar teams. The strategy has changed, however. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A little over a month still remains before the one-and-only Open Test leading into the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season-opener.

Hot laps scheduled for March 14-15 around the Barber Motorsports Park road-course in Birmingham, Ala., will begin to define the preseason favorites. But there’s little debate as to which organization won open-wheel racing’s offseason sponsorship sweepstakes.

Penske Racing announced Wednesday that it had reached a multi-year extension of its partnership with PPG Industries, and that Guidepoint Systems also had joined its lineup. Both companies will serve as primary and associate sponsors on the cars driven by three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves and teammate Ryan Briscoe.

Guidepoint Systems is an industry-leading vehicle tracking service available through more than 2,500 new and pre-owned dealerships. The company will be primary sponsor of Castroneves’ No. 3 Dallara/Honda at five races this season – including the opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 27 –and Briscoe’s No. 6 car at two events. Additionally, Guidepoint will be a full-season associate sponsor on Castroneves’ car.

Meanwhile, Bill Shaw of PPG noted the world’s leading coatings and specialty products company will mark its 32nd season with Penske Racing in 2011. PPG will be primary sponsor of Briscoe’s car for the races at The Milwaukee Mile, Iowa Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. PPG also will be an associate sponsor on all three Team Penske cars, including the No. 12 Verizon Wireless entry driven by Will Power.

Those announcements capped a series of seemingly non-stop major partnership landings for Penske

The new livery for the No. 3 Penske car of Helio Castroneves. (Photo courtesy of Team Penske)

Racing, beginning with the news that Verizon would be returning as full-season sponsor on 2010 championship runnerup Power’s car.

Furthermore, the landings are the product of a marketing strategy that has seen the team founded and presided over by Roger Penske add high-profile companies Shell-Pennzoil, IZOD, Meijer Supermarkets and AAA to its partnership portfolio.

“For us, we put together a staff where Roger has instilled in us to anticipate things in life rather than react to them,” Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing, said during a teleconference. “There’s certain things in racing that you have to react to, but there’s a lot more things that you have to anticipate.

“About four or five years ago we felt like the model was changing and we couldn’t rely on a CEO-level relationship like we have (had) in the past with Philip Morris or Miller Brewing Company in NASCAR. A lot of these associations were because they enjoyed racing, the camaraderie, that type of thing, and they also liked to see their brand on race cars.

“We felt like we needed to put together a more strategic approach and position ourselves to where from a business-to-business perspective we would not only have sponsors, but we would have partners. Those partners would race with us, they would win and lose with us on the weekends and hopefully we would win together during the week.

“We put together a program in which Bud Decker came to us with Kodak, and he had been on the

Ryan Briscoe reaps the benefits of the Penske legacy. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

other side of the fence as a sponsor of our organization. With him coming onboard, we decided to really revamp our marketing department. Again, we brought on another person in Jonathan Gibson, who had been on the other side of the fence.

“So we brought people into our organization that knew what the sponsors and our partners needed out of the relationship to make sure it was productive and it was a win-win. They’ve been able to fill people around them.

“I think what we’ve got better at is servicing those partners to what their needs are and showing them the way to really bring home what the ROI (return on investment) is on the association and be able to spread that message within their own organization.”

As one of the most successful teams in professional sports, Penske Racing operates from a position of strength. Competing in a variety of disciplines, cars owned by “The Captain” have produced 332 major race wins, 396 pole positions and 23 National Championships.

Team Penske’s record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories have made it a sponsorship magnet during the Month of May, a fact driven home during the current offseason buildup of the race’s milestone 100th anniversary in a few months.

To that end, Shell-Pennzoil will serve as primary sponsor of Castroneves’ car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, and several events this season. AAA will appear as primary sponsor on Castroneves’ car for at least two races.

IZOD ‘s livery will serve as primary sponsor on Briscoe’s car at IMS and several events, as well as

Pennzoil is heading to the Penske IndyCar team this season. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

associate sponsor on all three Penske IndyCar entries for the full season. And Meijer has signed-on as a major associate sponsor on Power’s car.

Cindric said the switch to multiple primary sponsorships, or block sponsorships, is a marked departure from the traditional, single, full-season agreements found in NASCAR and INDYCAR.

“Certainly being able to add a full-season sponsor like Verizon, and in the Cup Series when we look at Miller Lite,” Cindric said, “if we look across the board at NASCAR and IndyCar, there’s very few sponsors that are able to sustain that whole partnership and what it takes to do that throughout the season. You can count on one hand how many organizations are able to sustain that at the right level.

“I think for us, we had to change our strategy to where that’s the goal. The goal is to have three or four primary sponsors that we run all season with and build that equity between the two organizations. But obviously with the economy and the way things have been, we knew that wasn’t realistic and we needed to keep trying to figure out how to get organizations that are still key – organizations that are at the top of their business platforms among their peers – and bring Shell and Guidepoint and some of these other sponsors into the series, to get their feet wet and try to understand what it’s all about. They’re going to walk here before they run, I’m sure.

“Between the series’ growth and hopefully the wins we have on and off the track, we’ll be able to build them into bigger programs longer-term. And from a series standpoint, the more of these type of sponsors that the series is able to have associated with them, the more they can spread the word really what IndyCar racing is all about.”

Cindric noted that for a new-to-racing sponsor like Guidepoint, the initial limited buy-in clearly is

Team Penske players Rick Mears, left, Tim Cindric and Ryan Briscoe. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

more cost-effective, and an incentive.

“Yeah, that model has proven over and over again with Roger over the years,” Cindric said. “Verizon is another great example. They didn’t come in and say, ‘We’re going to sponsor a season.’ They came in and helped us with Will at Indianapolis, and that grew into a few other races. They saw the value in it. They saw what IndyCar had to offer.

“More importantly, they saw where it was going in the future and the things they could do with racing that they couldn’t do with some of the other programs they had within their marketing (platform). When I say that, I’m not referring to motorsports, I’m referring to their stick-and-ball or traditional programs. It offers a unique approach for their consumer, for their VIP.

“With IndyCar, the access you get is really incredible when you look at almost being in the locker rooms with the team, being on the sidelines with the coach and being able to hear what’s actually happening during the race itself.

“It’s a unique experience that’s hard to explain. And once they get a taste of it, a lot of them just seem to grow on it.”

Rand Mueller, Guidepoint’s founder/CEO, said the Penske partnership will showcase the safety, security, convenience and “pin-point accuracy” of his company’s product lineup. Guidepoint is a system that integrates global positioning satellites (GPS), advanced wireless technology, the Internet and 24/7/365 response centers to provide stolen vehicle recovery, driver safety and convenience, vehicle tracking and fleet management services.

Castroneves, one of motorsports’ most engaging personalities and enthusiastic pitchmen, said he was “super excited” to work on behalf of Guidepoint, rated the No. 1 stolen-vehicle tracking solution in 2007 by international research firm Frost & Sullivan.

“One thing for sure, they’re going to know where I’m going,” said Castroneves, setting up his own punchline. “I’m not going to be able to get lost, and nobody is going to be able to steal my car.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 3 2011
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