The Frontstretch: Open Wheel Wednesday: Change Is Good by Huston Ladner -- Wednesday October 2, 2013

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Open Wheel Wednesday: Change Is Good

Huston Ladner · Wednesday October 2, 2013


Change is good. Just ask Andy Reid, who left the Philadelphia Eagles for the Kansas City Chiefs and has them sitting with a 4-0 record. Change is good. Look at Peyton Manning, who — in his second year with the Denver Broncos — looks like a machine in racking up touchdowns with ease. Change is good. Just ask Matt Kenseth, who in his first year at Joe Gibbs Racing, leads the Cup standings, has the most wins, and set a career-high for single-season victories in the No. 20 car.

So change is good for IndyCar, right? You bet.

Last week, IZOD announced that they would be “concluding” their sponsorship with IndyCar. That they would just choose to end their association, not re-signing for 2014 is really of no big surprise. Though not a terrible fit, on paper the clothier never seemed to appeal to the fans of the sport in public. Perhaps IZOD gave off a little too much of that wine and cheese air; to move forward, the series needed something a bit more useful or approachable.

One of the bigger issues between IZOD and IndyCar was that they never seemed able to find a marketing strategy that benefited both of them at the same time. At times, it seemed like neither organization knew how to work with the other, nor what their goals were. Theirs was a marriage that never made sense, except in IndyCar’s bank account and now they can split and move on amicably.

The big question now is: Who takes IZOD’s place? Or, some may jest, does anyone want to take their place? It’s true; the IndyCar series is still a tough sell as, other than the Indianapolis 500, there’s a ragtag bunch of ratings and races to offer. That doesn’t mean things can’t change. Change is good.

Change is coming to IndyCar, as IZOD has chosen not to renew their title sponsorship agreement in 2014.

The sport is not a wash or a waste. Does it draw in consistently fantastic television numbers? No. But it is one that has potential for growth. The overall schedule has been its biggest hindrance of late, and with a sharper mindset towards improving that aspect, 2014 looks promising.

Fans still turn out to the tracks. Many of the races have been compelling. There is value in the series. And there are valuable companies in the wings, in position to give the sport a big boost. Rumors have postulated, for example that Verizon might be the company to step up and take on naming rights. That might be the best fit (although one might wonder what would happen to Penske Racing and their relationship with the company).

Already, Verizon supports the P1 award, given to the driver earning the Pole Position. The company has also been aggressive towards marketing their IndyCar app – pushing fans to use their phones or tablets to follow the series through multiple angles and coverage. This kind of technology is important, keeping the series in a constant relationship with the next generation and their attachment to both iPhones and social media. A forward-thinking company, with the keys to those cutting-edge platforms works well for this sport.

And of course, there’s been the team sponsorship. Both Will Power and championship points leader Helio Castroneves have their cars dressed in Verizon get up. So the company both surrounds the sport and is in the sport. Again, the fit between the series and the company almost seems like a lug nut to a wheel.

One of the questions that could come with a company like Verizon taking over, if they do, is whether they will have an exclusivity clause as Sprint does now with NASCAR Cup racing. Anything that handcuffs sponsorship in IndyCar is a problem, as the series needs to be open to all it can get. This matter has frustrated those in NASCAR and is one that should best be avoided. While a company like Boost Mobile may not sponsor a car full-time, they do show up on occasion and that is needed monies for race operations.

One of the humorous aspects, of course, is that should Verizon become IndyCar’s primary sponsor, the racing world will have Sprint Cup and Verizon IndyCar – allowing for a battle between the two cell phone giants. Friendly competition between the two may actually bring more marketing opportunities. Anything that may increase interest in the sport is a good thing; and Verizon has the deep pockets, unlike IZOD, to do so.

IndyCar and Verizon. A move that would be good for the sport. Fingers crossed. Change is good.

Change is good. Tony Kanaan, who has been driving for KV Racing Technologies looks set to drive for Chip Ganassi next year. Though Kanaan won the Indy 500 in 2013, he has struggled at times with the reliability of his rides. That Kanaan could not find a top-tier seat the last few seasons had been puzzling once he left Andretti Racing, a victim of disappearing sponsorship. It’s a trend that would follow along with him; at one point this season, KVRT almost shut down their team, potentially putting Kanaan out of the sport. His move to Ganassi shows, at age 38 he still has the talent to race with the leaders; its equipment should prove to reinvigorate the affable Brazilian.

Change is good. The Baltimore street circuit has been dropped from the schedule for 2014. The loss of having a race in that market is problematic, but financial issues have surrounded the event since its inception and let’s be realistic – the 2013 iteration came off as a debacle. (See: Wreckfest and questionable official rulings). The series, however, announced that they will be racing the Indianapolis Speedway road course to begin the month of May. This race makes Indianapolis a more intriguing place now as it will host two points-paying events. To open the month with the road course and finish it with the 500 keeps attention at the track, along with a strong fan and media presence to boost that “special” feeling around open-wheel’s biggest oval.

The Speedway used to be hallowed ground, with racing centered around the 500. But F1 used to race the road course, and the Moto GP series still does. And then… there’s that NASCAR race. Why not open up the facility in a way that further benefits its namesake series? Seeing the IndyCars race two versions of the track within a month’s time should be interesting. Change is good.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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10/02/2013 02:13 PM