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Steelback to sponsor Grand Prix in Toronto UPDATE Steelback Brewery is today set to be unveiled as the new title of Champ Car’s Grand Prix of Toronto.  A press conference has been called to confirm the expected deal – replacing Molsen’s involvement since its inaugural race 21 years ago.  The deal is expected to run for five years and run into ‘multi-millions’ of dollars. It will be known as the Steelback Grand Prix.

03/07/07 Goodbye Molson Indy. Hello Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto.

Frank D'Angelo, the outlandish beer and juice marketer, has reached a five-year deal for the naming rights to the Champ Car race. The partnership with Steelback Breweries is to be announced next Tuesday.

D'Angelo is best known for his non-traditional approach to advertising in which he puts himself front and centre as executive pitchman. In one ad, he chats up National Hockey League old-timers in a dressing room. In another, he interviews disgraced Olympian Ben Johnson. (“I Cheetah all the time,” Johnson says in a punning attempt to promote Cheetah Power Surge Energy Drink.)

Steelback's sponsorship fills a void left by Molson Coors Brewing, which left the auto race in the fall to focus on hockey and music, sponsorship opportunities it says are more closely aligned with the people who drink its brands.

Officials at Steelback and the Grand Prix declined to comment on the identity of the new title sponsor.

But Grand Prix spokeswoman Shannon Davidson said the new sponsor is paying at least as much as Molson did last year. She said there were negotiations with several potential sponsors.

“There were definitely a few at the table, there's no question about that,” she said. “But this particular partner was very forthright and moved fairly quickly and showed great interest in leveraging the partnership.”

In addition to putting its name on one of Toronto's biggest sporting event, Steelback also gains pouring rights at the race for its beers and non-alcoholic beverages, including Cheetah Power Surge Energy Drink and Duh! Cola brands.

Molson is believed to have paid more than $2-million one year to headline the race, but in today's softer sponsorship market, the price is believed to be closer to $500,000 a year.

The returns can be lucrative for a beer company since pouring rights at the race can reach as much as $7 a beer during the Grand Prix weekend, and the sole supplier sells tens of thousands of cups over a three-day event.

Late in 2005, Molson ended its 20-year role as the owner and promoter of the Molson Indy Toronto. Ownership was transferred to the company that owns the Champ Car Series.

At the same time, the brewer pulled sponsorship of the Molson Indy of Montreal.

The larger breweries see young men as their most important customers, and sponsorships in music and hockey are considered better ways to reach that demographic than car racing.

As a temporary measure, Molson remained the title sponsor of the event, which became the Molson Grand Prix of Toronto last year.

Molson spokeswoman Cynthea Galbraith said the brewery tried to negotiate a long-term deal for the pouring rights to the event, but was unable to reach a deal with race organizers.

Although attendance was smaller last year than the estimated 160,000 spectators who attended the three-day event in 2005, the Grand Prix of Toronto remains one of Ontario's best attended annual sporting events.

Steelback is a bit player in the Canadian beer market, producing just less than 100,000 hectoliters a year, compared with about nine million hectoliters each for Molson and Labatt Brewing.

But D'Angelo, the Italian-born former lead singer in a rhythm and blues band, is eager to spend marketing dollars.

“I have a big ego . . .” he recently told Report on Business magazine. “I am the product and the product is me.” Globesports.com

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