IndyCar expects big boost from Izod Forget 650-horsepower race engines. The IndyCar Series will be powered for at least the next six years by one of the nation's best-known apparel brands.
Officially, Izod began its series' title sponsorship Thursday, becoming the first for the Indy Racing League since small Internet search engine Northern Light left in 2002.
The deal could be the most important in the history of the Indianapolis-based league.
"We've never had someone help us like this, whose reach is as great as this," said Brian Barnhart, who has been with IMS Corp. since the league was founded in 1996.
Here's what IndyCar hopes to draw from Izod:
Financial support: Estimated at more than $15 million a year, and totaling nearly $100 million over the life of the contract, the deal can be extended another two years.
Parent company: Standing behind Izod is Phillips-Van Heusen, a giant in the industry with 26 companies, including Calvin Klein, Arrow, Bass, Kenneth Cole, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. Izod is found in all 840 Macy's department stores, which are located in 46 states. The media buying power is enormous. zzzz
Perception: This might be the most important element. In a difficult economic climate, IndyCar has a proven partner that is committed for the long haul.
"It sends a message," said Scott Roembke, a longtime team official in the IndyCar Series. "In a bad economic time, a company is willing to stand behind (IndyCar). It's perception, and you can't put a dollar figure on that."
In addition to Thursday's news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Izod staged similar ones in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Company officials made it clear they want to use open-wheel racing to expand their global reach.
That's why IndyCar officials couldn't stop smiling.
"This is a $9 billion company with mini-hundred million dollar marketing capability," said Jeff Belskus, who became chief executive officer of IMS Corp. in July. "We're just not big enough to do what they can do. They can reach the people we need to reach."
Izod became the official apparel company of the series in the summer of 2008, putting a towering billboard of driver Ryan Hunter-Reay in New York's Times Square. Hunter-Reay won that weekend's race in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and the sponsor's interest in the sport soared.
Now, Izod wants to put drivers and their cars in stores, and its officials are particularly interested in the history of IMS and the Indianapolis 500, which it will have rights to use in campaigns of all kinds. Another IndyCar billboard went on display Thursday in Times Square.
Izod also will have the say in who rides in IndyCar's two- seater car, which will pace the field for two laps prior to each race, including the 500. On board could be a VIP or a winner of a national fan sweepstakes.
"Ideally, you work with people that have a rich history but whose stories are not fully told, and that's what we have here," said Mike Kelly, Izod's executive vice president of marketing and creative. "People just don't know how sexy and cool this sport is.
"The (Speedway's) Centennial Era comes at us like a comet, which is exciting, not to mention the Indy 500. This league has a lot of assets."
With IndyCar's help, Izod took the sport to a new audience this month with a fashion show and beach volleyball event on Miami's South Beach. Kelly said eyes were opened to what IndyCar has to offer.
One example is second-year driver Mario Moraes, a Brazilian who could pass as a member of the American pop band the Jonas Brothers. Kelly asked series officials if they could remember women screaming Moraes' name. They couldn't.
"We're here to build the cars and the stars of this sport, and we're going to take it to pop culture," Kelly said. "If we do that, that will help us, too."
Izod plans to "cross-pollinate" IndyCar with the other events it's involved with, including activities at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., home to the NBA's New Jersey Nets and major concerts. Izod will take IndyCar to this weekend's celebrity golf tournament of HBO's "Entourage" in Los Angeles.
Izod also plans to be "very aggressive" with spots on all of the ABC/ESPN channels, and as many of Comcast's as possible. Comcast owns Versus, which airs most IndyCar races.
"It's what we've been waiting for," Hunter-Reay said. "It's a fresh start for this series."
Belskus said he hopes it's the start of a special relationship.
"I said backstage, this is a good first step," he said. "It's a huge first step." Indy Star