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DATE News (chronologically)
07/15/13
irl
IndyCar racing scratching to line up sponsors to replace Izod
The IndyCar Series’ quest to find a presenting sponsor that could eventually replace Izod as title sponsor—a task series officials earlier this year called their top sales priority—has taken a blow.

Greg Gruning, IndyCar’s executive vice president of corporate sales and the series’ point man in brokering big sponsorship deals, resigned in late June. Gruning could not be reached for comment.

Izod’s high-profile title sponsorship deal expires following the 2014 season, but many motorsports industry insiders expect the clothing maker will try to end the agreement early.

Some of the talks that began last year to bring in a new presenting series sponsor, along with some new ones, were heating up this summer when Gruning exited, sources close to the series said. Now, time may be running short to ink a deal.

“Right now is the peak of the selling season, so it’s not too late by any means. But they need to be on it pretty hard,” said Zak Brown, CEO of Just Marketing International, a Zionsville-based motorsports marketing firm that represents some of the biggest sponsors in NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar. “I’d say they’d have to get a deal done within the next 90 days to have them in place for next season.”

Brown is confident Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway parent Hulman & Co., will ease the transition of the post-Gruning era.

“I’m sure Mark has a plan to replace, absorb or reassign those responsibilities so it shouldn’t hamper sales efforts,” Brown said.

Others are less certain.

“The task certainly becomes more difficult with the exit of Greg Gruning,” said Ken Ungar, the former Indianapolis Motor Speedway chief of staff and IndyCar Series senior vice president before forming his own sports marketing consultancy, US Sports Advisors, in 2006.

“Greg is well-thought-of in this industry,” Ungar added. “He’ll be missed.”

Miles said Gruning’s departure was not part of his ongoing staff reorganization.

Izod in 2009 signed a six-year, $60 million title sponsorship deal, but a management change at Izod parent Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. changed things.

In 2012, Michael Shaffer replaced IndyCar supporter Allen Sirkin as chief operating officer at PVH, and ordered a pullback in promotions related to the title sponsorship.

Last year, PVH pulled the plug on most of its IndyCar Series-related TV ads and other promotions, including its Indy 500 kick-off party Izod hosted with GQ magazine in 2010 and Spin magazine in 2011.

This year, the company dropped the majority of its remaining Izod IndyCar-related promotions—which had totaled $5 million annually in series marketing during the first three years of the deal.

While motorsports insiders said Izod has continued to pay the IndyCar Series $6 million annually, they are now refusing to promote the series. Izod, sources said, also has asked to have the deal terminated before it ends following the 2014 season. PVH officials did not return a call seeking comment.

While IndyCar officials don’t appear to be obligated to find an early replacement for Izod, Gruning said before he exited that a title sponsor’s willingness to spend on promoting the series is as important as the deal’s cash value.

“He left to pursue other professional opportunities,” Miles said. IBJ.com

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