Will anyone replace IZOD as IndyCar title sponsor?

UPDATE The IndyCar Series continues to search for a presenting sponsor that could replace Izod as its title sponsor in the future.

Izod has two years left on its deal with the series, but it’s had discussions with IndyCar about exiting the deal early. The company has cut back its activation around the series and stopped advertising during races on NBC Sports Network.

“They’re trying to figure out where we fit in their portfolio," said Greg Gruning, IndyCar executive vice president of corporate sales, who declined to comment on IZOD’s future as a title sponsor.

The search for a presenting sponsor began a year ago when Gruning and former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard approached Verizon and others with a sales deck. Gruning said that IndyCar continues to pitch companies on becoming a presenting sponsor and having the option to replace Izod as a title sponsor.

“We’ve got some conversations going," Gruning said. “With Mark Miles coming in [as CEO of Hulman & Co., which owns IndyCar], a lot of people are watching. We’d like to have some help on the TV ratings front a bit, but we’ve had active conversations and there’s interest out there."

IndyCar ratings have been down on broadcast and cable this year. The Indianapolis 500 averaged a 3.7 Nielsen rating and 5.7 million viewers, a 14 percent and 16 percent decrease from last year. For nine telecasts to date across ABC and NBC Sports Network, IndyCar is averaging 1.47 million viewers, down 24 percent from the same point last season.

Izod is in the fourth year of a six-year agreement that included two options for two-year extensions that would take the deal through 2020. Sources familiar with the deal said the company pays approximately $6 million to the series annually in rights fees and historically spent an additional $5 million annually on media and activation.

Gruning said that selling the presenting sponsorship is IndyCar’s top sales priority and added that he would like to have a presenting sponsor “sooner rather than later."

The series last year was asking for more than $6 million annually for the presenting sponsorship, sources said. Gruning declined to comment on the asking price. He said, “Cash is important but activation is paramount."

In addition to looking for a presenting sponsor, Gruning said that his sales team is searching for partners in the technology, financial services, and health and wellness categories. Tripp Mickle SportsbusinessDaily.com

01/03/13 Just two years after Firestone threatened to exit IndyCar, racing sources now say that it could become the presenting sponsor of the open-wheel series and possibly even replace Izod as the title sponsor in the next year or two. IBJ.com

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