Will IRL lose both title sponsors because of Versus deal?

UPDATE #3 This rumor is updated to 'fact' today as we predicted that the Versus deal would drive potential sponsors away from the IRL. The following article blames the economy. Hogwash.

Efforts to land an Indy Racing League title sponsor have turned to 2010. Just two months ago, IRL officials said a deal appeared imminent. In October, the economy stifled negotiations. Now, almost all hope is gone for landing a title sponsor any time in 2009.

“Unless a miracle falls out of the sky, I don’t think we’re going to sign a title sponsorship deal for 2009," said Zak Brown, president of Just Marketing International, which was hired by the IRL to lead the title sponsor hunt. “We’re still hammering away at it. We’re not going to stop working just because of the economy. But marketers are being very cautious with their budgets."

In early September, Brown promised to land an IRL title sponsor by Jan. 1, and said an eight-figure annual deal “was on the doorstep."

“I’m just glad I didn’t make a promise to run naked down the home stretch at Indy if the deal didn’t come through," Brown said.

Subway restaurants, Kodak, William Rast clothier and two technology companies comprised the short list, sources close to the negotiations told IBJ in September.

Brown said sponsorship efforts across all sports have become exceedingly difficult since the economy began to tank this fall. “We’re still making some deals, we just made one in NASCAR, but it’s tough," Brown said. IBJ.com

09/04/08 Despite switching its telecasts from ESPN to Versus next year, Indy Racing League officials remain confident they will sign an eight-figure, multi-year title sponsorship deal by year’s end.

League officials denied rumors that some of the companies on the short list to become the series title sponsor had backed out. Subway restaurants, Kodak, William Rast clothier and two technology companies comprise the short list, said sources close to the negotiations.

“When some people heard the news without hearing the details, they went “Whew, why are you going with Versus over ESPN?" said Zak Brown, president of locally based Just Marketing International, which was hired by the league to help land a title sponsor. “But when they peel back the layers of the deal, they see we’re going to get a custom studio, a Saturday pre-race show and three hours instead of two hours of race coverage. Not one of the companies we’ve been talking to said, “No thanks, we’re out of here."

The new TV deal has lengthened negotiations, Brown said. “Since the TV buy figures into the deal and we’re not dealing with what we were dealing with six months ago, it’s required us to step back and do a re-presentation."

Brown has little doubt the deal will get done before Jan. 1.

“We’re on the doorstep with a couple of these companies," he said. IBJ.com

08/29/08 IndyCar Series fans apparently weren't the only ones concerned when a 10-year contract with cable television upstart Versus was recently announced for the bulk of the races beginning in 2009. The move away from ESPN's family of networks caused some consternation with a couple of companies interested in becoming the series' title sponsor, according to Terry Angstadt, the president of the Indy Racing League's commercial division.

"They were both initially (apprehensive), saying, 'We need to take a look at it; we're not sure,' " Angstadt said. "Now that they've run the full numbers, I think they understand (the TV package) and like it.

"They see they'll get more (exposure) from Versus than ESPN."

Versus, which is owned by Comcast, is scheduled to have at least 13 races next season. ESPN's outlets, including ABC, will do five, highlighted by the Indianapolis 500. It has not been decided which non-Indy races will appear on which network.

Angstadt said the response of other league partners to the TV deal followed predictable lines.

"The ones that are most familiar with the media space and most familiar with what we've been through (with ESPN) have said it's a great move," he said. "The others ran the other end of the spectrum saying, 'You're nuts. You're desperate. What did you do that for?' " Indy Star

[Editor's Note: Looks like the money saved with Versus will be lost 10-fold when you add in what the teams will lose in possible sponsorship, especially after the first ratings come in on Versus. If too many teams fold Tony George will have to start writing some big checks again to keep them and the series alive. ]

08/27/08 A reader writes, Dear AR1.com, I see that in recent weeks both Subway and CitiFinancial have taken on bigger roles in NASCAR for 2009. These two companies were the leading candidates to become series title sponsor of the IndyCar Series starting in 2009. I read in AutoWeek that a new cable TV contract with the Versus network might have scared away two interested companies. Officials say they need a signed contract by the end of October to have a title sponsor for 2009. Did they lose both of them to NASCAR? Mordichai Rosen, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Mordichai, Let's hope not. The top brass in the IRL are confident they can grow their series with more domestic venues and more domestic money despite NASCAR being the monopoly that it is. We don't think so but who are we to question that. Yes, NASCAR can deliver them huge TV ratings on ABC/ESPN vs. the VERSUS channel the IRL has to offer, but that should not matter to a sponsor if they want to be at the Indy 500. The key to IndyCar's future will be if more engine manufacturers come into the series in 2010 as hoped. Mark C.

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