It has been quite the last 48 hours for INDYCAR with, of course, the biggest news coming out the Detroit North American International Auto Show yesterday morning. With Japanese mega-technology firm NTT taking over as the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series, America’s premier open-wheel racing series has secured both a international partner and a secure future.
If I’m being completely honest, the thought of having NTT as INDYCAR’s title sponsor had originally left me unexcited and feeling that INDYCAR was taking a significant step backwards. The NTT name has little penetration in the mind of the American consumer and didn’t originally strike me as having the type of cache that would accompany a large, American business-to-consumer brand like Verizon. Outside of their association with Chip Ganassi Racing (though their NTT Data subsidiary), I had only known of the NTT name because I happen to do a lot of work in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and had seen their campus in the north Dallas suburb of Plano on several occasions.
However, as the reality of NTT’s new role has settled on my mind over the past couple weeks, I have become more comfortable with them taking over this role. First and foremost, rumors indicate that they are paying INDYCAR a healthy annual rights fee for the title sponsorship. Anytime a company wants to pay INDYCAR a lot of money, I have to consider that a win. Though no financial terms were disclosed, Forbes has reported the deal may be worth around $10 million per year for three to five years, similar to what Verizon was providing INDYCAR for its final years.
With Verizon, their $10 million was split between cash and promotional activities, the latter of which, quite honestly, rarely seemed to go beyond the set of fans who were already emotionally invested in the Series. As NTT is more of a B2B company rather than a B2C, my hope is they will promote INDYCAR strongly to other companies they work with and allow INDYCAR to leverage the promotional dollars to handle the efforts of selling the NTT IndyCar Series to the untapped fan markets. NTT reportedly has corporate relationships with over 80% of the Fortune Global 100. Just imagine if a handful of those companies saw NTT’s confidence investing in INDYCAR and decided to do likewise.
Furthermore, NTT is now the official technology partner of INDYCAR as well. This has a huge potential to increase the viewer engagement, both at the track and at home. INDYCAR reported that a typical two-hour race yields over 50 million data records. With NTT’s expertise in IT services and data management, I fully expect a system to be made available to livestream many of those data records to fans in real time. I don’t expect to get highly secret team information flowing to my iPhone during a race, but hopefully greater access to data during and after a race will help engage those fans who want to know more than just the current and finishing running order. All this information should be made available via a redesigned app that will be universally accessible to all users regardless of their cell provider.
From a more global view, NTT has a massive international presence. Ranked 55th on Fortune’s Global 500, NTT will no doubt want to push INDYCAR beyond the boundaries of North America. Advanced talks are already underway for an INDYCAR return to Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, as soon as 2020. Other international rumors include races in Mexico and Argentina. And with NTT being a $106 billion per year (yes, BILLION with a “b”) Japanese company, it would be conceivable, if not expected, that rumors of INDYCAR’s return to Japan swirl sooner rather than later, ending what has thus far been an eight-year absence from the Land of the Rising Sun.
One interesting note is that NTT becomes the third consecutive entitlement sponsor to graduate from team sponsor to Series entitlement sponsor. Before IZOD was the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series from 2010-2013, they got their toes wet as a sponsor of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s early-season ride with Vision Racing. IZOD stuck with RHR in 2010 becoming his primary sponsor with Andretti Autosport while simultaneously taking on the role of series entitlement sponsor.
After IZOD lost interest in IndyCar racing, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles was able to quickly replace them with Verizon in time for the 2014 season. Verizon had, of course, been a long-time partner of Team Penske, first in NASCAR and then with the IndyCar program since 2009. That Verizon has committed to remain with Penske’s IndyCar program for 2019 and beyond says something about the strength of the series and the relationship Roger Penske has formed with the telecommunications giant.
More sponsorship news
Beyond the news of NTT taking over for Verizon at the Series level, two more major sponsorship announcements were made today.
The first release to hit the inbox this morning announced that Firestone will now bookend the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series sponsorship roster having secured the naming rights to the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterrey will run the weekend of September 19-22 at the historic Northern California track, taking over the season finale from Sonoma Raceway, only a couple hours north on the other end of the San Francisco region.
Firestone is also the title sponsor for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that will kick off the 2019 season on March 10. Firestone had previously sponsored races at Texas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Michigan International Speedway, Pikes Peak International Raceway, and Nazareth Speedway.
Finally, Road America has announced that REV Group will replace Kohler as the title sponsor of the IndyCar race there on June 23. REV Group – a conglomeration of companies making specialty vehicles such as fire trucks, buses, ambulances, and even sweepers – will use the grand prix weekend to salute first responders through unique hospitality and race experiences.
Happy birthday, SuperTex!
The Field of 33 wishes to extend warmest birthday greetings to the man perhaps most historically synonymous with IndyCar racing, A.J. Foyt, who turns a spry 84 years young today. A.J.’s many racing injuries have caught up with the first four-time Indianapolis 500 winner over the past several years, but even at a slower pace, nobody in IndyCar racing commands the respect and reverence A.J. receives when he rides by on his golf cart. For all he has given to the sport, both as a driver and as a car owner, I sincerely hope this year treats A.J. well and his team’s performance in 2019 puts a smile on the grizzly Texan’s face.