Series Building on Foundation of Partners
Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com
A framed portrait of Vince Lombardi and his “What it takes to be Number 1” speech hangs strategically in INDYCAR vice president of sales Greg Gruning’s office.
Not that Gruning often needs motivation. He crisscrosses North America – with a half-dozen trips annually to Brazil to meet with Apex-Brasil officials and its more than 70 business sectors – promoting and nurturing the IZOD IndyCar Car Series’ commercial and on-track momentum.
INDYCAR has added 14 new major commercial partners in the past 12 months, including Fortune 500 companies Verizon, Sunoco and Philips. Promotional spending has increased from $34 million in 2009 to more than $100 this year, with licensing revenue up 83 percent and merchandise sales ahead 71 percent over the calendar year.
“We’re a growth stock, where two years ago I would have said we’re an IPO,” Gruning says. “We’re clearly a property on the rise, and a company such as IFM that does third-party auditing puts us in that category. There are a lot of opportunities that partners are seeing in and around our series. It’s an uncluttered environment, and an exciting one.”
Gruning points to INDYCAR being in tune with what potential sponsors are seeking from a sports property – activation options, value for spend, category exclusivity and a sponsorship performance rating – combined with relevant brand attributes of speed, innovation, diverse and renewable that prospective partners can own as driving the successes over the past year.
“Clearly with our property we have some key assets that we own and manage that potential sponsors can grab and have ownership,” Gruning says. “We’re a great value – an unpolished gem – and we’ve been able to carve out relevant space for relevant partners. Some key categories are still open, such as financial services and technology, which we have a lot of exciting conversations that are ongoing for early next year announcements.
“The final piece, and why we’ve been able to attract as many as we have, is sponsors today are looking for performance reporting and we offer a third-party analysis what those key scorecard elements are. We report those on a quarterly basis. We want to be accountable and we want to hold our partners accountable to make sure we’re not only meeting but exceeding those expectations.”
Regular INDYCAR-facilitated programs such as BNet, in which official category sponsors and promotional partners meet informally to receive updates and socialize (a chamber of commerce social in microcosm), and a marketing resource library for existing and potential teams.
“At BNet meetings we have pushed out those B2B opportunities, but then there’s this growing element that’s B2M, which is business to marketing,” Gruning says. “With us being very transparent about what our strategy is around a common message and some of the major initiatives that are taking place, that only helps our partners look at their marketing spend, activation and assets and how they can plug and play. We want to enable that.
“It’s what we bring forward to showcase what those opportunities can be for existing and potential partners.
“With teams, we listened to what are some of the things they need, which is to demonstrate a return on investment. So they can come to us and say they need to retain a sponsor or are looking to grow that sponsor or attract a new one, and we think we’ve built out a really relevant library of resources for our teams that has yielded successes.
“We’ve spent as much time on the sponsorship on the team side about what our marketing strategy is because they talk to potential partners about what they can plug and play relating to the league.”
On Nov. 5, IZOD will mark its first anniversary of being the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series. While Mike Kelly, executive vice president of marketing and creative for parent company Philips-Van Heusen, says expectations were surpassed across the board, it was laying the cornerstone of a multi-faceted foundation of sports, entertainment and commercialism.
“Our portfolio is becoming bigger and bigger,” Gruning says, “and IZOD has really legitimized and pushed our property in places that it hasn’t been before. As we think about what we’re going to be doing in 2011 and beyond, it is doing that but making sure we’re pushing not only that but endemic strategies because we lost 15 to 20 million fans in the mid-90s and we think players such as Firestone, Honda, PEAK, Sunoco can play a real relevant role in igniting those lost fans and inviting them back to the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“That, in the long term, will make the series successful.”