HOLY LOVING GOD ... INCOMINNNNNG!
Insert cluster bombs of WTF landing here. First, we hear that 7-Eleven is ditching primary sponsorship with Tony Kanaan after what seems like 30 years and gearing down to "associate sponsorship" (that means less cash) with .... DUN DUN DAAAAAA ... Danica Patrick. Ka-(F-bombing)-boom. That's gotta sting the Tonester, who was ... ah ... critical of Danica on several occasions in 2010. That's a big round bale (farm reference!) of Not Good.
Tony still has a few years (not sure how many) left on his "contract," but has been given "permission" to pursue "other opportunities." This may illustrate just how fragile driver "contracts" are. I'm quite sure every one has a clause that says "if the sponsor leaves, this agreement is null and void." So I hope no driver is lulled into complacency by having a "contract." Not in today's racing world. Here's what Graham Rahal said about that reality in an interview in June in tony downtown Des Moines ...
pressdog: Is that something you are doing more now because of your experience this year or have you always done it?
Rahal: I would say it's something that I've become very active in now. I used to just sit back and I had a three-year contract with Newman Haas so I knew I was going to be around and I let them handle all the sponsorship and all that kind of stuff. Well, I'd say I'm far more active now trying to make something happen. (Read the entire Q&A here.)
PLUS, I just read in the Mighty Indy Star that Curt Cavin "has been told" IZOD may not be kicking out cash to Andretti Autosport in 2011 either, but "there is no confirmation of that," (read it here) which would mean Ryan Hunter-Reay is also shopping for a sponsor. I hope this means a nervous Marco Andretti is offering to wash the cars of all the executives at VENOM energy drink. If he's smart, he's doing some "client relations" work right now.
Marco addressed that very issue also in June and also in tony downtown Des Moines:
pressdog: Do you like the sponsor relations end of things, working with the sponsor's people? I know it's a necessary part of the job, but do you enjoy it?
Marco: I've learned to. Because, like you said, we have to, so you might as well enjoy it. In the last couple of years I've started to see the bigger picture. When it's so hard to find support, the only way the sponsor can justify sponsoring the team is that we need to give them exposure and get people buying their products. This is the only way we can do it, right? And we (drivers) need to build our own brands as well.
pressdog: What’s the difference between Marco as a rookie and Marco now? What’s change?
Marco: I think that (learning to enjoy sponsor and promotion parts of the job) is a big part of it. In just trying to be more personable. Because as a rookie I was just driving off raw talent and trying to just drive. I thought my only job as a rookie was to show up and drive the race car. There is so much more than that involved in the sport. So much. Obviously, this angle of it (media relations), but then you have setting up the car and you need to explain what the car is doing to the best of your ability. That’s how you get a good car underneath it you. Your guys in the pits, you gotta make them want to work hard for you. It’s more than just showing up and driving, that’s for sure. (Read the entire Q&A here.)
If word comes out that IZOD is going to be an associate sponsor on Danistar's car as well (which I don't expect to happen, but still) there may be massive head explosions throughout the paddock. HEY, let's start the rumor that they spent all the car sponsorship money on creating the new championship trophy! OK, let's not.
Oh, and watchmaker Tissot announced they will sponsor Danica through 2011 ... in NASCAR Nationwide. (Read about it here.) Why? Why-why-why? Because Danica moves the needle. This is what I like to call Revenge of the Danistar. Run her down, accuse her of being a back marker, living off her looks, etc. etc. but Danica's best revenge is to harvest sponsors.
Long story short -- she makes other people money. I give Danica massive props for being an incredibly shrewd businesswoman (or having the brains to hire/rely on advice from incredibly shrewd business people). (Danica talks a bit more about it here.)
Cherry on top of all this is Graham Rahal, who is allegedly all signed up with Service Central for a massive, primary, multi-million-dollar, full-year sponsorship in 2011. Right now Rahal is shopping said sponsorship. Or, to be more accurate, he has shopped it and it sounds like he has a team, but it's double secret, and for sure NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS ... yet. I hear "Ganassi" a lot for the Rahal ride. but I hear if from people who talk out of their ass a lot, so that means nothing.
Question: did Rahal bogart (steal, poach) Service Central away from Sarah Fisher Racing (which would be uncool) or did Service Central decide to pursue Rahal after their deal with Sarah Fisher Racing expired? (which would just be business). Not sure. Either way, Rahal should at least send a festive meat and cheese tray to Sarah for the intro. In the above linked interview, Rahal was massively complimentary to Sarah and Sarah Fisher Racing.
So what got so far is .. Tony and RHR losing sponsors, Danica and Rahal gaining sponsors. One thing I am confident about is that marketing investments (and sponsoring an IndyCar is exactly that) that generate positive returns are continued. Those that don't produce enough return on investment (in whatever form) are not continued. It's not personal. It's business. Which is why I constantly whine about TV ratings, which I see as super duper critical (others disagree, to be sure) to generating the ROI.
What can you as a fan do? WELL, if your driver is sponsored by something you can buy ... buy it. Then let the company know you've bought it. I go to Dollar General several times a month simply because they sponsor Sarah. Then I occassioanlly let them know what I've done. Here's what I do. You can do the SAME thing for your driver. Fan of Marco (as is my daughter)? Buy Venom, look up the marketing department mailing address (Google "Venom energy drink corporate information") and mail in your receipts along with a letter of thanks for sponsoring the Young Prince.
If you dig Tony, let 'em know. Here's the contact info for 7-Eleven. Yeah, it's a very long shot that letters will save the sponsorship. BUT, you never know, and how long does it take to pop off an email or mail a letter, preferably with a 7-Eleven sales receipt inside? Worth a shot.