IndyCar wraps up season with title sponsor search top of mind
The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season saw several positive storylines develop but also a viewership drop and a title sponsor search that’s extended into the offseason.
The open-wheel series wrapped up its season Sept. 16 at Sonoma Raceway, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon winning his fifth championship in CGR’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
IndyCar built on recent momentum with another packed crowd for the Indianapolis 500 that was slightly larger than last year’s 300,000 attendees; it introduced a new spec aero package designed to produce better racing and lower costs for teams; continued to draw strong attendance at most races including its return to Portland; landed a new three-year media rights deal with NBC Sports; and is primed for year-over-year growth in the number of teams, with new entrants including Harding Steinbrenner Racing and possibly McLaren Racing.
Still, in the final year of its bifurcated media rights deals with ABC and NBC, viewership fell 10 percent, albeit with that figure dropping to just 3 percent if excluding the Indy 500, which was down about 7 percent in viewership from last year (from 5.27 million viewers to 4.91 million).
IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said the series is confident that NBC is going to increase those figures next year. “There’s a temptation on our part to just look forward to what we think will be a stronger next year, but I think we held our own,” Miles said. “Down 3 percent (minus the Indy 500) — I think most live sports licensors would take that.”
Without a lucrative media rights deal, IndyCar is still not yet profitable, Miles allowed, though Indianapolis Motor Speedway is profitable. Exact figures were not available, but Miles added that the series is heading in the right direction via increased sanction fees from tracks, among other revenue streams.
As for scheduling, IndyCar continues to see a renaissance of sorts in returning to formerly longtime venues that had fallen off the schedule. IndyCar saw robust crowds again at Road America and Gateway Motorsports Park, both of which rejoined the schedule in recent years, while it saw an estimated crowd of 40,000 at Portland International Raceway, which rejoined the schedule this year. The one failure in terms of returns to iconic venues was ISM Raceway near Phoenix, whose market did not respond. The track was dropped from next year’s schedule and will be replaced by Circuit of the Americas.
First Look podcast for Sept. 24, 2018:
The series continues its title sponsor hunt and is not believed to have an imminent deal. It recently started working with CSM Sport & Entertainment on the hunt. Miles reminded that the series did not unveil Verizon as Izod’s replacement for the 2014 season until just before that campaign began.
IndyCar also is working on landing new partners in official categories that don’t involve the series title sponsorship, and sources have said that India-based IT company Infosys has been weighing a deal to become the series’ official technology partner.
“I’m not so focused on the timing and more on the levels of interest,” Miles said. “We’ve got a few really good conversations going on and hopefully we’ll get an ideal title sponsor going forward.”