Target’s withdrawal from IndyCar after 27 years faithful support of Chip Ganassi Racing is being mourned like the loss of a legendary team. Rightly so: they helped take Chip Ganassi Racing from minnows to 101-win giants. Target supported the team through the thick and very thin of open wheel racing and gave us the now iconic ‘lightning bolt’ livery.
But amongst the sadness and further fears for the health of IndyCar as ‘yet another’ sponsor departs, there is actually some cause for optimism as I’ll explain.
Target leaving IndyCar is a blow
First let’s get the negative bit out the way. The Target announcement is a blow for Ganassi and IndyCar; no team or sports series wants to see a committed and long-time partner depart. The fact Target will retain their sponsorship of Kyle Larson’s Ganassi ride in NASCAR just tells us what we already knew: stock car racing remains the go to form of motor sport for marketing in the US. Cue much angst about the state of IndyCar, comments about no one being interested anymore and general doom-mongering. So let’s crack on with the positives, and there are plenty.
The boss isn’t worried
On paper the departure should raise question marks over the funding of the number 9 car of Scott Dixon. Finding a sponsor for auto racing at any time is (these days) a big challenge. But to do it a little over 7 months before next season starts is the equivalent of running slicks on a damp track; extremely challenging.
But here is the first positive – Chip is not worried. Ganassi says the team will be fine and intends to field four cars in 2017. Perhaps in hindsight the departure was inevitable. The number 10 car has moved further away from Target branding in recent seasons and both the 9 and 10 cars have increasingly carried ‘one-off’ liveries from other brands like Energizer, Degree and T-Mobile.
Ganassi was quoted in the Indianapolis Star that plans for 2017 will be finalized in ’30-60 days’ time. So Chip clearly has somebody else lined up…
One IndyCar door closes, another opens
Which leads nicely on to positive number 2: Target leaving IndyCar opens the door for another, potentially brand new sponsor.
A new sponsor often brings new ideas and new opportunities. Equally a new brand can bring a new audience to the sport, as much as tap in to one. It may be unrealistic to think uber-brands will be lining up to sign but what about those with budgets not big enough for NASCAR or Monday Night Football?
Best of all is that it creates an opportunity to make their competitors sit up and take notice. Competition in business is the same as in sport – the higher the bar is raised, the better the quality of competitor. If another mobile provider comes in to challenge Verizon, great. If FedEx want to take on DHL even better. Just as businesses cannot allow their main rival to have free reign on any other marketing medium, so is the case for sports sponsorship.
A much needed reality check
If you have followed open wheel racing in the US faithfully, you will know that the sport has a nasty habit of ripping itself apart when times are good. The departure of Target from the series’ leading team is a good external factor if only to focus minds on the fact IndyCar is far from being in rude health.
At a time when things seemed on the up – sell-out Indy 500, big crowds at ‘new’ races like Road America, Chevy and Honda seemingly sticking around – this reality check is much needed. And with the idea of overseas races seemingly never off the table with the series organizers – a return to Surfers Paradise the current front runner – a reminder that the big-bad world of economics still rules is important. Though it might look like a negative, think of it as a positive wrapped up in negative clothing.
Change happens, IndyCar goes on
When government legislation effectively banned tobacco sponsorship in open wheel racing, many predicted the death of IndyCar. Addicted to big money from the likes of Marlboro, Kool and Players, IndyCar would not be able to kick the habit they said. But it did and it survived and somewhat ironically, sponsors like Target took center-stage.
As Target departs someone new will enter the fray. It may not be Coca-Cola, Apple or Nike but there are plenty of companies with plans and budgets to spend. So while it is sad to think the famous red and white ‘bullseye’ will disappear from IndyCar at the end of this season, it is not the case that IndyCar or Ganassi Racing now have a big target on their backs.