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Sunday, May 03, 2015

A SPONSOR DECIDING NOT TO SPONSOR TOPS THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

When you've been around the Business and Politics of Racing as long as I have, you can see the signals. When Sprint's new CEO didn't show up at the season finale at Homestead last year, and skipped the glitzy NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas and the chance to personally award the Cup, it was obvious to me the end of that series entitlement was near.

And when Danica Patrick got a reduced role in GoDaddy.com's advertising, well . . . I would not call last week's announcement that the Internet services provider (the company HQ is about 20 minutes from my home in Scottsdale) won't continue with its NASCAR sponsorship a shock. With Danica's patron, former CEO Bob Parsons, long gone from a decision-making role, with the company sold to a private equity firm and then just recently listed on the NYSE with new management that has new business objectives, change was clearly on the horizon. I did think, and said and wrote, that the .com would maintain a reduced presence, perhaps cherry-picking a half-dozen events to back the No. 10 next season. But, no, they are outta here. Especially surprising to me was the fact that the news release said GoDaddy "hoped" to reach an agreement with Danica for her to continue as a company spokesperson. Now, in my experience, that kind of important detail is finalized before the announcement is issued. "Hope" isn't too hopeful a word for someone looking to keep getting paid.

It's a fact of Business of Racing life: New management is going to have its own ideas and programs, and often they are not the same as the previous CEO's. I experienced this more than once, most noteably 30 years ago, when the Beatrice CART and Formula One sponsorship (at the time, the largest in racing history) came and went like Haley's comet. (Look for a cool photo recalling the Beatrice days on Twitter @SpinDoctor500 soon.) International sports marketing was Beatrice CEO James T. Dutt's plan and passion. And, yes, Mr. Dutt liked cars and racing. But when Dutt was dismissed by the Board of Directors, the sports marketing department (of which I was contracted to) put on a lengthy and detailed presentation of how these sponsorships benefitted the company and its numerous brands. The new Powers-That-Be agreed racing was probably worthwhile and effective, but axed it anyway.

Original readers of this blog know I've made my criticisms of Danica. Let's be honest, though, she has shown on-track NASCAR improvement, both last season and this. She's still popular and marketable and can generate media, so what collection of corporations (I think it's unlikely she'd be able to link-up with a single high-payer like GoDaddy) she and her group (and Stewart-Haas Racing) might be able to assemble will be telling. If the money and logistics can be arranged, I think one sure splash Danica could make in 2016 would be a return to Indianapolis for the 100th running of the 500.

And speaking of IMS, it's May, and what positives do or don't come out of the Speedway in the next few weeks will be yet another legitimate test for Mark Miles & Co. The loyalist fans -- what remains of them, anyway -- seem hyped-up about aero kits. From the standpoint of selling tickets and getting people to watch on TV, though, I have to ask: What's the Big Deal?

This sure isn't like being able to ID a Novi vs. a Lotus vs. a turbine vs. a Lola vs. a March vs. a Penske vs. a Watson and so forth. Have -- or will -- aero kits in-and-of-themselves sell a single ticket? I would call that highly questionable. As for increased media coverage, maybe a little, around the margins, in specialist outlets. Otherwise, I believe stories about the kits simply came at the expense of an article about Tony Kanaan or Sage Karem or Ryan Hunter-Reay. Net gain? I think not.

If speeds are up and that stirs-up new excitement and publicity, great.

Meanwhile, there are other stories to be told. The much-needed and past-due physical improvements to the Speedway property. Josef Newgarden. The Penkse Quad. The home run of having Jeff Gordon drive the Corvette pace car. Remembering Hunter-Reay's brave and bold pass to win last year. A.J. Foyt after yet another major health scare. Ed Carpenter's try for a pole three-peat. 

My question is: Will IMS/IndyCar, its teams and its sponsors, actually be pro-active and aggressive in getting those stories told?


POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 3: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Blake Irving  -- GoDaddy.com CEO decides to drop NASCAR sponsorship and "hopes" to keep Danica Patrick as a company spokesperson. Will Danica need to re-invent herself -- her image -- to secure enough sponsorship to stay with Stewart-Haas Racing, or even in NASCAR? Remember, a key reason she left IndyCar was too many road courses, so a full-time return there could be had for less cost, but it's also far less attractive.

  2. Dale Earnhardt JrJunior Nation cheers as he wins Talladega. Now, will that show up on the Fox TV ratings, for what many will consider a "boring" 'Dega race? More importantly, will a week of happy feel-good Junior vibes help Saturday night's TV numbers (remember, Saturday nights haven't been kind to NASCAR lately) at Kansas Speedway on Fox Sports 1? 

  3. Kevin Harvick -- Uses his platform as Sprint Cup champion to call for shake-up of Cup schedule, including re-ordering of track dates, dropping less-popular events, adding new locations like Iowa, Milwaukee and at least one new road course.

 4. Jeff Gordon -- Will create the "Jeff Double" by driving the Indianapolis 500 Chevrolet Corvette pace car before returning to Charlotte for NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.  

  5Bernie Ecclestone -- Formula One's commercial dictator says he wants to condense the 2016 season, starting later, and perhaps expanding the schedule but in a shorter time-frame. Did he hire the Boston Consulting Group? 

  6. Robin Miller and Curt Cavin -- It's May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So Miller on Racer.com and Cavin in the Indianapolis Star are daily musts.

  8. Tony Stewart -- His Eldora Speedway will host historic World of Outlaws-USAC sprint cars doubleheader this Friday and Saturday. It's the first time the winged and non-winged tours will race on the same track on the same nights. 

  9. Michael Andretti-- Says IndyCar's aero kits might be a costly mistake. "Millions and millions of dollars have been spent by manufacturers and the teams, and I don't see that it has put one more person in the stands," says Honda's lead team owner, with five Indy 500 entries.

10. Mark Miles -- It was the Hulman & Co. CEO's idea last year to put IndyCars on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He has an event sponsor this time, but will ticket sales go up, or has that novelty worn off after one try?

more next week . . . ]