The Associated Press broke the story on Wednesday that Target and Chip Ganassi Racing will go their separate ways at the conclusion of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The partnership of 27 years, having aided Chip Ganassi in reaching team owner stardom and turned trackside and television viewers into fans, will conclude with the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on September 18.
Naturally, this marks the end of an era.
For many, it is the look of race cars that attracts them and plants the “racing bug” in their hearts. The liveries of the loud machines work some sort of magic and are unforgettable. For me, it was the mid-to-late 2000s look of the Team Penske fleet (pictured below).
I most definitely was attracted to Indy car racing during my first experience due to the look of the cars.
Racing plays host to a platform of unique sponsorship in the form of the race car. When recognizable brands are seen on the cars, each party involved in the sponsorship benefits in ways that are obviously necessary, from the teams and drivers gaining fans, to the racing series collecting attention, to of course the paying companies which are awarded with exposure.
It’s a formula that works – but only if there are eyeballs willing to gift their attention. Unfortunately, the modern Verizon IndyCar Series lacks sufficient eyeballs.
While Target’s affiliation with Chip Ganassi’s new team began in 1990, it wasn’t until 1996, as Robin Miller noted on RACER, that the company began to receive heightened exposure. Not only was CART doing well in attracting eyeballs, the Target-backed cars, driven by Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and, later, Juan Pablo Montoya, were winning several races and a few championships. Success on the racetrack in an increasingly-popular racing series paired with a strong corporate partnership meant national exposure for these drivers and for CART.
The modern Verizon IndyCar Series doesn’t enjoy anything like this. And with Target out of the picture when the 2017 season begins on the streets of St. Petersburg, the rare appearances of IndyCar in Target stores will be gone.
Far removed from glory days, Indy car racing will only be less hidden from potential fans and race attendees.
A 27-year era for Chip Ganassi Racing will end come September’s event at Sonoma Raceway, but it is the stamp placed on the current era of the sport we love that is more telling.
Commercials starring Ganassi drivers in the late 1990s highlight a time of mainstream exposure that seems almost impossible to reach today. As it stands, any sponsorship a team can muster, even if just for a particular race weekend, means everything. Some of the sport’s biggest names bring money to teams of equal popularity just to stick around on the tour.
While this is not a situation many would consider worth investing in, that’s exactly what brands like Target must do. A leap of faith must be made here. Once cars as iconic as the Target-clad Ganassi machines of recent years are placed on the grid, a brand tied between the drivers and the team that highlights the series can be built.
Target did it with the aforementioned drivers and the aforementioned commercials (among other forms of publicity) and while it made more sense from a business perspective then due to the attendance and presence of CART (eyeballs), the same thing needs to be constructed in various examples throughout the paddock in the modern Verizon IndyCar Series.
And don’t forget: It was roughly half a decade before Target began collecting some mean exposure in CART. Patience is a virtue.
The void left by Target’s exit at Chip Ganassi Racing and in the Verizon IndyCar Series must be filled, several times over. Recognizable companies targeting the sometimes blank sidepods of Indy cars and then promoting the team and its drivers – and subsequently the series – can rescue the struggling off-track side of things and even improve the on-track action with newfound interest in the series attracting new teams, manufacturers, and further sponsors.
Let Target’s 27-year history with Ganassi stand as the premier example of the bold investment and involvement necessary.