Wednesday, March 11, 2009

IZOD's rideless driver

(by Robin Miller speedtv.com 3-10-09)

IZOD is poised to launch one of the largest advertising and promotional campaigns in the Indy Racing League's 14-year history.

Beginning in a few weeks there will be a national television spot, promo trailers in movie theaters, ads in major magazines and newspapers and in-store promotions at Macy's stores across the country that will also include a special Indy 500 clothing line.

It's estimated several million dollars in media value has been budgeted for this project. But there is a little snag in clothing line's plan to take Indy-car racing to the mainstream. No, make that a big snag. The guy they put all the promotion behind, the guy in the TV commercial, the guy in the print ads and the guy on the 90-foot billboard in Times Square doesn't have a ride for the 2009 season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, signed last summer as the face of the IRL for IZOD, is still unemployed 25 days before the season opener at St. Petersburg.

"I'm told that I don't have to worry, although I don't know what that means yet," said Mike Kelly, the president of marketing for Phillip Van Husen, the parent company of IZOD. "I know the the IRL is as concerned as I am and we speak about it daily.

"I do know we will have a significant problem if Ryan is not in a car."

If Kelly sounds concerned he's got a right to be. It's been a long time since any major companies outside of motorsports jumped into the open wheel game like IZOD and they hung their hat on a fast, handsome, articulate American because the IRL hand-picked the 28-year-old native of Boca Raton, Fla. By the same token, it's not the IRL's fault that Ethanol bailed as Rahal/Letterman's title sponsor and and RHR was left by the side of the road.

Because of Tony George's history of paying for drivers, cars, engines and teams, this situation needs to be rectified. Soon.

Terry Angstadt, president of the IRL's commercial division, understands the ramifications and is working hard to get RHR in a car. "I think we're going get there, we're hitting it from every angle," said Angstadt. "It's a massive opportunity for all of us. We have three different B to B opportunities they've (IZOD) already actively engaged which could help Ryan."

As it stands today, it would appear that RHR could be placed in the second seat with Keith Wiggins' HVM squad or possibly George's Vision Racing or KV Racing. Kelly, who had never seen an IndyCar race until last summer when Hunter-Reay pulled into victory lane at Watkins Glen, remains gung-ho about the product.

"It's got young drivers, unification, great racing and there's a lot of sexy stories about the IRL that we want to take to the masses through fashion and pop culture," said Kelly. "We're going to launch that clothing line at major department stores across the US and Canda. In Toronto, we're going to have trolley cars wrapped like Indy cars and we've got a huge publicity event planned for Macy's Herald Square in May.

"We want to create as much hoopla as possible. It's our first venture into motorsports and we want it to be a success." But getting the star of IZOD's promotions into a competitive car is front and center right now. Asked if IZOD considered being RHR's sponsor, Kelly replied: "No, our spend is outside the car space because our role as a partner is to leverage the sport into mainstream culture.

"And we feel like we've got a lot of avenues to do just that."

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