For the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will have a presenting sponsor this year, for the 100th running of the historic race.The May 29 race will be called “the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil,” according to a news release made available Thursday to IndyStar and USA TODAY. The price for that: about $5 million over the next three years, sources told IndyStar.
PennGrade Motor Oil is a subsidiary of D-A Lubricant, a Lebanon, Ind., company with ties to the historic race. D-A Lubricants sponsored cars in the 500 from 1955-58, with Bob Sweikert finishing sixth in the ’56 race.
Last year, D-A Lubricant was an associate sponsor on Graham Rahal’s car owned by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. That sponsorship continues, team owner Bobby Rahal told IndyStar.
While the 500 has never had such a tag, industry leaders don’t see it as a problem, particularly as IMS makes a variety of upgrades in preparation for this year’s 100th anniversary.
“It’s terrific,” said IndyCar Series team owner Roger Penske, whose drivers have won a record 16 500s. “Anything that helps the Speedway is good for the sport.”
Zak Brown, a London-based sponsor seeker who founded Just Marketing International in Zionsville, noted the difference between a presenting sponsor and a title sponsor, and he’s worked both kinds of the deals for Hulman & Co., which owns IMS and IndyCar.
Through Brown, Verizon became IndyCar’s title sponsor in 2014. A few years before that, JMI led DirecTV to become IndyCar’s presenting sponsor, a deal that ended after one year because of a conflict with IndyCar’s television partner (Versus was owned by Comcast).
“It’s one thing to say the race is ‘presented by’ someone; that’s a softer sell,” Brown said. “Calling it ‘the Subway Indianapolis 500’ is quite another thing.
“The days of total purity in sports — short of Wimbledon and The Masters — are long gone, and even those (events) have commercial partners. I don’t see any downside.”
What isn’t clear from IndyCar’s news release is how much the 500’s new partner will activate its investment, including the purchase of presenting rights on the TV broadcast. Brown said that deal cost the company at least another million.
“Probably two (million),” Brown said.
Part of the reason this is the 500’s first presenting sponsor is Hulman & Company officials hadn’t previously shown the desire to have one. Brown said he’d never “received the green light” to shop for one.