Jun 15, 2012
MILWAUKEE -- About a year ago, Michael Andretti, John Lopes and J-F Thormann convened for a collective soul-searching exercise with the objective of discerning “What is Andretti Autosport?”
The team’s success on the racetrack includes three IZOD IndyCar Series championships, two Indianapolis 500 victories and rewards on all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. It has been home to some of INDYCAR’s most marketable stars and most recognizable commercial partners. It also is a brand, capturing the magnitude and longevity of the family’s accomplishments.
“Where are our strengths as a company?” said Lopes, the team’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “How can we adapt in this economy and how can we leverage ourselves as a company to grow and thrive long term? What can we do to be a more viable company on a going forward basis? What are we good at?”
The answers were built into the Indianapolis-based operation.
“We’re good at racing. We’ve got a great brand in the Andretti name; perhaps the most unleveraged brand out there in sports today,” Lopes continued. “We’re also good at raising money, packaging, marketing, experiential marketing, retail-based vendor platforms. So how do we bring this all together? As we started looking at our competencies, we realized we had the makings of a great agency.”
So late last year, Andretti Sports Marketing – in collaboration with MDC Partners' agencies BOOM! Marketing and TEAM Enterprises, was born to expand the commercial opportunities while complementing its race teams.
The new arm also quickly expanded by becoming a promoter of two IZOD IndyCar Series events – the Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by XYQ this weekend and the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend.
“We said we can continue doing things the old way or we can think about how to do things the new way,” said Lopes, who has been with Andretti Autosport since 2005. “The new way for us is our commercial department really is an agency.
“(Before) what was our economic model? OK, we sign a sponsor and the sponsor pays for the race car, the uniform, the driver’s intellectual property, the marketing and show car appearances, etc. Let’s say that’s 5 million bucks. Then there’s another 5 million bucks that they source out to agencies to do the creative, to do the marketing strategy, to buy the media. So half of the program, we walked away from the revenue. We’re going after the other half now, not only from the race team’s standpoint, but to help the paddock.
“We’re friends with other team owners in the paddock who have come to us over time and asked, ‘Hey, do you have something you could send?’ If we have a sponsor that comes in here and we cannot sign them because of a conflict (such as a beverage company with Dr Pepper), we could source it out through Andretti Sports Marketing that can work with multiple companies. Let’s start leveraging our experience.
“We found a strategic partner in MDC – a holding company that has some of the best companies in the business – and did a joint venture arrangement in which we operate as the rolodex and provide the relationships and they act on the business.
“I think we’ll eventually help the sport grow. There are a lot of good agency-based groups that are involved in the industry, and we’re the guys on the inside. Our sole focus is representing corporations involved in sports, and we have this niche specialty of racing.”
Lopes said that IndyCar racing – as it has been throughout its century of global notoriety through international drivers, circuits and sponsors – remains exciting. But even in this extended international economic malaise, it is poised to break out of the congested North American sports landscape commercially.
“We’re starting to see it opening,” he said. “We have the best events in the world -- Indy, Long Beach, Baltimore -- and that’s what differentiates IndyCar. It has the ability to take it to the people, and that’s what we tell our sponsors. You can be in the NFL and advertise to the same 60,000 people eight times a year or join us and let’s take it to the people at Indy, Toronto and Long Beach.
“That’s an unbelievable platform for companies as long as you have to support system to make it happen. Apple has great products and keeps coming up with something new. There’s a model in racing that works, and there’s no other sport that does it except soccer at the professional level in a small way.”