There has been a litany of sponsorship announcements in the last few days coming from the Penske camp. First we heard of the Shell/Penzoil deal for Helio, then comes word that Meijer had jumped ship from Andretti, and today the announcement that IZOD has joined up with the Captain. Danny Sullivan once said that “When the music stops, Roger always has a chair.” Apparently its Michael Andretti’s. One would have to wonder what the mood is like in the Andretti Autosport shop the last few weeks.
Shell/Penzoil’s return to open wheel racing is a welcome sight to long time fans. Penske of course ran that iconic sponsorship in the past with their stable of legendary names, then of course Panther ran with it for several years as well. The Shell/Penzoil deal is not for the full season as their colors will grace Helio’s ride for Indy, but other events will most likely be announced.
While Shell’s return did not occur at the expense of any other INDYCAR team, Meijer and IZOD have both been sponsors at Andretti Autosport. Meijer has been a longtime sponsor appearing at the associate level and as a sometimes primary sponsor, while IZOD was on Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car last season. Meijer and IZOD will appear as an associate sponsor on all of Roger’s, and IZOD will also serve as a primary sponsor on Briscoe’s car for at least two races in 2011.
Now the question begs to be asked, shouldn’t Roger be out looking for new or returning sponsors who are not currently associated with the series, instead of cherry picking from Andretti?
Maybe it sounds a little more ethical to say YES, Penske should understand that taking sponsors from other teams only hurts the momentum of a series that is just now announcing deal after deal with new category sponsors. But my answer is NO. Let’s look at this from Meijer and IZOD’s standpoint. Andretti is hemorrhaging sponsors right now. 7-11 has gone from a primary sponsor to an associate sponsor. Tony Kanaan is out the door. AFS has other plans for their future, which do not include continued involvement with Andretti or a rumored 4th car for AA in 2011. What remains is Danica, Marco and Ryan. While Ryan is a proven talent, Danica and Marco have not shown very well for the team, particularly last year. And Ryan’s ability to set up cars for his two teammates will be severely taxed without the help of Tony Kanaan. Andretti has continued in this position of being the 3rd best team in the series for 3 years now and does not look to be improving anytime soon. And with the loss of Tony Kanaan, we have to start wondering if 3rd place next year is realistic with Panther and Dreyer and Reinbold on their heels. I would posit that sponsors leaving AA has less to do with Roger stealing them away and more to do with IZOD and Meijer looking for a team that could more effectively market their product.
Also, before we try to throw Roger under the bus for stealing sponsors, we should recognize that Shell/Penzoil and Verizon are sponsorship deals that Roger didn’t “steal”. Further, Chevy’s return to INDYCAR would not have happened without a little “Penske musical chairs”. Further, Verizon is rumored to be the next big thing in INDYCAR category sponsors.
For what it is worth, IZOD has said that they will continue to market around Ryan Hunter-Reay, but nothing has yet been said if they will continue any sort of sponsorship with him. Some rumors have even said that RHR may have moved to Penske if Andretti did not exercise an option on his contract, though I would treat that with suspiscion.