True to the nature of motorsports, business moves as fast as the vehicles. Very rarely does a sponsor remain unchanged throughout decades. When those sponsors do remain, they become as iconic as the cars and drivers they grace with their logos. Among the most iconic: Target and their partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing. On July 27th, it was announced that the sponsor would be ending this partnership at the end of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. With this comes reflection of this iconic partnership, as well as speculation as to what this means for the future.
Off Target: Iconic IndyCar Partnership is Coming to an End
What does this mean for Ganassi?
Chip Ganassi Racing’s link with Target began in 1990. The store chain ran as a sponsor for Eddie Cheever. The company would remain to grace the Ganassi machines for years to come. Drivers as notable as Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi, and Jimmy Vasser piloted the Target car throughout the 90s. This partnership came with championships, and an iconic motorsports partnership was born. Of the company, Chip Ganassi has said: “It’s the greatest sponsor in racing, ever. They’ve been nothing but good to me. They developed me personally and professionally“. He noted that “it’s one of the longest running sponsors in racing“.
The new millennium brought new icons to the Target machine. Close friends Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and the late Dan Wheldon all became closely associated with the brand through Ganassi. Currently, the face of their brand in IndyCar is four-time champion Scott Dixon. The highly charismatic, successful, and marketable New Zealander is the model driver to represent your company. Despite this marketability and success, typically the key formula for sponsorship success, this union will come to an end at the end of 2016.
What does this mean for NASCAR?
Target’s partnership with Ganassi is not ending entirely. At least, it’s not ending right now. The company has been a longtime sponsor of Ganassi’s NASCAR team. Currently, the company is the primary sponsor of Kyle Larson. Another charismatic, marketable driver with a surely successful future ahead of him. Larson will be retaining this sponsorship throughout the 2017 season. However, there is no guarantee that the company has any intention of remaining with Chip Ganassi past this contract.
With the immense success of the partnership in IndyCar, it is hard to believe that Target would remain with the Ganassi NASCAR team past 2017. Larson, as much potential as he may have, it not the proven champion that Dixon is. In terms of company association, being synonymous with success is a key aspect to sports sponsorship. With Larson constantly on the verge of his first win, that partnership has yet to really have such an association. If this has the same trajectory as GoDaddy.com, expect to see Target leave motorsports altogether by the end of 2017.
What does this mean for IndyCar?
Although NASCAR is a considerably larger market than IndyCar, the Ganassi-Target partnership has been most lucrative in IndyCar. In regards to brand recognition, no other company or team comes close to them. In regards to Scott Dixon, finding a new sponsor will be easy. Finding a replacement, however, will be impossible. Much of Chip Ganassi Racing’s image has been built on this partnership. Who can blame them, a nearly three decade partnership is nothing to scoff at. It’s an iconic sponsorship in a business that is constantly building and shifting. The series itself underwent a shift in title sponsorship from IZOD to Verizon. With this news comes the realization that nothing is permanent, especially in motorsports.
An ideal way to send off Target would be with a victory late in the IndyCar season for Scott Dixon. Whether or not this would be truly significant is up in the air. With the company’s hasty and sudden departure due to “an ongoing review of our marketing strategies“, IndyCar’s status as a hub for sponsorship is coming into question. With the longest running and most iconic sponsor leaving one of its most successful teams, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of sponsorship money in IndyCar. Other teams may begin to worry if the stability of Ganassi and Target is coming to a close so suddenly. Dixon will surely find another sponsor, but the hole that Target is leaving will never be filled.
What does this mean for fans?
A bright red IndyCar with white circles is among the most iconic sights in all of motorsports. For the 2016 season, Chip Ganassi Racing has run a “throwback” scheme similar to that which was previously run by Montoya, Vasser, and Zanardi. A fitting end to a dynasty that has lasted for nearly three decades. Mostly, it is a farewell for longtime fans of IndyCar. Since 1990, one could always expect to see the Ganassi Target car on track. Even more, they expected to see the car near the front of the pack. The field at the beginning of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series will admittedly look somewhat bizarre. Something will be missing, something that cannot be replaced.
An image of a Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar sponsored by Target was the image of the sport for generations of fans. A partnership that transcended business and became an icon of the sport itself. Chip Ganassi Racing, both as an IndyCar and NASCAR team, will continue to be successful. However, they will never regain the unmistakable image of the Target logo and its association with their race team. For the team, it is a setback. For the sport, it is a worry. Finally, for the fans, it is the end of an era. A long era, at that.