IndyCar announced a multi-year title sponsorship deal Tuesday with NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan.
The series will be called the NTT IndyCar Series. NTT Data, a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., already sponsors a car for Chip Ganassi Racing and received enough exposure from that deal to warrant a larger piece of the open-wheel racing series. The season's first race is March 10 in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The partnership revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit also makes NTT the official technology partner of the IndyCar Series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Brickyard 400.
"IndyCar has grown in terms of all of our fan metrics and is a valuable global brand that NTT recognizes," Mark Miles, president and CEO of IndyCar and IMS parent company Hulman & Company, told The Associated Press. "We feel great about it because they are a corporate giant in global communications and their strategy is to begin to expose the NTT parent brand, which in Japan is a company much like a merger between AT&T and Verizon."
NTT replaces Verizon, which was title sponsor of the series from 2014 until it ended its partnership last season. IndyCar had nearly two years to replace Verizon, but the NTT deal came together rapidly at the end of last season.
The company approached IndyCar executives before the September season finale asking if it was too late to discuss the entitlement package, and IndyCar immediately opened talks. The broader deal was completed in roughly three months and sealed with a November trip to Tokyo in which IndyCar officials and Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato made a winning pitch to NTT.
"This is a huge chance for us to let people know who NTT is," said Tsunehisa Okuno, executive vice president and head of global business for NTT. "Everyone knows about IndyCar and there is room for growth in the European market and the Japanese market. NTT is a global company and North America is a very important market for the brand. We think we could offer something exciting with NTT and Indy by using the NTT technology."
NTT has already been developing a new mobile application for the series that will replace the Verizon app, which limited live content to Verizon subscribers. NTT also will use its proprietary platform to support the series and venues in delivering analytical insights.
"In an average two-hour race, IndyCar timing and scoring pulls in more than 50 million data ratings off the cars," Miles said. "It's fertile ground if we can turn it into digestible compelling content to the fans."
Driver Tony Kanaan, who was at the event in Detroit, said NTT helped develop a shirt he wore under his suit that could give him information about his body heat, muscle strength and heart rate.
"I was able to read what was happening during the race -- especially a three-hour race, you don't get to drink, you don't get to hydrate, you don't get to eat anything -- and simulate that at the gym," Kanaan said. "It was a huge improvement for me."
Bob Pryor, the CEO of NTT Data Services, said the partnership with the Ganassi team helped the company recognize the potential in IndyCar.
"We've seen how NTT technology and innovation can help drivers and teams, and we believe it can also advance the sport and fan engagement," Pryor said. "Also, the depth of the relationships we were able to expand with our clients, other sponsors, and the automotive industry as well as the brand awareness we were able to build, has and continues to be significant."
NTT began as a Japanese telephone company that has grown into a $106 billion tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas. NTT Communications is a technology partner of McLaren Formula One.
IndyCar's 2019 schedule includes 17 races, all of them in the United States except for a stop in Toronto.
Miles is trying to add two international events to the schedule that would run in February, and IndyCar has already visited Australia about a potential race. NTT supports IndyCar's vision on expansion.
"There's been an IndyCar race in Japan and we would love more IndyCar racing in Japan," Okuno said. "If we could make it happen, it is a very good showcase to let Japanese clients know what we are doing in bigger markets."
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister contributed to this report.
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