The Indianapolis 500 will be airing on ABC, but prepare to hear another network mentioned prominently: Telemundo.
The Spanish-language broadcaster has partnered with Newman/Haas Racing and is sponsoring the No. 2 car in this year’s race. Their driver, Oriol Servia, qualified in the front row for Sunday’s marquee IndyCar event.
However, the bright blue car has come to represent something more significant than a single network or racing team. When the Telemundo car takes the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will mark the first time a Hispanic company is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500.
“Obviously, everybody hopes he wins,” Telemundo account manager José Jiménez said of Servia. “But the fact that he’s in the race [sponsored by such a prominent Hispanic company] and they’re going to make mention of it is a big deal. It should speak volumes to the country as a whole.”
For both Telemundo and Newman/Haas Racing, this sponsorship is about more than just successful results on the track – though finishing well is a top priority. It’s about marketing the sport to a valuable and influential demographic that’s been sorely overlooked and under-served by the motor racing industry.
“As a driver or a team, it’s great to have any sponsor on your side because somebody needs to pay the bills,” Servia said. “But when we announced Telemundo, it’s a lot more than a sponsor. It’s definitely a huge platform that is finally bringing the IndyCar world a lot closer to the Hispanics that live in the U.S.”
Telemundo had been looking to get into the racing scene with little success. The company had realized the dearth of racing content directed at the U.S. Hispanic community, especially in Spanish-language media.
“Soccer is being beaten to death,” Jiménez said of the appeal of a racing sponsorship. “Everybody [looking to tap the Hispanic market] is going after soccer. … But here is an opportunity to take advantage of a sport that has international appeal.”
Meanwhile, Newman/Haas were looking for both a sponsor and for ways to expand their fan base. Like virtually every other industry in this country since the release of the 2010 Census data, NHR was well aware of the influence and value of the U.S. Hispanic market.
“The [U.S. Hispanic] market is one which open-wheel racing has kind of lost over the last 20 years or so, and we’re trying to reestablish that,” Newman/Haas general manager Brian Lisles said.
However, as Lisles summarized, across racing sports, “nobody had kind of figured out a strategy to do that.”
That is, until Telemundo, headquartered in Miami, and Newman/Haas, based out of Lincolnshire, Ill., were connected through a sports marketing company. From there, the pieces seemed to fall into place.
Jiménez says NHR certainly seems to have nailed that strategy.
“The way that Newman/Haas laid everything out to us should be the textbook example,” the Telemundo account manager said. “We plan to create and set a new standard for it. I know in [a couple] of years, people are going to look back and say, ‘Why didn’t we think about that?’”
Early in the process, Servia came up as a possible driver. In addition to his experience, the Spain-native was also bilingual, making him a perfect fit for Telemundo programming and the sponsorship.
In a matter of months, the two sides agreed on a multiyear sponsorship deal. Making sure both sides were committed for the long term was essential.
“We need, like everybody else, stability,” Lisles said of a key to success in racing.
But for NHR, stability is just part of the reason for a multiyear commitment.
“We have longer-term plans directed toward the Hispanic market,” the team general manager said, also citing an upcoming deal with Spanish-language news publishing giant ImpreMedia. “It’s not just that we have a car here, and it’s on TV, and somebody’s name is on the side of the car. We have longer-term plans to engage much more with the Hispanic community.
“It’s not only good for us,” Lisles added. “But it’s good for motor racing sports in general to establish a bigger audience for everybody.”
To cultivate that Hispanic fanbase, of which research shows a strong core already exists, Telemundo is equally committed to this collaboration as a part of the company’s foreseeable future.
Telemundo wants fans to know its foray into racing is not just about a one-shot Indy 500 branding opportunity or an ad stunt.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” Jimenéz said. “No matter what happens, we’re going to be committed to doing that 100 percent.”
While the two sides are looking forward to a promising future together, all eyes will be on this weekend’s race.
“We’re after the win,” Servia said, admitting he has imagined how amazing it would be to cross the Brickyard in first. “Winning the 500 is what every driver wants, especially this year being the 100th anniversary of the race.
"We already have the Telemundo car in the front row, the best place you want to be to start this race," he added. "But there’s still 500 miles ahead of us.”
Lisles was equally reserved.
“We’re in it to compete, and when you compete you want to win,” he said. “We’re on the front row so that’s satisfying for the whole team … Of course, it’s only a small step toward the 500 miles you need to get through to win the race, which is really why we’re here.
"But it’s a good start for everybody,” he added.
The sentiment is a fitting way to describe the Telemundo-Newman/Haas car – and the entire sponsorship so far.
Maria Burns Ortiz is a freelance sports journalist, chair of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Sports Task Force, and a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow her on Twitter: @BurnsOrtiz