By JENNA FRYER, Associated Press
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Andretti Autosport will announce a new primary sponsor Saturday to replace GoDaddy next season on the car currently driven by James Hinchcliffe.
Andretti gave no indication Friday on the status of contract talks with Hinchcliffe, who with three wins this season gave GoDaddy its most successful season on track in its seven years with the organization.
But as GoDaddy prepares for a global launch next year — CEO Blake Irving said Friday the website domain provider will be in 60 different countries and 30 different languages, with an emphasis on Latin America in time for the World Cup — its spending allocation had to be re-evaluated. GoDaddy currently sponsors Danica Patrick in NASCAR and Hinchcliffe in IndyCar, and Irving decided IndyCar didn't make fiscal sense.
"We looked at our customer acquisition costs and it's an audience size issue," Irving said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "The customer acquisition costs between the web, between regular TV and between NASCAR and IndyCar, IndyCar is the most expensive acquisition vehicle we have. It was pretty expensive on a per customer cost."
But Irving did not rule out GoDaddy continuing a relationship with Hinchcliffe, who has quickly grown into one of the most popular drivers in the series.
"The highest compliment I can pay is he's the kind of guy I'd love to just have a beer with, besides being an unbelievable spokesman for the company, an incredibly talented driver and a guy who has got very, very creative ideas," Irving said. "I definitely wouldn't rule out GoDaddy working with James again in the future. There's a lot of options, a lot of ideas we've been discussing as a company, and we are so positive on him."
GoDaddy joined Andretti as an associate sponsor for Patrick in 2007, and became the primary sponsor on her car in 2010. GoDaddy moved with Patrick to NASCAR that season when she began dabbling in the Nationwide Series, and the company followed her there when she made a full-time move to the Sprint Cup Series.
But GoDaddy also stayed in IndyCar with Andretti, which planned to replace Patrick with Dan Wheldon prior to Wheldon's death in the 2011 season finale.
Hinchcliffe then got the No. 27 car and quickly developed into an IndyCar fan favorite off the track last season. He turned it up on the track this season, winning his first career IndyCar race in the season-opener at St. Petersburg. Hinchcliffe later won in Brazil and Iowa.
Despite Hinchcliffe's success, GoDaddy was slow to make a formal decision on its future in IndyCar. With the season ending Saturday at Auto Club Speedway and Hinchcliffe on the free agent market, team owner Michael Andretti apparently felt he couldn't wait any longer and announced Friday he'd reveal a new sponsor before the race.
"Throughout their seven-year relationship, Andretti Autosport and GoDaddy have together achieved great milestones," the team said. "Together the partnership saw Hinchcliffe sit on the front row of the famed Indianapolis 500, while earning the distinction as the most popular driver in the sport as voted by the fans. Andretti Autosport is grateful to GoDaddy for years of support and friendship as it transitions its 27-car entry to a new primary sponsor beginning in 2014."
Despite the decision to leave IndyCar, Irving, who took over as CEO in January, said NASCAR remains a valuable market for GoDaddy. He also said the company is thrilled with its relationship with Patrick.
"We frankly love Danica and think that Danica represents and personifies what GoDaddy represents — small businesses and people who have ideas," Irving said. "Here's a woman who had an idea and went through the challenges to become a driver in a male dominated sport. She represents the idea that the totally impossible is possible and we love that kind of person.
"She's going to be with us for an awful, awful long time."
With that comes some backlash in the racing community, particularly from fans who don't understand why GoDaddy is leaving IndyCar and Hinchcliffe while it supports Patrick, who is 28th in the standings in her rookie Cup season with one top-10 finish.
Irving said it comes down to math.
"It's not hard to explain because GoDaddy is a business. Anybody in IndyCar or anybody in NASCAR who is on TV is buying advertising is trying to market their product, they have to make trade-offs between the vehicles they use," Irving said. "You actually have to make some pretty hard decisions. I am a car guy and Mario Andretti was one of my heroes when I was a kid. But we have to make the right decision for the business."
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