The Washington Times - October 17, 2008, 01:46PM

Count the Indy Racing League as another sports entity affected by the downturn in the economy. The top open wheel series in America said it is still looking to nail down a title sponsor for the 2009 season, but that it’s been slow going because at least one of the interested companies had to back out.

“It was in the financial sector, and that’s absolutely not (going to happen) and we completely understand that,” Angstadt told the Indianapolis Star. “The other is still a possibility, but it’s very much a slow process.”

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A title sponsor would be a big step for IRL as it prepares to enter its second year as a unified series. A long-term, lucrative deal would help put the league on solid financial ground as it looks to regain the fan base it had before NASCAR exploded in popularity. But the number of companies in a position to spend for such a sponsorship is shrinking.

The good news for IndyCar is that it had already nailed down a TV rights deal with Versus earlier this year. And most of the indicators for this past season suggest that unifying open wheel racing under a single league was helpful. Average viewership for races rose about 150,00, or 11 percent, while at-track attendance rose at 12 of the 16 venues where the IndyCar Series raced. There was also a 25 percent increase in merchandise sales at the tracks.

It’s safe to assume that the IRL is watching economic conditions closely. The IRL has a strong core fan base, but it’s still relatively small compared to the major sports. Finding new fans will involve convincing people to expand the list of sports they follow, and that’s a tall order during tough economic times when folks are making hard choices about where to spend their money.