IRL has reasons to be encouraged

Lock up with ABC and ESPN — The IRL’s current television contract with ABC and ESPN extends through the end of 2009. But the league has a small window in which it can negotiate exclusively with ABC and ESPN, which has televised the series since 1996.

There might be a temptation to “auction off” the rights to the series to the highest bidder, but executives should do whatever they can to keep the status quo.

ABC likely will pay a premium to continue televising the Indy 500. ABC and ESPN have shown they are capable of producing great broadcasts and promoting the series effectively, while introducing and expanding its new digital platforms. And let’s face it: Any sport that steps away from ESPN does so at its own peril.

Nail down a title sponsor — IRL executives said that more than 20 companies were in attendance at Indianapolis, with at least one eager to begin negotiations about a naming rights deal for the IndyCar Series.

Ideally, IRL should score a high-profile, forward-thinking company that shares the league’s traits of speed and technology. The IRL’s deal to make DirecTV a presenting sponsor at the beginning of this year was a great start.

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