On a purely practical level, it's understandable – that is, the fact the Indianapolis 500 sold its naming rights and will now be called the "Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil." Even if the company is paying a relatively paltry $5 million over three years, it's $5 million the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn't previously have. And it's money that will be used to make upgrades as the facility prepares for the 100th running of the race this spring.
On a purely emotional level, though, it feels cheap, like a sell-out. Not just the $5 million, which doesn't seem like a whole lot of cash, but the concept that this historic and utterly iconic event would take on a corporate partner and put it in its name and logo.
Granted, it could have been worse. It would have been the PennGrade Motor Oil Indianapolis 500, which would inspire protests everywhere. There's a little more subtlety to the name they're using and plan to use for at least the next three years. Makes it an easier sell. That, plus the fact that PennGrade is a local company with deep roots at the 500.
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But I think of The Masters, or Wimbledon, and while they certainly have corporate sponsors, we don't see them being called The Masters presented by Top Flite, or Wimbledon presented by Wilson. Those are events that should remain pure of over-reaching corporate involvement, and so should the Indianapolis 500.
Especially – ESPECIALLY – in this, the historic 100th running of the race.
The addition of a corporate partners title won't detract from the enjoyment fans derive from attending and watching the Indy 500. Nobody is going to say, "Now that they've sold out, I'm just not into it."
Again, I get it at some level. You have a valuable commodity, you monetize it. Almost everybody sells naming rights to their stadiums. Corporate logos are commonplace on team uniforms all over the globe. Every bowl game has a corporate name affixed to it. Money is king; always has been, always will be. That's especially true at the Speedway, where times have been tough.
The Indy 500 makes money, but the Brickyard 400 has been beset by diminishing crowds for years, and the other Speedway events barely make a dent in the local sports consciousness.
"There's a lot of traditionalists, but you've got to change with the times," driver Graham Rahal said.
And yet, I can't shake the feeling that the Indianapolis 500, and the Speedway specifically, sold out. And sold out for a very minimal amount of money. It's a sign of the times. Whether we like it or not.