For 27 years, Target’s bull’s-eye has been a triumphant fixture on the IndyCar scene, connected to more than 101 victories including four Indianapolis 500 wins.
But not for much longer. The Minneapolis-based retailer said Wednesday that it will end its longest-running sports sponsorship and one of the longest-running in all of motor racing. The partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and its IndyCar Series team led by driver Scott Dixon will come to a close at the end of the 2016 season.
Target will continue to sponsor Ganassi’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team with Kyle Larson in 2017.
“The decision is really about injecting some newness around our approach to sports marketing,” said Katie Boylan, a Target spokeswoman. “If you think about Target and our brand, we’re always looking for what’s new. That’s what this is about as well.”
She added that Target is still in the process of deciding what its next iteration will look like but hopes to announce plans in the near future. Target did not disclose how much it has invested in the motor racing sponsorships.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Boylan said. “Chip and his team have been amazing partners.”
The shake-up is the latest overhaul since CEO Brian Cornell took over two years ago. He has been pushing Target to rethink every part of its business from its corporative giving to its marketing to the products it carries on its shelves. Last year, for instance, Target announced it was ending its long-running Take Charge of Education program in which holders of its Redcard could direct up to 5 percent of their purchases to a school of their choice. Instead, Target has decided to focus its giving on wellness initiatives, which aligns with one of its strategic merchandising priorities.
Wednesday’s announcement came as a surprise to many IndyCar fans who have come to associate Dixon with the red, bull’s-eye-themed suit he often wore in races. But marketing experts said the long tenure of the partnership was unusual in the sports world.
“It’s surprising anytime an organization has aligned itself with a sport for that long,” said Patrick Klinger, a partner with St. Paul-based Brand Enhancement Group and a former vice president of marketing for the Minnesota Twins. “Twenty-seven years is a long time. For a company like Target, there are so many options. They are approached by everybody and can do so many things.”
He added that companies are being more strategic these days when it comes to sports sponsorships, making sure they align with the audience they want to reach and that they are getting a return on their investment.
“Sponsoring IndyCar and NASCAR is not cheap,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst who follows Target for Edward Jones. “Maybe they feel like that’s not their core customer anymore. Maybe the demographics of who is watching auto racing has changed.”
In a statement, Ganassi thanked Target for its partnership over the years, saying that it has been the “greatest sponsor in racing, ever.”
“It is unfortunate they will be leaving the IndyCar Series but rest assured that the No. 9 Chevrolet and the reigning IndyCar Series Champion Scott Dixon will still be in the IndyCar Series next year and beyond. The car will just have different colors on it,” he said. “We are working through some of those options now.”
Outside of motor racing, Target has invested sports marketing dollars in two sports facilities in its hometown — Target Field, home of the Twins, and Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. It is not a sponsor at the new U.S. Bank Stadium.
Target has also been a sponsor in the field of action sports, having partnered with snowboarder Shaun White as well as a number of surfers and skateboarders.