What If Danica DID Leave?
Sunday morning, I awoke to a televised report on ESPN that Danica Patrick would be racing in NASCAR. Then the report went on to say that she would only be racing in the trucks and Nationwide series. Curious, I checked the internet and found further clarification that she would be staying in IndyCars and more than likely resigning with Andretti-Green Racing. While the televised SportsCenter blurb was a little misleading, it gave me time to have a gut-reaction the so-called enormity of Danica Patrick leaving IndyCars before I got the rest of the story. What was my reaction? – So what? The IndyCar Series will survive.
Please understand, that I understand. I get it that Danica Patrick is a marketing machine. The problem is that in the five seasons that she has been in the IndyCar Series, she has been a marketing machine for Danica Patrick rather than the Indy Racing League. There are a few curiosity seekers that might tune in to watch the Indianapolis 500 each May because of Danica, but I don’t think many of them were watching the other fourteen races that have taken place so far this season. Otherwise, the ratings on ABC and Versus would not be as abysmal as they have been.
And what kind of marketing machine is she really? Her most visible commercials are of the man-boob signing type of commercials for Boost Mobile, her way too repetitive Peak Automotive products or the ridiculously cheesy Go-Daddy commercials. It is a rare thing to see any of these ads away from an IndyCar telecast. The true definition of a marketing machine is Peyton Manning or Michael Jordan in his heyday. Granted, Peyton Manning is probably over-exposed, but his portfolio of product lines include Sony, Gatorade, DirecTV, Sprint, Oreo cookies, MasterCard and ESPN SportsCenter among others and are much more powerful names than the ones Danica represents.
Some say that the small platform that the Indy Racing League offers her is the reason her exposure is so limited. They argue that NASCAR will offer her a broader reach to command the almighty endorsement dollars. Granted, the IRL doesn’t come close to the NFL in marketing visibility, but I still wonder if NASCAR will bring her the earning power away from the track that she expects. Ultimately, sponsors will have to want her. Have the Sports Illustrated photo shoots make her as attractive to Madison Avenue executives as they have to young adolescent males? If so, I would have thought she would already be sought out for more lucrative advertising contracts than what she has.
She did command a three-year, twenty-one million dollar deal from Motorola to sign with AGR for 2007. Did they get a return on their investment? Do we know that the current contract talks are commanding dollar figures in that same area? If so, then my theory is completely wrong. I have no clue what types of numbers are being negotiated. Motorola ads featuring Danica Patrick have been practically non-existent since she signed her contract near the end of the 2006 season, but it is up to them and/or Boost Mobile to decide what value they have gotten from Ms. Patrick.
When she switched to Boost Mobile beginning with this year’s Indianapolis 500, I thought they were a division of Motorola. They are not. Boost Mobile is the no-contract division of Sprint. Motorola makes phones for them and it appears they have exclusivity, but that is the extent of their relationship. Does the “no-contract” phone market represent the typical demographic for the IndyCar Series?
Notice I’ve mentioned nothing of Danica’s ability to perform on the track. I have never driven a stock car (although I did drive and IndyCar at IMS through the Indy Racing Experience…great time, but that’s another topic) but I understand that driving a stock car requires a lot more strength and endurance than an IndyCar. I’m not being sexist and saying that no women can do that. I’m just not sure that a petite 100-pound woman can, over a five hundred mile stretch each week over a season that stretches from February through November.
Danica has honed her skills over the last five seasons to be a top-tier driver and that is reflected in this year’s point standings. She has become a consistent heads-up driver that has a reputation of bringing the equipment home in one piece. She is not however, considered a threat to ever win a race. The one race she won was a fuel-mileage race that she lucked into. Many drivers luck into those throughout their careers, but it is the consistent winners that actually earn victories combined with the fuel-economy wins that win the respect for their driving abilities.
One reason why she hasn’t been considered a favorite to win this year has been the underwhelming performance of AGR. If they were to work their way back to where they were considered on the same level with Penske and Ganassi; would she be considered a favorite each race along with Ryan Briscoe or Dario Franchitti? I’m not so sure. But if she thinks she has a better chance of being successful in NASCAR – then more power to her. Chances are though, she’ll just trudge around in a circle for thirty-six races a year and collect a bigger paycheck. Which goes back to the question…how much is enough?
If Danica is in this to see how much of a golden goose she can snare, then she’d better make the jump to tin-tops. If she wants to continue to hone her skills in open-wheel to the point that she can be a consistent winner as well as be considered a threat to win the Indy 500, year after year – then she’d better stay put. My bet is that she will go for the gold and leave her lifelong dreams behind.