Wednesday, April 22, 2009
NASCAR TV Better With Danica?
Whenever the New York Times takes a moment to talk auto racing, it gets the attention of fans nationwide. Click here for the paper's most recent story.
In discussing how NASCAR can attract new TV viewers, the name of Danica Patrick usually surfaces sooner or later. The NYT story was written because Patrick is now in the final year of her IRL contract with Andretti Green Racing.
Fans of the NASCAR Now program on ESPN may remember Patrick making a brief appearance last season. She was asked about someday possibly moving over to NASCAR. Patrick turned the tables on the panel and asked them to name some reasons why she should leave a solid contract with a good team. They had none.
Now, some circumstances have changed and one of the biggest involves the TV coverage of the IRL. As TDP reported last year, ESPN basically washed its hands of the IRL in a bold power play. The media company only wanted the Indy 500 for ABC and a mere handful of races for ESPN. If the IRL said no to the new deal, they would lose the national broadcast TV for their biggest event of the season. Needless to say, they caved.
Enter the Comcast-owned Versus cable TV network. The former Outdoor Life Channel had some cash in the bank and was looking for a new sport to add to its line-up. The resulting deal with the IRL put lots of races on TV and added some quality support programming as well. For the IRL, it was a relief. For Patrick, it was a significant loss in the national exposure that helps her drive revenue away from the track.
When asked by the NYT recently about a potential move from the IRL, Patrick's tune had changed. "It’s interesting to me as well," she said. "Do I stay where I am? Do I try to change? It’s all about evaluating options, and I think that’s something any good businessperson does."
When Patrick looks at the Sprint Cup Series, she sees every race televised on Fox, TNT, ESPN or ABC. Every lap of practice and qualifying is shown on national TV and there are endless preview and review shows on both ESPN2 and SPEED. Where TV is concerned, NASCAR's exposure makes the IRL TV deal pale in comparison.
So, what would Danica bring to Sprint Cup land? Humpy Wheeler says her presence would have a huge impact on the sport. Marketing maven Max Muhleman describes her as a "ticket selling machine." It seems rather ironic that NASCAR is currently searching for new storylines and also needs to sell more tickets to the races.
We all remember the open-wheel set from the 2008 invasion. Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti is back in the IRL. Formula One veteran Jacque Villeneuve never really got his effort off the ground. Sam Hornish continues to soldier on and Scott Speed has already missed one race this season. He is 38th in points.
The big difference is that Patrick might not have to win, or even contend, to grab the NASCAR limelight and use it for her marketing and sponsor campaigns. The 5 foot 2 inch Patrick weighs in at 100 pounds and has not been shy in using her looks to her advantage. The fact that she was born in Wisconsin, raised in Illinois and has a feisty temper to boot might play well with the NASCAR crowd.
There is absolutely no doubt that the TV networks would take full advantage of as much of Patrick's time as she would give. Danica on NASCAR Now, Danica on RaceDay, Danica on Trackside. The list goes on and on. So does the media exposure.
So, take a deep breath because this topic is going to continue to be talked about until Patrick makes a decision. On one hand, maybe coming to NASCAR in 2010 for a high-profile team would be a marketing dream for all concerned. On the other hand, the lack of success of the recent open-wheel invaders should cause any driver to carefully consider how tough it is to make the transition to stock car racing.
What is your opinion? Would you be more inclined to watch Sprint Cup races live next season if Patrick was in the field? Do you think it would give both the sport and the TV coverage a spark if she took the gamble and made the move?
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