Thursday, July 16, 2009
There are a lot of professional athletes who know how to use the media, but none may be doing a better job right now than IRL driver and cover girl Danica Patrick.
Her Monday visit to the shops of Stewart-Haas Racing set the reporters typing, the radio hosts talking and the NASCAR TV networks drooling. In an era where the tail often wags the dog, Patrick is proving to be media savvy beyond her years.
Click here for the story from Jay Busbee at Yahoo! that has details and links to the Danica visit. NASCAR has famously been a sport where women had a very hard time getting a toe-hold. Often, that was a two-sided issue that pitted sponsorship against performance. That may not be the case any more.
Although the smart money is still on Danica using her NASCAR flirtation as IRL contract leverage, the question remains. What if she jumped in a Cup ride?
Scan the NASCAR grandstands on any race day and the one group with the most in common are the female fans. Driven more by the personalities on the track than by what brand is stamped on the engine, this group may come into play if and when Patrick puts a serious eye on the sport.
Jimmy Spencer on SPEED's RaceDay was very clear in his opinion that Patrick could not handle a Sprint Cup Series car. He referenced the long line of open-wheel racers that had come and gone, including the high-profile Dario Franchitti. While Spencer's view is based on performance, there is another school of thought that exists.
The entire 2009 IRL schedule consists of only 18 races. The season did not start until April and ends in October. There is no support series where drivers can double-up on a race weekend. The most recent IRL race in Toronto had a grand total of 23 cars. There are only 5 races on ABC. The remaining 13, including the final 7 events, are carried on the Comcast-owned Versus cable TV network.
While Patrick may be trying to play the field, there are several things that make the lure of NASCAR attractive. As we said at the outset, Patrick is a media personality who works her off-track activities perhaps even harder than her racing. It may be fair to say that her exposure in Sport Illustrated's swimsuit issue might have gotten her a little more attention than finishing fifth out of 21 IRL cars at the Milwaukee Mile this May.
Waiting for Patrick in NASCAR land would be the Fox Broadcast Network, Turner Network Television, ESPN and her old friend ABC. The 24 hours of NASCAR radio on SiriusXM would make her a topic of discussion daily. It seems ironic that a move to the Sprint Cup Series would actually get Patrick more race exposure on ABC than the entire IRL season. It's a little thing called the Chase for the Championship.
Whatever amount of merchandise Patrick is moving at the Danica Racing Store, she can count on that number soaring if she adds her NASCAR sponsor, her team name and the little NASCAR logo to the t-shirts and caps.
In our society at present, we follow and admire people as much for their exposure in the media as the things they might have done to get it. Sometimes. they may have done relatively little and still become media darlings. Patrick has been a consistent IRL performer, but few wins have come her way. That has not stopped the public from making her a household name.
While there is little doubt Patrick's first season in NASCAR would be a learning curve, there is one thing to keep in mind. In terms of sponsorship, revenue and exposure she may only have to make the field each race to keep her incredible media presence alive and growing. With the right team, that might not be too tall a task.
NASCAR Now, RaceDay, and the Hollywood Hotel would be filled with Danica-mania if she were to show-up in February at Daytona. SportsCenter, Wind Tunnel and other shows not totally NASCAR-oriented would bend to her purpose. These days, the motorsports media follows instead of leads.
How would you feel if Patrick made the move directly to the Sprint Cup Series with an established team? If she was just as serious about getting away from open-wheel racing as another former IRL champion you may have heard of...his name is Tony Stewart.
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