Ratings versus Racing
Adios, Danica. It seems as if you were wearing out your welcome in open wheel land even before you went to NASCAR. Michael Andretti, quoted in an Associated Press article in USA Today, said the following:
“Yeah, we lost Danica, but I’m not sure that’s going to be negative. I think she brought a lot of good stuff, but she brought a lot of other things that really took away from the rest of our series. And I don’t think that’s healthy. And I think NASCAR’s going to find that.
It became all about her. Even our racing was secondary. I mean, to talk about her finishing 12th in the field, it was taking away from our real stars that we have that really were not getting the billing they should get.”
Gee whiz, Michael, come out and say it. “Bye-bye, b- – - -.” Don’t sugar coat it.
I get it. Her sun shone a little too brightly for the planets in her orbit. And make no mistake about it. Every other driver and owner was one of those planets. I suspect their egos had a little trouble choking down the steady diet of a green Go Daddy car on every broadcast and a wind-swept Danica hawking anti-freeze, motor oil, and web sites on seemingly every commercial. But you see the connection, don’t you? The advertisers are paying money to the network and expect to see their cash cow in a prominent position. IndyCar, like every other major sporting league, is bought and paid for by advertising dollars. The sponsors are the true owners of the teams. Michael Andretti wasn’t making these proclamations when he was the beneficiary of the media spotlight, was he? Apparently, Andretti Autosport only became disenchanted enough to make a comment after Danica left. Hmm.
To move forward in sports, or life for that matter, people have to possess a willingness to forget the past. But you have to learn from the past, too. Before we say “good riddance” to Danica, we should remember a few things.
Other than the drivers, advertising/sponsorship dollars are the most vital resource for the continued success of the sport. These dollars will go away if eyeballs do not follow the sport. Clearly, Danica Patrick brought eyeballs to the sport. Do we really want to spin her leaving by saying the rest of the league is better off without her? That’s not a credible statement. And what do advertisers crave the most? What gets their greedy little hearts pumping? Is it Danica in a bikini? Is it a Will Power kangaroo hop? No, they crave ratings points like a fat boy craves a Twinkie. In case you didn’t notice, IndyCar’s ratings were abysmal, even with Danica’s presence in the league. Momentum? Hardly.
Lest we forget, there are a few issues with the series. We have an untested car, a rotten television contract, poor ratings, a recent tragedy, a shaky schedule, and a game of musical engines going on. Are we getting a little ahead of ourselves? I don’t think we can say IndyCar has turned the corner before it actually starts to drive down the street. The season does not start until St. Petersburg, so IndyCar and its fans might want to stop all the self-congratulation until something actually happens. Before your knees jerk, I know we have some good things going for us. IndyCar has a surprisingly high car count, great young drivers, some solid sponsorship, and a new international driver to help drive interest outside of America. But we cannot pretend that we don’t need all the help we can get. We cannot pretend that Danica Patrick leaving the series won’t hurt viewership. It will. And that viewership is a demographic important to advertisers. That’s why they pay Danica millions to be their shill.
What the fans want is simple: great racing. What the sponsors want is simple: great ratings. If Danica only adds to the ratings, that’s not a problem. If Rubens Barrichello adds primarily to the racing, that’s great, too. We need television, and television needs ratings. The formula is not that complex. One thing Michael Andretti said was true: Danica’s publicity did take the spotlight away from the series racing stars. Let’s face it. Danica is a media star. Doesn’t IndyCar need both? To Michael Andretti I say this: isn’t the media talking about Danica finishing 12th better than the media not talking about IndyCar at all? IndyCar may just be following the advice of the great Satchel Paige: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Keep your eyes on the road, IndyCar. We really need to turn that corner.