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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.

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4 thoughts on “Ratings versus Racing

  1. Turn6Racing on said:

    Michael Andretti is just bitter because Danica didn’t stay with him and thus GoDaddy ended up bailing out a lot of their money on his team.

    However, let’s face it. There’s reason Danica left and it really didn’t have anything to do with the ratings. Danica knew that staying there, her legacy would go to crap because of all the road/street courses they were adding and because of that, she would finish mid-pack all the time instead of up front (her small stature gives her a disadvantage on those courses).

    It was only a matter of time before she left, but Michael Andretti is wrong to say that the series will get better now that she’s gone. That’s like saying the NBA would be better off without Jeremy Lin. The “good riddance” talk from Michael Andretti is uncalled for. Danica isn’t saying stuff like that about him.

  2. Fabienne on said:

    Considering that MAx3 are also working for no-daddy, it is obvious that Danica is the goose that laid the golden egg and she will be missed in Indycar. You don’t hear Chip Gnassi or Roger Penske being sour grapes over Danica Patric. “DP-sour Grapes” could be the new flavor of Jelly-Belly for the IMS. Very sad to see this kind of exploitation and sexism accepted in 2012.

    Danica Patrick moved to NASCAR this year because she made a decision for herself-for a change. She is not a poodle living in a kennel. At least her head and neck are more protected in NASCAR and at least she is focused on driving and not modeling bathing suits for Sports Illustrated. Her raunchy persona may have been developed by her previous boss but honestly, DP looks like every other girl in a bathing suit on Daytona Beach, and when you google her “name” at least she comes up with clothes on. She and her husband should be commended for standing up for themselves and for keeping their own best interests – like every other driver in the USA.

    STOP Bashing Danica.

    Little jealous boys who used her name and celerity image will have to make their own celebrity, which is sad considering that racecar driving is a very dangerous profession. Who needs celebutards on the racetrack, especially since DW was just killed 20 short weeks ago. Keep the clowns out of the paddock. RIP DW

  3. Gary Wilkinson on said:

    Danica is a positive factor for any auto racing circuit in which she is involved. How is it a bad thing that she brings a lot of media and fan attention to her sport? Most drivers thrive on the glare of media/fan attention, so why should she not be able to share in the glory? I for one hope that she can live up to the hype by being competitive and successful in Nascar. Well maybe my view is skewed by fact that I am also a Jeff Gordon fan. So bring it on, lets see who has the better season, IndyCar or Nascar. Personally, I hope that both series do well. Nothing better on a Sunday than an IndyCar race, a Nascar race and a Red Sox game.

  4. Excellent points Mark!

    Here’s a thought – just because she’s gone, doesn’t mean we must not talk about her. She’s obviously a part of Indy 500 and Indycar history and should be treated as such – an historical person.

    Also, Fabienne makes excellent points. Time for the other drivers to step into the spotlight – not by being jackasses, but by being humans who are also racers.

    TV needs to do a better job of telling others’ story and I honestly think they devoted so little time to Indycar, Danica was always the most easily written story.

    Hopefully the new feature on NBCSports ’36’ thing they’re doing this season will give drivers a chance to be seen, they best not miss their chance to shine.

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