In the week following the Danica Patrick-Milka Duno "catfight," much has been said regarding whether these drivers (specifically Danica), should be allowed to carry on as they do.
The question for the IndyCar Series is, however, whether bad press is really good press for a league struggling to find fans and television viewers amongst other racing leagues.
Since the breakup of the Champ Car series and the Indy Racing League in the mid-1990s, the fans and viewers of American open wheel racing have been steadily decreasing, most notably in comparison to the skyrocketing viewers and fans of NASCAR.
In fact, the Coca-Cola 600 has won the television war over the Indianapolis 500 for the past eight years, beating it by just over four percent in 2008.
No one series is going to beat the NASCAR marketing juggernaut; however, IndyCar could do a better job promoting some of its drivers and races than it currently does.
You don’t see IndyCar drivers on pop cans and plugging their products in commercials, whereas you can’t go a single day without seeing a NASCAR related advertisement. You’re not going to gain new viewers without exposing these drivers and the storylines they bring to the table.
This simple point leads me to the Danica Patrick issue: should she be allowed to keep whining and pitching a fit every time something doesn’t go her way?
Personally, I don’t believe she should. However, from a marketing standpoint, every fight and episode she’s involved in is worth a million bucks in the real world. From posing in Sports Illustrated to stomping down pit road, she draws attention to herself and to the IndyCar series.
Is it right? No, but it’s one of the main ways that open-wheel racing is going to grab attention. I can bet that if her and Dan Wheldon got into a confrontation, you’d grab more female and male viewers than before.
It’s a simple fact of nature: she’s hot and a woman, so people are going to pay more attention to her.
Although exploiting Danica Patrick and her marketing potential isn’t the only way IndyCar is going to get more press, it’s probably the best option they have as of right now. Sure, Dan Wheldon could be marketed as the “Kasey Kahne of IndyCar” and Tomas Scheckter as the bad boy, but is it really going to work? Probably not.
Sorry IndyCar, but you’re losing the battle for fans, and you’re losing it faster than half of the male fans wish Danica would lose her top.
Get your marketing gurus to make it work, or you’ll forever struggle in the shadow of NASCAR.