Thinking through the numbers and what they mean that simply isn’t true. Since she joined the league, ratings have been in decline. There may have been a bump for the first 500 and races immediately after that, but if she were really the thing holding the whole ball of wax together, then things should be trending up. They aren’t. The people who still watch anything other than the 500 are the die hards for whom Danica is merely a circus act and distracting novelty. Danica goes and that TV number stays the same.
Where she would be missed is in the ability of Andretti Autosport to field more than a two car team. Obviously if Danica is gone, they probably don’t have sponsorship to fill the gap for another driver to fill the car and just having her as a part of the team probably rounds up enough sponsor commitment to field another car. AA w/o her is at best a 2 car proposition.
Ironically, Danica could very well give the league a boost on her way OUT the door. If she has a good set of nationwide races, top half of the field or better, people will continue to track her progress and they will become Dani-fans. When it comes time for her to go back to the day job in March many will follow her and watch. It’s at this point we realize how much a benefit to other IndyCar drivers it would be if she does well in those nascar races (keep in mind she will have one of the best cars on the track for every race she is in). We know how well she does in our cars and if she is doing no better against the competition here as she is doing there, then our drivers compare well and could potentially gain some respect.
How much of a bump she brings will be a good question and one not easily answered. I expect a sizeable bump in early season ratings, not only because of Danica, but because of the major campaign Izod is running. I work in the advertising and marketing research industry and trust me it is getting noticed. A friend at a company who is actually tracking the Izod campaign tells me that it is tracking very well with some attractive demographic groups. As much as we got tired of those ads, 98% of the country has never seen them before and they are getting attention and are registering with potential new fans.
Overall, the league has been exposed to the country via Golden Globe Awards, Grammy Awards, Sport Center Spots, Nascar races, AFC and NFC conference championship games which are a better value in advertising than the Superbowl - Oh Yeah - Danica was there too! All in all the word is getting out in a way it never has before.
Danica or Izod? which would be responsible for any bump we might see will be hard to tell, since we are in a position where we can’t observe the effect of one w/o the other, an issue called confounded effects. I do think the third piece of the puzzle here is for someone, like Versus (Bueller? Bueller?), to string the two themes together Danica and the IICS. Their promo ads should run on the wider set Comcast/NBCU channels and feature Danica in at least 50% of them.
Now the million dollar question is, after she converts all the way to nascar will any of those who saw here first in nascar and then tracked her career in IndyCar stay? Will those drawn in by the Izod campaign stay? I don’t know, depends on what they see. A lot of people are very concerned starting the season with four road/street circuits. I am guardedly optimistic for the competition at Brazil. I think a lot of thought went into that course. I think the league and Tony Cottman realized just how bad places like Belle Island were. I think they took what they knew made Cleveland successful and tried to find a street course with similar characteristics. There are 3 long straight-aways with wide braking zones, which will hopefully translate into three frequently used passing zones. The retuned P2P should help also.
My gut tells me that those coming in the door from the Izod ads are more likely to stay longer since they are not coming for someone specific who is going away. What many of us immersed in the sport sometimes don’t realize is that a lot of people who have never been engaged racing fans may be more open to, and interested in twisty racing than you think. Many non racing fans will tell you that they don’t want to watch people going around in circles. If nascar based Danifans show up and see bright you talents like RHR, GH, JRH or MA who knows. If all these people show up and see Simona hit the podium in one of the first four races, before Danica does on an oval – who knows what will happen. If versus puts any airtime into covering the NEW CAR extravaganza – again who knows. Unlike last year I think there are some game changers in play here.
Hopefully the show doesn’t disappoint.