IMG looks to double down with Danica and Dale Jr.
Danica Patrick’s representatives at IMG soon will be talking
to the brands endorsed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. as both camps seek
opportunities to combine the star power of the two drivers.
Even though Patrick’s move to NASCAR has been in the
works since the summer, she just last week signed to drive a dozen
or so Nationwide Series races for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports,
a team he co-owns with Rick Hendrick. She’ll continue to
drive a full Izod IndyCar Series schedule for Andretti Autosport.
“Now that there’s something real to talk about,
we can sit with (Earnhardt’s) partners to find the right
opportunities for both of them,” said Mark Dyer, senior vice
president, strategic planning and development at IMG, the agency
that represents Patrick and engineered her move to NASCAR. Dyer is
part of an IMG team that includes Alan Zucker, Patrick’s
agent from the client representation group; Tom Worcester from
business development; and Tom Knox from motorsports business
GoDaddy.com will be the primary sponsor on Patrick’s
No. 7 Chevrolet at JRM, and two other associate sponsorships are
close. Primary, full-season sponsorships in the Nationwide Series
run anywhere from $5 million to $7 million a year for the top
Go Daddy also sponsors Patrick in IndyCar, so the potential
for sponsor conflict has been limited so far. IndyCar primary
sponsorships run about the same as Nationwide team deals, in the
mid-to-high seven figures.
Additionally, Go Daddy is spending well into eight figures to
sponsor Mark Martin’s No. 5 Sprint Cup car for a majority of
the 36 races next year, bringing the total sponsorship spend for
the domain name provider to more than $20 million. That
doesn’t include Go Daddy’s significant media buy, which
will include two spots for Patrick ads in the Super Bowl.
Go Daddy also sponsored a JRM car last season and is expected
to have a relationship with Earnhardt this season.
As IMG and JRM work together to fill out the sponsorship on
her Nationwide Series car, the more compelling possibilities are
how Patrick might work together with Earnhardt, NASCAR’s most
popular driver for seven straight seasons. Earnhardt’s
co-primary sponsors are Pepsi’s Amp Energy and National
Guard, while he also endorses Nationwide Insurance, the title
sponsor of NASCAR’s No. 2 series. John Aman, associate vice
president of sponsorships for Nationwide, has said the insurance
giant is studying endorsement opportunities, which could play off
Patrick’s participation in the series or her ties with
“Absolutely” there will be opportunities, Dyer
said, for Patrick and Earnhardt to work together. “There are
a lot of brands within Pepsi, and Dale has his own affiliation with
Go Daddy and Nationwide as well.”
Just as interesting is the potential for a brand to pair
Patrick and Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley, the president of JRM
who negotiated the deal with IMG to bring Patrick to the team.
Kelley Earnhardt, like Patrick, is blazing trails as a woman in a
profession dominated by men.
“There are some great story lines there about Danica
coming to NASCAR and the female executive who helped bring her into
the sport,” Dyer said.
Other entities can’t wait to put Patrick’s star
power to use as well, given her perceived ability to drive ticket
sales and TV ratings, two areas that have slumped in recent years.
Chris Powell, president of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is already
devising promotional possibilities that would incorporate Patrick
in a ticket-selling plan.
Patrick has not yet committed to a race schedule, but with
the Feb. 27 Las Vegas race the third event on the Nationwide Series
schedule—well before the March 14 season opener in
IndyCar—she is expected to include Vegas on her calendar.
“It’s a breath of fresh air for the sport,”
Powell said. “We’re hoping to create a promotion around
her appearance that will be exciting for fans and potentially
rewarding. What we hope is that a fan or fans will win something
based on where Danica finishes. Ever since there’s been talk
about her coming into NASCAR, we’ve been talking about ways
to leverage her presence and profile.”
Patrick, likewise, will figure heavily into ESPN’s
promotion of the Nationwide Series, which typically begins with a
brand campaign around late January, about three weeks before the
start of the season. ESPN2 carries most of the Nationwide Series
races, with some bouncing over to ESPN or ABC. Viewership for
NASCAR’s No. 2 series was down 12.7 percent in 2009,
averaging 1.8 million viewers for 35 races.
“Danica is one of the drivers who has proven she can
move the meter,” said Julie Sobieski, ESPN’s vice
president, programming and acquisitions. “In 2005, we saw
significant increases in the Indy 500 when she was a rookie.
She’s a story that transcends the sport and has the power to
bring in different viewers. Casual fans will gravitate to this
story line. We see advantages across both of the series, Nationwide
Dyer said the strategy with Patrick has been to position her
as a NASCAR driver, not solely a Nationwide Series driver. And
despite her partial schedule in NASCAR as she continues to compete
full time in IndyCar, “there will be the ability to market
with her yearlong,” Dyer said.
It remains to be seen where Peak, one of Danica’s
longest-running partners, will fit in on her Nationwide or IndyCar
car, but that relationship is expected to continue.