Danica Patrick – Sports Illustrated Feb 2008 Swimsuit Edition
Danica Patrick’s appearance in Sport Illustrated’s Feb 08 Swimsuit Edition is an education in how to leverage brands – albeit at the risk of compromising their integrity.
This is not meant as criticism – in fact, I applaud Danica for her work (on the racing track as well as in front of the camera) and the way she adjusts to both sides of the coin without much fuss. She’s comfortable with courting media attention and focused on succeeding on the track regardless of it – a trait that few sports personalities share.
As RideLust points out,
Danica Patrick has risen in the sport of Indy Racing based solely on her talent and business acumen. She is a sharp driver and pragmatic about her career choices.
Indeed she is. However, her openness to leveraging her sexuality to her advantage will always invite criticism (whether it’s from women complaining about the objectification of the female body or it’s from ‘purists’ who feel that sports is only about what happens on the track / field and all this modeling stuff just demeans it) – it’s how the public reacts when they’re faced with a brand that is naturally marketable and geared for success from the word go, like Danica is.
Timing is everything
It’s not as if Danica Patrick is stunningly H-H-H-H-H-OTTT (for the record, Anna Kournikova is prettier, but do you see the similarities in the photo shoot from 4 years ago?) – she has a well-toned body (she IS a professional sportswoman after all, did you expect a beer belly?) but isn’t exactly a perfect 10. or 9. or 8.5 (despite her best efforts in this photo).
But she was the right person (a white girl better than most boys at racing cars) in the right place (a sport overwhelmingly dominated by men – a contradiction that was bound to attract attention) at the right time (when the sport needed to uplift itself and its sagging support). Timing matters as much as ability, temperament and business acumen and Danica has timed her rise to perfection.
Danica the race driver v Danica the model
The reaction she attracts is stinging at times and often has nothing to do with her abilities as a race driver. To quote Formula One driver Jenson Button who dismissed the chances of her involvement in Formula One racing:
A girl with big boobs would never be comfortable in the car. And the mechanics wouldn’t concentrate. Can you imagine strapping her in?
Leveraging her sexuality has definitely compromised the integrity of the brand that is ‘Danica the racer’ (although being a woman in a male-dominated sport meant that that integrity was always under attack) – as AutoBlog says:
…it’s also more difficult to take her seriously as a driver when she’s topless.
Danica Patrick – The David Beckham of Motor Sports?
It might be easier to understand Danica’s status as a brand if you consider one of the most famous contemporary sports brands today – David Beckham.
As someone who has watched Beckham play over the years, there’s no doubting his technical abilities as a soccer player, but the media cannot seem to look beyond his appeal as a brand. You could even argue that his career hasn’t turned out exactly as he planned because of his celebrity status – as a brand Beckham has few peers, but the inevitable compromise has been to face consistent criticism over his abilities as a sportsman.
American motorsports will get much needed exposure from Danica’s photoshoot. SI will benefit, as they always do when they put out images of barely-clothed well-toned women. Danica will make more money (and the exposure will give her more opportunities to leverage brand Danica in future commercial ventures). But like David Beckham, Danica will face more and more criticism over her abilities as a race driver.
Then again, the speculation has done little to dampen Beckham’s value as a soccer player (you can debate it in the comments below) and has done nothing to dampen his commercial value (obviously, ads like these help).
when you look at the respect David Beckham has and the space he has made for himself in history (any other soccer player with the same ability but minus the brand would not get even 1/1000th of the attention – and Beckham’s a very talented player), who can fault Danica for going down the same road?