Appeal is relative, and Danica Patrick still has it

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Danica Patrick has been able to maintain a balance of appeal between male and female consumers.

Danica Patrick has not lost her fastball, said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company. In marketing, as in baseball, he said, everything is relative. And although the company's oft-cited measure of celebrity power was last week brandished in a USA Today article to suggest the possible impending demise of an endorser, Schafer said Patrick remains one of the most known and liked figures in sports.

"Maybe a little speed off it,'' he told espnW.com, "and she's throwing more changeups. We've seen a little softening in overall perception, but she's still pretty strong."

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One theory for Danica Patrick's slip in Q Scores is her inability to win races the past few years, which could be a cause for concern heading into her first full Sprint Cup season in 2013.

Q Scores measure awareness and likability in sports figures, assigning an overall value and providing a gauge for marketers seeking celebrity endorsers. Patrick's score has slipped from its peak of 29 in 2010 to 19 this year, meaning, Schafer said, that 19 percent of sports fans familiar with her consider her one of their favorite personalities.

"She's maintaining her awareness out there," Schafer said. "I mean, she was really high a couple years ago, so despite some erosion in her appeal, she's still above average. The unique thing about her, as a spokesperson particularly in the sports world, is she was and still is able to maintain a good balance of appeal between male and female consumers, which I believe is an important ingredient to her profile for representing GoDaddy. So that part of it would be hard to replace, to find another female sports spokesperson -- if that's what they want to do -- with that kind of balanced appeal."

GoDaddy chief marketing officer Barb Rechterman told espnW.com last week, "We plan to continue with Danica for years to come." The Internet domain provider has sponsored Patrick's race cars on a partial or full-time basis since the 2007 IndyCar season with Andretti Autosport and has committed to what both it and Stewart-Haas Racing characterize as a "multiyear" deal as she begins her first full Sprint Cup season in 2013.

As one of the diminishing number of full-season sponsors in Sprint Cup, GoDaddy has aligned itself with a driver who remains very popular in comparison to her competitors, Schafer said. Patrick has ranked "among the top five most appealing race car personalities," he said, since 2008.

Marketing, like racing, is a perpetual contest against every peer, and Patrick still excels in the off-track competition, according to Q Scores.

"[She's] right up there with Dale Earnhardt [Jr.], Jeff Gordon, in terms of awareness and in terms of likability, she's pretty much where they are at this point," Schafer said.

Earnhardt Jr., the Sprint Cup series' perennially most popular driver, has a 22 Q Score, down from 28 in 2011, and Gordon's is 21, negligibly down from 22 in 2011.

The average NASCAR driver Q Score is currently a 13. Schafer said upward and downward trend lines for various drivers provided no systemic reason for Patrick's decline but feels her lag could be remedied with on-track performance.

"A lot of her erosion is probably due to a lack of winning races over the past couple years, getting that kind of notoriety as well," Schafer said. "So it's all part of the perception out there. Basically, she has been on the straight and narrow, so there's nothing from a negative point or incident that would contribute to that perception. Apparently, it's just some natural erosion, not winning some races she's been in."

That theory is perhaps foreboding for Patrick -- she has finished no better than eighth in Nationwide this season and will begin her full-time Cup career with only 10 starts of experience – but it shouldn't be surprising. She has said since the beginning of her IndyCar career, through the shockwave of attention she generated in 2005 by finishing fourth and becoming the first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500, that on-track performance would determine the attention span of the casual fan and marketing community. Addressing that concern may now be more pressing, unless a highly publicized first season in NASCAR's big leagues -- the first ever for a woman -- stokes her mainstream image sufficiently.

Mark Dyer, Patrick's agent with the IMG Worldwide management group, said he was confident in Patrick's status as an endorser even before Q Scores were taken into context. Dyer told espnW.com earlier this year that Patrick's portfolio of sponsors was all but filled out.

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Danica Patrick's popularity is evident at racetracks where men, women and children show their support.

"There are a number of measures of celebrity awareness, what the public associates as attributes of these celebrities' brand," he said. "Danica scores very, very highly in a cross section of these types of ratings. If you use different methodologies, ask different questions, measure different things, she scores very, very high, not just in NASCAR or racing, but as a national celebrity and as an admired person and a trailblazer as a female competing in a predominantly male sport."

Patrick's awareness score of 76 dwarfed the group average of 40 among female athletes assessed by the company this year, and her overall score of 19 tied Venus Williams and edged Serena Williams by a point. The Williamses were the only female athletes to better Patrick's awareness score, at 87 and 85, respectively.

Patrick posted a Q Score of 26 in 2008 -- the year of her lone IndyCar win -- and peaked at 29 two years ago in conjunction with the commencement of her first part-time Nationwide Series season.

She is completing her first full-time season in the second-tier series. Her popularity is ever-present at racetracks in the amount of shocking green logo apparel worn by children, women and men of all ages, and NASCAR officials said Patrick is trending well in the on-going annual vote for the most popular driver in the Nationwide Series. She won the same title in each of her seven IndyCar seasons except last year, when it was claimed by the late Dan Wheldon.

So while there might be pause in regards to her Q Scores, Schafer said, panic is currently unjustified.

"She's still pretty appealing even though she's lower than what she was years ago," he said. "She's right there with all the top names."

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