Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Will "The Chase" Result In ESPN3?


The last time ESPN carried NASCAR, things were very different. ESPN was a completely different company, rooted in hardcore sports presented on the "mothership channel" of ESPN. NASCAR had managed to climb its way up the ladder and become one of those sports. But it was a long hard climb.

Back then, NASCAR was different too. There was no "Chase for the Cup," no "elimination races" before The Chase, and no "Car of Tomorrow." There was just racing. The fans loved it, but trouble was brewing on the horizon in "TV land."

ESPN and NASCAR got very mad at each other, and they split-up. Each was convinced they were right about money, and what was best for the sport. Needless to say, the parting was not a pleasant one.

NASCAR threw ESPN out of its tracks, and prevented ESPN from showing highlights or using footage. ESPN promptly cancelled RPM2Nite and banned NASCAR from SportsCenter. Nothing about this was good for the fans.

Now, more than five years later, ESPN and NASCAR have found once again that they are better together than apart. Apparently, several hundred million dollars changing hands did not hurt things either. So, here we go...again.

In "TV land," we find ourselves right now on the verge of several powerful forces about to converge. It starts with The Brickyard 400, and runs right through the end of the NASCAR season. This year, ESPN will broadcast both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series races from July through November. ESPN has the practice, the qualifying, and the happy hour coverage as well. They will be the TV face of NASCAR for the "stretch run."

On a daily basis, ESPN has NASCAR Now, the only NASCAR news show on TV during the week. On Sundays and Mondays, this show is one hour long. The rest of the week's shows are thirty minutes, unless there is breaking news.

Today's column is a result of what happened on Monday of this week. Better yet, what did not happen. This past week, Dale Junior landed at Hendrick Motorsports. That might be the biggest story of the year. The MIS race was the first event after the shake-up. The best part was, Kyle Busch, the "other party" in the Junior deal, was driving in both the Truck and NEXTEL Cup MIS races. This was going to be good.

Over in Kentucky, The Busch Series was holding a stand-alone race that was completely sold-out. Kentucky Speedway wants a NEXTEL Cup race very badly. The Busch guys put on an awesome show in front of a packed house that resulted in a first time winner. Finally, the Busch Series had a chance to shine in their own spotlight.

Back at MIS, Kyle Busch put on his Truck Series firesuit and promptly went out and finished second. He finished second because Truck Series regular Travis Kvapil passed him on the last lap. Kyle did not panic. He did not crash. He kept his head on straight and finished second. After a night of sleep, he put his NEXTEL Cup firesuit on and went out and finished sixth. That was right behind Dale Earnhardt Junior. This was better than good.

On Monday, ESPN prepares a one hour NASCAR Now show. The network expanded to an hour back on April 12th for one reason. The ESPN Press Release said "the expanded format will provide more time for recaps and analysis of the weekend's NASCAR races." That certainly makes sense. ESPN has the manpower and the news gathering capability to put together a good hour of NASCAR. That only leaves one problem. Sometimes, they have no TV network on which to air it.

NASCAR Now viewers on ESPN2 have been introduced to women's WTA tennis, The Arena Football League, and just this last Monday...The College Baseball World Series. Instead of one hour of NASCAR, viewers saw or recorded lots of hard-working college guys playing their hearts out at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. NASCAR fans have seen Maria Sharapova serve it up, and the Orlando Predators go deep. What they did not see on these days, was NASCAR.

ESPN has just two channels to carry its live events. Sometimes, they use ABC Sports, as they will for "The Chase" races. But, ABC will not carry practice, qualifying, happy hour, and trackside shows. ESPN and ESPN2 already have a full schedule of high-profile "non-NASCAR" sporting events that have been on these networks for many years now. Those would be the years that ESPN was without NASCAR.

Imagine, ESPN lost its one hour NASCAR Now show on Monday. It had Junior, Michigan, Kyle, Kentucky, Carl, news, rumors, and expert analysis. Gone. It was not "switched" to the ESPN News Network, or the ESPN Classic Channel. It was simply...gone.

Things change, however, on July 29th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From that day on, ESPN is the sole media company in charge of both the NEXTEL and Busch Series races. They are the only provider of "The Chase for the Cup." Take just a moment and think about that. Erase the memory of SPEED, NASCAR Live, Trackside, and the endless hours at the track. Things are about to change.

ESPN is going to try to insert into its two cable networks and ABC Sports seventeen NEXTEL and fourteen Busch Series races. On top of that, a daily thirty minute NASCAR news show that expands to one hour on Sunday and Monday. Before each race, there will be NASCAR Countdown, a thirty minute preview show. Wait, not done yet. Add in the practice and qualifying for the fourteen Busch Series races. Then, add in the practice, qualifying, and happy hour for the seventeen NEXTEL Cup events. Can you see where I am going with this?

Even before ESPN has broadcast one NEXTEL Cup event, NASCAR Now had been delayed or pre-empted by other live sports on the network. ESPN is about to add hundreds of hours of unstructured NASCAR programming that is always delayed or running long or postponed due to rain. Hundreds of hours. Just exactly how is that going to work?

As "The Chase" begins, many other professional and college sporting events are also closing-in on championships. Coverage of NEXTEL Cup qualifying takes on new meaning in "The Chase." So does practice, qualifying, and happy hour. That content is destined for two cable networks already hosting some of the highest profile sporting events in the world. Does NASCAR just take a backseat?

When NASCAR Now did not appear on Monday, ESPN made a decision that The College Baseball World Series was more important. We have already seen that WTA Tennis was more important, The French Open was more important, and Arena Football was more important. And this is just a NASCAR news show. When the issue is practice, qualifying, or happy hour...will other sports continue to be more important?

Fans have been spoiled by SPEED, and the other networks including ESPN2 that have carried the ancillary parts of race week, and given them plenty of time. We are used to getting our NASCAR when we want it, and staying with it until the on-track activity is over.

ESPN should have switched the one hour NASCAR Now on Monday to another ESPN network. They should have used a crawl to tell viewers where to turn. The DVR and VCR gang would not be helped, but at least ESPN News or ESPN Classic could have run this program for the viewers who have digital cable. The content of NASCAR Now should not have been blocked from distribution by the internal scheduling problems of ESPN.

It should be interesting when NEXTEL Cup practice, qualifying, and racing are added to the existing mix of both the Busch Series and NASCAR Now. The ESPN Programming Department "War Room" should be a busy place until November. Good luck, we'll be watching.

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17 comments:

TCBritt said...

so practice, qualifying, happy hour, and race coverage for all events starting from indy through homestead will be on ESPN or ABC? my #1 concern is, are we also losing NASCAR RACEDAY ON SPEED? say it aint so

Chris said...

I'm glad you bought this point up. While everyone was screaming the last few years for ESPN to return. They seem to have forgotten that ESPN carries live sporting events which may run over. Unlike Speed or TNT which very rarely has this problem. I think this will be a problem come Sept-Nov like you said.

The Peanut Guy said...

I must support ESPN on their decision on this past Monday, the college World Series game was a record 13innnings long and as soon as it was over they went right into Nascar Now in my viewing area, I have no problem with that. If they are showing a race on ESPN and we have a red flag or two, I certainly expect them to stay with even if it runs over, why should I not expect it from something as important as the College World Series? I am an avid Nascar fan but I think we all should respect any nextwork who is willing to stay with the "Live" event they are running over a taped show that can be shown any time.

SonicAD said...

ESPN DID show NASCAR Now, though thanks to the extra innings it was delayed quite a bit, to 7:50PM, and only ran for 40 minutes. They aired a full 60 minute version later, though it didn't run until 3AM, also delayed because the schedule had been pushed back so much (I do believe it was supposed to run at 12:30!)

Vince said...

Well, I'd wondered what happened to NASCARNow on Monday. I'd recorded it on my DVR to watch later, if Erik K. was NOT the host and low and behold all I'd recorded was college baseball. So I reset my DVR to record the reshowing of NASCARNow later that night and low and behold I got nothing but Arena Football! Once again ESPN drops the ball. Yes, I can see where NASCAR stands in their plans. At the bottom of the pile.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. ESPN went from being a hard core sports network to a sports Entertainment network when they were bought by Disney a few years ago. That was the beginning of the end. We all know Disney is all about Entertainment. I have experience with Disney's management and I can tell you, they like to micromanage everything and are VERY heavy handed in doing so.

Wait until they start preempting practice or qualifying with soccer or sumo wrestling or some other junk. And they think they are getting hate mail now! I think ESPN cares as much about NASCAR as I do about Cricket! Maybe NASCAR needs to start their own network and use it to broadcast all the races. I'm suprised they don't do that all ready, seeing as they like to have control of everything.

Desmond said...

Actually, ESPN2 did show NASCAR Now on Monday between games of the College World Series. However, the show did not last for an hour. ESPN2 did remove some of its commercial breaks to try to fit as much of it in as possible.

Rex said...

Nascar fans probably learn more about Nascar from the French Open announcers than they do from Eric Kusilias, Tim Cowlishaw, and the rest of those hacks. "Expert analysis"? Laughable. Compared to Nascar Now, Inside the Nextel Cup is the gold standard.

Stephen J. Clark said...

This sounds like disaster for scheduling the tivo. Speed gets a back seat. Too bad. I beleive you are correct in assuming an ESPN 3. They can't do it with a scenario as you described. Fans would be storming the famous Bristol campus! They have to have a better plan than that.

GinaV24 said...

Is anyone at NASCAR paying attention to this potential problem? This could have a big impact on ratings and viewership. I know that I tune in for all of the upcoming NASCAR stuff, happy hour, qualifying, etc. right up to the race, if it's not there for me to see or if ESPN moves it to classic which my cable company doesn't have in my area, well, I'm not going to be a very happy fan. Not that I really think that NASCAR cares whether or not its fans are happy, but it sure will impact the way I view the sport, NASCAR and ESPN.

Anonymous said...

They already have the useless ESPN Classic and ESPNU. Does anyone watch those regularly? ESPN News is like CNN Headline News. It can't have that great a viewership.

Turn ESPN Classic into ESPNNASCAR/Niche. Show NASCAR plus the niche sports like Major League Soccer, Lacrosse, Arena Football, Poker, etc. They use Classic as a backup for live events anyway, aka 'Instant Classics.' There's plenty of airtime set aside for all the NASCAR programming and the niche sports without running over each other.

Dot said...

What if ESPN shows a race and nobody watches it? I propose that the fans boycott. And no, not like not buying gas. I am serious. My pick is Pocono on 8/5/07. Even better would be Indy. (Their first race). Listen to it on the radio instead. Catch the highlights on another show. If the ratings take a big enough hit, maybe ESPN would notice and do something. Money talks.....

SophiaZ123 said...

John

Are you SAYING SPEED will NO LONGER have RACEDAY when ESPN takes over???

How can this be? No Victory Lane?

If ESPN cancels speed, that SUCKS. Especially since SPEED only carries the TRUCK SERIES.

ESPN is a joke.

There camera work is just TOO PUTRID and if there is NO RACEDAY, I am going to be DEPRESSED.

And COMPARED to ESPN shows on NASCAR, I will take the new and NOT improved INC anyday.

Please clarify your comments about NO SPEED SHOWS ON NASCAR, John!!

Daly Planet Editor said...

All of the SPEED shows will remain in place, and one will be added focusing on the "qualify or go home" cars beginning at The Brickyard. SPEED's VP of PR says that SPEED may host some of the "overflow" practice and qualifying, but there are still no schedules in place. I was simply making the point that ESPN is about to put a very large piece of un-structured live TV into two cable networks already packed with live programming. Should be fun.

Anonymous said...

Once college football begins, and once the NFL gets going, Nascar will be nothing more than a tiny blip on our screens. They hire the most innane announcers who appear to know little or nothing about the sport, as evidences by Kolber's hiring. I guess ESPN only wanted to clean out their employee closet and brought out whomever they had inside, regardless of their expertise. Is Nascar even hearing our concerns? If ESPN has so little regard for Nascar, why in God's name did they even bid for the rights? Just to take it away from everyone else? I say, Nascar wake up !!!! Give total Nascar coverage over to Speed and we'll see how great coverage can be. They already have the best announcers and insiders in place, and I'm sure with a little prodding, they can get Speed added to basic cable. I just cringe when I think about what's going to happen to our favorite sport in late July.

Anonymous said...

Bald_as_slicks says,

Why is everyone already on ESPN for failing. ESPN always pre-empt any of the news shows for all of the major sports when they are preceeded by a live sports telecast. If all you NASCAR extremist are so worried about this soon to be lack in coverage, why aren't you venting your frustration to your beloved NASCAR. If NASCAR is one of the smartest sporting franchise when it comes to promoting thier sport, which I beleive they are, then why don't you have a little faith in them that they will only sign a T.V. contract that will keep their fans happy. It was NASCAR's choice to change to ESPN not Speed's. If ESPN does end up failing in your eyes, then you need to blame NASCAR not ESPN. If ESPN will show the completion of a Arena football game, then you must think that they will show the completion of all races regardless of length. After all NASCAR is the most promotional sport within the U.S if not the world.

Relax and some faith with your sport.

projectpappy09 said...

I know most people did not stick around until 750 or so to watch NASCAR Now, but I think everyone needs to realize that if ESPN2 had shown NASCAR Now, the viewer backlash would have been relentless and harsh.

NASCAR will be pre-empted on the Disney family of networks this year for college football and other live events, I am sure of that. But, that's the type of thing that happens when ESPN has so many broadcast commitments. Imagine the AFL fans who had to wait until about 12:15 to catch a game scheduled for 10:00 Monday night.

As for Monday's NASCAR Now, it was quite evident that Marty Smith is fed up with Erik Kuselias. After Marty explained the at&t/NASCAR issue with the countersuing, Erik basically said, "That's a good story, but get to the real facts." Marty then fired back, "I'm gonna have to go to the cheat sheet for this one." Hilarious

Brett Baldeck - Owner: Racing Wire said...

ESPN Is called the Worldwide Leader In Sports. Perhpas that is something they should not brag about. In my opinion, they have the contract rights to too many sporting events. Because of this programs are delayed, and even not seen. ESPN needs to get rid of some of these sports that people don't want to watch. For instance Ping Pong Ball, Poker. They need to switch all those "sports" to ESPN Classic. ESPN is in over their heads.