Sunday, July 29, 2007

ESPN Changes The NASCAR TV Dynamic

Everyone was eagerly awaiting the first NEXTEL Cup race coverage by ESPN. Viewers had seen the broadcast team of Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree working on ESPN's Busch Series this season. What they had not seen was the added layer of "special TV stuff" that ESPN was going to bring to the table for The Brickyard 400.

Brent Musburger was heralded as the telecast host, although he played no active role once the racing began. After hosting the NASCAR Countdown show, Suzy Kolber, Brad Daugherty, and Dale Jarrett remained on the set and were featured frequently in the racing portion of the telecast. ESPN also bought Tim Brewer a new "Tech Center" to be used in explaining the technical issues that popped-up during the race.

Finally, ESPN had promoted their "Draft Track" coverage which allows an animated version of the air flow on the track between cars to be displayed on the screen by using colored graphic elements. All of these elements were newly added for the NEXTEL Cup coverage, and definitely changed the on-air dynamic that ESPN's Busch Series viewers had come to know.

No one was more deeply affected by this "shared attention" that Jerry Punch. Now, Suzy Kolber was being featured as a co-anchor, and she often voiced the program elements in the show like billboards and promos. The Infield Studio was used frequently during a caution period instead of the normal flow of pit reporters bringing viewers up-to-date about activity on pit road. Punch was not the star of the show, as he had been for the Busch Series races.

Veteran ESPN viewers who watch other sports on the network have seen this approach before. The actual sporting activity becomes almost secondary to the many announcers, the technical TV "tricks," and multiple TV studio sets that seem to be present on many ESPN events.

Punch was working hard to maintain his focus on racing as things on the track began to tell the "real" story of the race. Give Rusty Wallace credit, he was as plain spoken as he has been on the Busch Series, and so was his partner Andy Petree. Unfortunately, this flow was often interrupted by the Infield Studio crew who had their own agenda.

One program element that did not work out was the use of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as ESPN's in-race reporter. Although his crew chief was helpful to Andy Petree, Junior was having absolutely none of Wallace asking him questions and seemed to be on the edge of being very annoyed. Maybe we will subsequently find out what that was all about.

Tim Brewer was the mystery man, as he and the "Tech Center" were used sparingly. After all the hype in the media, Brewer was the odd man out because there was no real time for him to talk. He also did not appear well-informed on several occasions, but did a nice job with the Junior engine failure. The Infield Studio and Suzy Kolber took-up a lot of the content time that normally would be given to the "Tech Center."

Musburger returned about halfway through the race, and after asserting his presence Suzy Kolber appeared and allowed Dale Jarrett and Brady Daugherty to offer their analysis of the race. Once again, this would have been a perfect time to allow Tim Brewer to point out the "tech issues" that were key to the race. Instead, Daugherty again summed-up the obvious and led into a pre-produced feature on Jeff Gordon actually placed in the middle of the race. This was a big wow for veteran fans. What was happening on the track, and in the race, was again made secondary.

Around 5PM Eastern Time, ESPN cut-into the NASCAR race to update viewers on Barry Bonds and his baseball pursuits. Musburger followed with another trivia-style factoid before returning the broadcast to Punch and crew. Unfortunately, the racing action on the track was sizzling, and it included both a car into the wall and a head-to-head battle for the lead. Again, the actual racing action appears to be "secondary" to ESPN's pre-planned production features. Perhaps, many NASCAR fans are asking...Barry who?

With less than fifty laps to go, ESPN finally offered an actual race recap using the pit reporters. This helped viewers to get a clue about the on-track activity of the non-leaders because the network was having a hard time following the stories of the teams coming back-up through the field. Clint Bowyer was a good example.

In this race, even under green flag conditions, ESPN used Kolber and the Infield Studio to show video highlights of the race in-progress. Jarrett and Daugherty commented on the highlights and then returned the broadcast to Punch and company in the booth. In the "old" ESPN NASCAR days, there would never be an interruption of green flag racing by a pre-produced element. Several key points of this race had to be replayed because of ESPN's own production elements being played.

As usual, ESPN continued to have a good technical season in "NASCAR land" this year. The Brickyard pictures were excellent, the audio was consistent, and the graphics were crisp. The "triple split" on pit stops worked well, and the in-progress race graphics scrolled at a good speed. Very quietly, the ESPN technical operations gang has put together an excellent season of quality TV for NASCAR fans.

With twenty laps to go and the race raging, ESPN finally let Dale Jarrett talk directly with Wallace and Petree in the booth. DJ really lent another veteran perspective to the coverage and helped bring this broadcast another point of view. Wallace and Petree really click well with Jarrett, and it allowed the announcing crew to end their part of the race on a good note.

Unfortunately, Dave Burns conducted a horrible interview of winner Tony Stewart. It was clear that Stewart was increasingly annoyed with Burns inept questions, and this anger ultimately resulted in a profanity on national television. Perhaps, Mr. Burns will be relegated to the goofy stories which are his specialty.

The final lap of this race is going to be the subject of an additional post. Please leave your opinion about the ESPN general coverage of this event on this column.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email if you wish not to be published.


Anonymous said...

Just my humble opinion. After watching a minimum of 15 to 20 "kissing the brick" moments in the pre-race hype & in race...espn blows the Stewart 2007 live moment.
Suzy Kolber is a joke.....the director comes back to green flag racing with a taped Gordon brick kissing piece. Why was "Zippy" the star & Harvicks "Zippy" was Delana Harvick (no mention of his crew chief sitting on the box next to the wife) B+ on pictures/in-car/replays/ C- on the broadcast team (in-race) Rusty Wallace brings the crew down a full letter grade. Kolber, Musberger, Jarrett & Brad D+ (they serve no real purpose) Just my opinion....

Modman75 said...

Thank god this race is finally over....

If I heard Rusty say Aero one more time I was gonna explode.

And the "Draft track" thing... that was horrible. Just show us the race.

Is Delayna the crew chief on the 29 now? That three way split with the cars, Zippy, and her sure made it seem that way.

Way to many people talking at the end...

HEY ESPN... thanks for not showing us anybody else finishing the race.

Ooops ... did Tony just say Bullsh_t? LOL thats gonna cost a few bucks

Modman75 said...

I thought maybe I missed it.... ESPN missed the kissing of the bricks, right??

Anonymous said...

I agree that the "Draft Track" gimmick was poor. It doesn't show anything. Some of the cheap animation that TNT/NBC let BP show about the draft, loose/tight, etc. was much better than this.

Rusty needs to cut his vocal emission by about 50%. Too much talking, Rusty.

Yeah, too much kissing the bricks. My mouth feels like it has dirt and rubber in it.

jfs-va said...

I found the whole brent musberger hosting thing to be completely needless. I assume he's there for his "you are looking live" presence.

I felt as though I kept seeing so many things over and over, like how great it is to kiss the bricks and/or win at the Brickyard.

And I'm sure a subject of the next blog item will be once again not showing anyone but the race winner crossing the line.

Anonymous said...

Tony's crew chief, according to ESPN's super, is "Scott Zipadelli." Meanwhile, apparently Kevin Harvick's wife is his crew chief, since she was shown in the splitscreen with "Scott."

There was a caution which was never explained.

When Jimmie Johnson crashed, we were treated to a shot of the flagman waving the yellow while Jimmie's car was burning with him still inside.

Draft track proved to be a silly waste of time.

Who came across the line after Tony, and in what order? We didn't see that. Hey, it's just the climax of three hours of racing; I guess it doesn't matter.

Add that to more cliches than you can shake a stick at (irony intended), and you have a very poor job by a network that considers itself the leader in sports coverage.

Oh, one more thing, a tip for the director: When your producer has talent pretend like a taped interview is actually live, you must ROLL before you TAKE.

bevo said...

The technical guys get an A. Director and producer a D-.
Brent and Suzy an F.
Rusty a C.
Punch, Jarrett and Petree a B (mainly for the effort to overcome Suzy,Brent and Rusty)
And of course once again NOT SHOWING the finish.

Anyone who bitched about Mr.Daly doubting the ESPN production owes him a big apology. He was right on target.

cwebs said...

I think ESPN's coverage of this race was quite poor. The low point came on the last caution flag. There was never a full explanation of who pitted, who stayed out, or why those choices were made. The restart wasn't setup properly, and viewers weren't informed on what to expect when the final green flag dropped.

Then, during the restart, viewers were never given the opportunity to see Harvick setting up Stewart for the lead change. Why do we need to see the whole field zooming past the start/finish line on the final restart? The cameras should stay put on the leaders! This isn't rocket science!!!

Of course, we were also treated to Rusty Wallace explaining that Harvick was able to make the pass because he was taking advantage of "fresh tires". Ummmm.... What???? Is Rusty even paying any attention at all??? I guess he never noticed that some of the lead cars never pitted on that final caution...

Sicklajoie said...

Anyone keep track of how many time Rusty started a sentence with "I'm tellin you what"??? Or how many times he talked about aero?? If it was up to Rusty, the drivers never did anything wrong. It was always an aero issue.
I think Randy LaJoie did a good job on Saturday's Busch race. Too bad Randy or Jarrett couldn't replace Rusty now.
BTW, I'm not related to Randy. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree totally with everything written by Mr. Daly and all the other comments. I wish Rusty would go back to F1, or whatever, and bring on Dale Jarrett. Punch, Jarrett and Petree should click pretty well. Also get rid of Suzy. She has a nice speaking voice,but that is all. Gonna be a LONG 17 weeks til the end of the season. Where is FOX???????????

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is now a new post up specifically about the finish of the Brickyard. Thank you.

SophiaZ123 said...

Oy vey! What do I add to the excellent criticism of THIS column and fellow posters.

Rusty Wallace suffers from "I wanna hear my voice syndome." I needed an air sickness bag between the I TELL YOU WHAT, "aero" and his inane chatter.

Oh, was I THE ONLY ONE who noticed the camera on J Johnson's fender before it blew?..we all knew his tire was GOING. As they went to change cameras and were FOCUSED ON THE FENDER, I saw a piece break off and more black show thru. Well, what do you know apparently that was the TIRE BLOWING and two seconds later, JJ on fire in the wall, and the ENTIRE fender was gone over the tire.

IS ANYBODY AT ESPN PAYING ATTENTION. Say what you WILL about Fox but DW and Larry would've SEEN THAT tire go.

And I am happy folks are able to relive their acid trips with that STEWPID animation of draft air. Geese, just show the RACE man.

And do NOT get me started on how they were INTERVIEWING Kasey about his wreck when a HUGE new wreck broke up and they did NOT cut away from the interview?

Am I the only one noticing these details? John were you too busy typing to see two obvious things ESPN SHOULDA seen. :-)

HONESTLY, my cats could've produced a better show.

THIS FOCUSING on the two leaders and damn wives/cc/family on the side lines stuff has GOT TO STOP. THERE ARE OTHER CARS us what is going on FURTHER BACK.

After the Kasey yapping while a big wreck incident, I grabbed my transister only to find the local FM station that had MRN has STOPPED carrying NASCAR due to more country music being played!? SAY WHAT? But I digress.

Then we had the CHASING AARON crap from a junky sports star who beefed up some 30lbs between seasons and even increased his SHOE SIZES...but hey, he is breaking an HONEST record of a more respected athlete.

John HOW LONG is ESPN's contract for because they STINK.

NASCAR better be stepping up to the plate because if ratings were down before, well they are going to take a nose dive.

WHY should I sit around for 4 hrs to watch a race to NEVER see the end of the order of the finish?

Oh, man, I would write more but am annoyed and need to go watch SPEED REPORT, VL, and WIND TUNNEL.

Are you listening ESPN?????

Your stupidity and arrogance is BEYOND all reason.

I feel like I saw a little racing in betweens ESPN's "We have our own agenda about WHAT YOU SHOULD SEE rubbish."

Man, oh, man.

All I can say, thank GOD I am watching NASCAR in a safer era and nobody was hurt from the multiple crashes. But if I a middle aged lady on my couch could see Jimmy's tire rub was disentigrating (sp) on the semi close up camera view, SOMEBODY ON ESPN should've seen that.

I can assure you Larry MAC or "jaws" would've.

ALso, it took forever for the yapping ESPN heads to hear stuff on radio Stewart's "here kitty kitty."

I wish I had a door slam sound effect because I am worked up over being held hostage by ESPN for a sport I have recently come to love.

And we can't afford DIRECT and the fancy TV packages and are relatively happy with our cable, thank you.


I NEVER EVER thought I would long for 'boogity, boogity, boogiy'.


P.S. Thanks John for the site...i think my BP just dropped after my rant. Sorry to be so verbose everybody.

Tripp said...

ESPN clearly subscribes to the belief that the network's personalities and produced pieces are gaining import relative to the action on the track. Brick kissing was well overplayed in today's race. Cameras repeatedly focussed on drivers not involved in any active battle while competitive passes were ignored again and again. Montoya's final pass for second was missed while the cameras tracked Stewart, well out in front of the field. ESPN eventually did show a short replay of the pass, but this sort of missed action happened over and over during the race.

One cannot say that ESPN broke any new technical ground in Cup broadcasting save Brewer's touch-screen virtual engine, which was effective in describing Dale Jr's retirement. "Draft Tracks" may have been of value for neophyte NASCAR viewers, but for everyone else it was a graphical representation of the obvious.

ESPN brought the whole circus to Indy, cranking up the hype machine in a way that only a company with Disney's deep pockets can. But did it make the race more interesting or exciting to watch?

For serious race fans the answer is "not really". Unfortunately, the best way to get the most out of a race in the comfort of your living room is to mute the TV sound, listen to the radio race broadcasts and watch the timing and scoring on

Matt said...

ESPN had so many "toys" they wanted to show and use and talk about that they forgot about what they were actually there to do. ESPN had FIVE MONTHS to work out kinks in the broadcast, but because they couldn't bother to actually keep the same Countdown crew or booth crew for two races in a row that they couldn't figure out a balance. And of course, some things HAD to debut this wkend. Hopefully, as the weeks go on, they will find a balance.

There were 4 major issues with the coverage. Some can be solved, some can't be. (1)Rusty is Rusty. You can't change him. He's not a good analyst and gets out-shined when paired next to Jarrett. (2)Speaking of Jarrett, ESPN was lucky to have him there but why didn't we hear from him until 20 to go? (3)The studio is being overused and the tech center underused. This will fix itself over time. FOX did the same thing for years with the "Hotel." This was the first year that 6 or 8 "race breaks" didn't occur during FOX's coverage. (4) DraftTrack and ESPN's obssession with it ruined the show. It disrupted the flow and Rusty and Andy clearly had no idea what it was supposed to do. They wasted 3 min showing the same replay, from the same angle 4 times, showing the same thing. It also forced Rusty's word of the day to be "aero."

One more word of advice to ESPN, Decide who is the lead Pit Reporter. They should be the one to interview the winner. Allen Bestwick was always the lead on NBC and he almost always interviewed the winner. He's the one with the most experience and he should be rewarded for it.

Anonymous said...

Thank God Barry Bonds did NOT hit a home run--because I guarantee you, ESPN would have dumped out of the race that race fans were watching to show us a baseball game we were NOT watching.

Anonymous said...

At one point during the race Musburger made a comment to Suzy along the lines that this was such a big event that there was "not a seat to be had." Replays of incidents in the corners showed a large number of open seats.

This is really a great site with great commentary on the race coverage. I hope these posts and comments result in improvements because this was awful.

I never thought I'd miss FOX this much.

shinnery said...

What prerace show I watched was on Speed so I cannot comment on ESPN's attempt. But the best thing I saw on ESPN today was the National Anthem. Immeadiately they goofed up the Air Force's flyover by showing too little of it and their aircraft identifier must have been asleep because the caption said B-2s when they were obviously Bones. Everything was downhill after that. Show Rusty the door and tell him to close it on his way out. Trash the Draft trash or whatever it was. And most of all SHOW THE FINISH of the race, I do not need to see the inside of the winner's car when everybody else is finishing.

SonicAD said...

I have to disagree with you about Dave Burns's interview of Tony at the end, I thought it was pretty standard, and I didn't see the anger you talked about... and in regards to Tony's swear, I think that was just Tony being Tony, I don't think it had anything to do with the way he was being interviewed, though it indeed wouldn't have happened if that question wasn't asked. It was up to Tony to censor himself, and he didn't, so I don't see any reason to blame Dave Burns for that. Just nonplussed by it, really.

Anonymous said...

Was I imagining things, or did one of the post-race reporters ask JPM how long it would be before he finally got his first win?

Phil Lee said...

Did I really hear Rusty say that this was JPM's first time at Indy? He's won the 500 and raced in F1 there. There is a world of racing outside of NASCAR Rusty in case you hadn't noticed.

Sal said...

Someone tell ESPN that, if race fans were that interested in whether Barry Bonds would hit a home run, we would be watching a basball game, not a race. It would be nice if television would ever learn that there is racing going on all through the field, not just at the front. Pit reporters can be used to update fans on many of the cars that seldom get coverage on screen, but are typically used only for pit stops. Too bad.

All in all, it was fairly typical of what fans have come to expect from television coverage these days...way too much time spent with novice commentators adding irrelevant sound bytes, too much time spent away from the race, while too little coverage of the actual racing takes place. ESPN was no better or worse than the mediocre standard that race fans are expected to settle for.

Anonymous said...

ESPN will always be a stick and ball chanel.Except recently when I saw poker on Espn2 Sport ? Hot dog eating contest...Sport ? Rock,paper ,scissors competition...Sport ? But hey they covered them much better than the race yesterday.I known NASCAR has got to have some control over these people but I guess as long as their paying NASCAR all the big bucks for the rights they don't care either. I have been a fan for thirty years and this is most definetly been the worst year of coverage. Even the radio broadcast was terrible yesterday. Somebody HELP !!!!!

Kevin said...

How about what I can only assume is a poor placement of cameras as there were VERY FEW detailed videos of the development of crashes...the cameras always swiveled in to catch a lot of smoke and not much else. Even TNT beat ESPN in that regard, and TNT was horrible, as we all know.

Can we petition FOX to get all of the races? DW's cliches get old, but I think we can all agree they produce the top-flight coverage we've all come to expect...

Anonymous said...

I never thought I would ever say this, but I am ready for Fox and (gag) DW. That's how bad the ESPN telecast was. However, it did make a smooth transition from TNT. From nothing to nothing.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does ESPN insert a fake fan cheer at the end of the race. I heard it for the first time a few weeks ago during a Busch race, and heard it again at the end of the Brickyard 400. I think I heard it also when there was a lead change. Anybody else notice this????

Anonymous said...

Sophia and others did a great job of covering the thoughts my husband and I had about the race. The qualifying show was no better. The graphics were irritating. Too much junk on the screen and not enough cars. We have a 42-inch TV and could barely read (or understand) the tracker at the bottom. Maybe it's because we didn't grow up with computers and video games, but we like simple and readable - not all the zap zap pow pow busy over-hyped graphics. Let's have bigger pictures of race cars and fewer pictures of drivers' smiling faces.

Anonymous said...

not the espn of old! bob,the good doctor and ned.its good to see the doctor back.rusty needs to loosen up.kirk needs to loosen his tie.brewer needs to lose the jacket and tie(lose the bling on your hands also) and thanks for showing us the i can sleep at night..

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh when Musburger said there were 250,000 fans there and you couldn't get a ticket for the race all the while they were showing a lot of empty seats in Turns 3 & 4. Then the other gaff was when they identified Reid Sorensen's rear tire changer as the front tire changer. It's the details folks.

I'm sure ther were 43 cars running at the start of the race, but with the coverage being what it was, we only got to see about 12 of them. The old Fox coverage courtesy of Neil Goldberg. Hard to believe this is the same guy who gave us such great coverage on ESPN back in the old days.

The Draft Track is an attempt to keep the short attention span crowd enthralled. Sorry, us fans who can follow a race with just pictures, a decent commentary, and a ticker aren't amused.

I'd have to give their coverage a D+, which is better than the F- I would normally give Fox.

Anonymous said...

In my estimation the camera work was terrible. It seemed as though it jumped from shot to shot. There was no rhyme or reason to dialogue with the pictures. Did not follow any story lines. Too much repeat with kissing the bricks, Tony/Jeff etc. Am I the only one that wanted follow up to Jaime McMurray interview. He described in detail a move that Matt Kenseth made followed by Denny Hamlin trying to make it 3 wide. They weren't even in the accident so obviously something was happening ahead of the crash that contributed to it. Can't believe no cameras got that. For those that complain about Fox, DW and Larry Mac have a knack for seeing the whole track and anticipating potential issues or highlighting the non star drivers doing well. How about Paul Menard finishing 20th. Way too many talking heads saying nothing. Did like the tech center.


Anonymous said...

just who is this brad guy?? and whats he got to do with it??

Dot said...

Dear John and commenters,
We are going about this all wrong by bagging on ESPN. We need to tell them what a wonderful job they are doing on all their racing programs. Remember back when, when your parents didn't like who you were dating, made you see that person even more? If they happened to like them, you'd dump them? Same thing with ESPN. I just love Brent& Suzy. And I really love Erik with a K. I love their coverage of the races and I really really love NASCAR Now.

racer racing said...

draft tracker was so bad. it looked like that thing FOX tried way back when they were trying to do hockey games. the glowing puck deal. I thought at first when I saw jimmie johnson's car on fire it was the espn draft tracker.
I thought it was only an ok show, but I will give them some time to get it all together.
I wouldn't want to be the person at ESPN/ABC that thought rusty was worth 2 million a year. you either get it or you don't in TV. he doesn't!

darbar said...

Can someone do a comparison of how many commercials these networks do for every sport, and if there's a major difference between sports? The reason I ask is during TNT's Nascar broadcasts, there was far too many commercials, but when I watched TNT's early coverage of the British Open there was markedly less commercials per hour for that sporting event. It would be interesting to see how FOX, ESPN and TNT cover other sports and how many commercials per hour each sport endures. I would bet Nascar takes the brunt of commercial hell.