Saturday, July 28, 2007
Sunday Showdown: SPEED's "RaceDay" vs. ESPN's "Countdown"
TV sports contracts are very big documents. They require lawyers, negotiations, and lots of maintenance to see that they are working properly. Many professional organizations like the PGA Tour, the NBA and the NFL use those contracts to address all kinds of issues. One of those is the TV competition.
NASCAR itself has only been in the TV business for a relatively short period of time. While the move by NASCAR to put as many races on "free" broadcast network TV was good for the sport, it also brought in a network that did nothing to support NASCAR other than show their contract races. That network was NBC.
This season, NBC is out and ESPN is in as the TV partner carrying the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup races. As a part of the contract, NASCAR demanded that ESPN put the final ten "Chase" races on the ESPN-owned broadcast network, ABC. This weekend, the ESPN contract begins with The Brickyard 400.
Long before ESPN came back into the sport, SpeedVision had been purchased by the Fox Cable Network group, and re-branded into SPEED Channel. As the network felt its way through an expanding relationship with NASCAR, they began to build a franchise by providing the "support" programming that the broadcast networks could not.
Simply by positioning themselves at the NEXTEL Cup track, SPEED generates more than ten live and tape delayed programs about the sport. One of the strongest is the NEXTEL Cup pre-race show called RaceDay. Originally one hour long, the show is now two hours in length and features hard news, original interviews, and multiple guests.
Earlier this year, The Daly Planet referred to RaceDay as the "Super Wal-Mart" of NASCAR TV. SPEED has done a good job of including the serious, the funny, and the informative in a program that is very easy to watch as fans wait for the race to begin. RaceDay has become one of the strongest franchises on SPEED among all their programming.
On Sunday, ESPN will unveil the NEXTEL Cup version of their pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown. This program has been done for the Busch Series in a thirty minute form, but Sunday marks the one hour version of the program. ESPN struggled with the early episodes of this show, but decided on TV veteran Suzy Kolber as their host.
For ESPN, this will be their first pre-race NEXTEL Cup show in history. They have put a lot of work into this concept, and have a big crew at the track operating in support of Countdown. Brent Musburger will be the "telecast host" while basketball great Brad Daugherty will be alongside Kolber in ESPN's new Infield Studio. Booth analyst Rusty Wallace will visit the set for the first portions of the show.
RaceDay begins at noon, and goes until 2PM Eastern Time. NASCAR Countdown begins at 1PM and goes until 2PM. This puts one hour of overlap between the two programs. One hour where the "official" TV network pre-race show overlaps with the established NASCAR TV partner who has been broadcasting for years. How interesting.
SPEED is betting that fans already know RaceDay, and they will choose to "hang" with the popular show. ESPN is betting that as the "new kids in town" they will bring the many viewers without digital cable directly to Countdown. Many cable systems require a digital upgrade to view SPEED, where ESPN is considered part of most "basic cable" packages.
On-the-air however, it should be interesting. RaceDay reporter Wendy Venturini will be live in the NASCAR garage on national TV while ESPN is also live with their reporters in the same area, looking for the same stories and interviews. Did I mention this should be interesting?
There is no other situation like this for ESPN, and it is going to be interesting to see how long they put up with it. ESPN has the exclusive TV rights to the race itself once their broadcast begins at 2PM, but NASCAR is the "referee" for the pre-race portions of any live TV program.
So, this gives viewers a choice. ESPN puts its best foot forward with Suzy Kolber, and SPEED returns the popular John Roberts. Fans can tune-into ESPN for a fresh perspective, and as a relief from the horrible Countdown To Green show offered by TNT. For ESPN, its an absolutely clean slate.
SPEED needs to step-up and work hard to keep the viewers attention for this key second hour of RaceDay. No doubt Roberts and company will have something special planned to try and keep the fans with SPEED. Either way, as we mentioned earlier, it is certainly going to be interesting. Who will you be watching?
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