Thursday, August 2, 2007

Damage From TNT Coverage Shows In Indy TV Ratings


Somehow, July 15th does not seem like all that long ago. It was Sunday, and the final race of the NASCAR on TNT summer package was on-the-air. From Chicagoland Speedway, Bill Weber and Mark Fein were hosting a ninety minute pre-race show and then the NEXTEL Cup race.

The NASCAR on Fox gang had finished their coverage back on June 4th in Dover. SPEED had shown the Gatorade Duels and the All-Star race, but they are a Fox cable network, and viewers still had the "feel of Fox." Now, it was time for a change. The results of that change are still being felt today, and they certainly were felt by ESPN in Indy.

From the beginning of the TNT cable package, there was the feeling that things were "out of sort." In the rain at Pocono, it got so boring that Marty Snider took to spinning Bill Weber on the new TNT "Thunderdome" infield set. Weber's helpless and confused expression did a lot to sum up the NASCAR on TNT philosophy.

The two new "imports' to the coverage, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds, proved to be the saving grace for the entire on-air crew. From the start, the animosity between Turner announcer Marc Fein and freelancer Bill Weber was evident, and obvious. In the pre-race show, Weber stared at Fein like he was the bully that just took his lunch money.

Most viewers remember very well that in the first show at Pocono, Weber did not even introduce Fein or welcome him to NASCAR on TNT. It was the first time of many that Weber would throw Fein "under-the-bus" on network TV. The pre-race shows were completely separate, with Fein hosting one and Weber hosting the other. It was hilarious. It was disjointed. Ultimately, it was also damaging to the sport.

When the second show, Countdown to Green began, Weber acted as though Fein and the first show had never existed. It was a classic clash of TV egos that ultimately resulted in the fans turning to SPEED's RaceDay as their pre-race TV source. In the "overlap" where TNT and SPEED were both on the air, there was never a time when TNT excelled.

As the TNT race coverage began, it was immediately apparent that NASCAR to TNT was simply a "sports product" for them to promote their entertainment properties without restriction. Both in the race, and added to normal commercial breaks, the TNT broadcast promotions were completely out-of-control. The race itself became just a "break" between Bill Engvall, Holly Hunter, and Kyra Sedgwick.

Now off-balance and reeling from criticism, the TNT gang stumbled into Sonoma, CA with Kyle Petty as an in-race anchor and Wally Dallenbach supposedly in his element as a veteran road course racer. The first attempt to talk with Kyle resulted in joining him for his pre-race prayer, which was made all the more ironic when TNT actually played-back a profanity from his in-car microphone later in the race. That's right, after listening to it once, they chose to play it back on-the-air.

As most viewers know, the race was a total TV disaster. TNT lost track of who was where and what was happening. At one point, Bill Weber would just yell out a pit reporter's name as a driver entered pit road and be quiet. I guess Weber wanted a break from the chaos as well.

TNT told us Montoya would run out of gas, he did not. They told us Harvick would win the race, he did not. Ultimately, Montoya completed an entire victory lap and TNT was so flustered they left the air without even showing the final run-down. The melt-down was complete.

Like any good corporation, TNT had a plan to distract viewers from what had really been done to them. They called it "wide-open" coverage. Their guaranteed ratings-winner was Daytona, and the final Pepsi 400. By using their "split-screen" coverage, they were able to make headlines for their innovations, and then claim that the innovation won them the high ratings.

On a holiday weekend, NASCAR fans would watch the Pepsi 400 if it was on PBS and hosted by those weird twins from Antiques Roadshow. Neither the innovations or the TNT coverage had anything to do with one good rating for one good race. Daytona is Daytona, and the years of different networks hosting this coverage have made that point.

TNT closed out its TV package at Chicagoland, and the gloves were off. Marc Fein cleared Bill Weber off the NASCAR On TNT Live set after the first segment, and he was never heard from again. Fein never even referenced Weber. In the final Countdown to Green, Weber never thanked Fein and pretended the first show never happened...again. It was like two spoiled twelve year-old boys pouting on national TV.

By this time, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds dominated the coverage. Larry talked constantly with Kyle all race long, although TNT continued to physically locate him in the infield. Wally spent the entire time agreeing with Kyle on everything, and in the closing moments only Kyle and Larry thanked anybody for anything. It closed like it started, disjointed and off-balance.

This week, the TV ratings were released for the Brickyard 400 on ESPN. As you may know from reading The Daly Planet, ESPN had every TV technical toy, a new Infield Studio, and eleven announcers on-hand for this grand feature presentation.

After pulling-out all the stops, ESPN was rewarded with an almost fifteen percent decline in the TV audience from last year's race. Almost fifteen percent lower nationwide with the race on ESPN live on a Sunday afternoon.

ESPN heavily promoted The Brickyard 400 race on-the-air, they broadcast the wonderful Ultimate NASCAR series, and they have been covering the Busch Series all season long. None of this helped, and the reason is very clear. The "lead-in" to ESPN was the six NEXTEL Cup races on TNT.

Had ESPN been handed the NEXTEL Cup Series directly from Fox Sports, things would have been different. Although The Daly Planet differed with Fox on the finish line coverage, Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Jeff Hammond are probably the three most trusted NASCAR-TV announcers in the nation.

Even network TV needs momentum. ESPN, despite its faults, got absolutely none from TNT. What they walked into was anger from a jaded NASCAR fan-base who had just been through what may have been the worst NASCAR TV coverage in history.

TNT alienated the veteran fans, they repelled the newcomers, and they "used" these six races to do nothing but promote TNT entertainment products. It was all about them.

This is what ESPN must overcome to get the ratings and excitement back into the network TV package for the NEXTEL Cup Series. The two questions to be answered are, can they really do it...and do they really care? By the way, they have sixteen races left in which to succeed or fail.

It is not over-exaggerating to say that a big chunk of the future of NASCAR is riding on ESPN's performance over the next four months. The network wanted back into NASCAR, and now they find themselves neck-deep in the pool...and swimming for their lives.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published. Thank you for taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.

23 comments:

Mike said...

I would like to see Fox televise every NASCAR race. The entire cast of announcers knows what they're talking about and Darrell Waltrip is entertaining.

GinaV24 said...

I never liked the NBC/TNT coverage, not even when they had the 1/2 race season package. It was somewhat entertaining the first year and then became annoying after that. I still can't believe Snider won an Emmy last year -- what for? Stupidest pit reporter? ESPN has a hard row to hoe here with NASCAR fans, not only because of TNT's poor coverage, but also because the Nascar Now program has been so ridiculously inept. Anyone who has watched that show with Eric the Clueless as host has got to ask themselves -- I'm supposed to watch this and take it seriously. Well, with NASCAR.com's trackpass and direct tv and sirius radio broadcasts as competition, ESPN has got its work cut out for it.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read.

This year's 400 was on cable, while last year's was on network TV. THAT is the reason why the ratings were down from last year. It makes absolutely no sense that a six race package could cause damage to ratings. That's like saying that ratings for MNF were down not because it went from network to cable, but because NBC had terrible coverage.

Besides that, ratings have been down the entire year. This isn't a new thing. NASCAR might have peaked.

The NASCAR product is declining at a rapid rate, the greed is starting to cripple the sport. Many good fans (myself included) are turned off. It's sad that many great racing series are not on SPEED, but 14 hours straight NASCAR is included.

Daly Planet Editor said...

If you have a chance to take a minute and read some ratings stories, they are based on the size of the "universe" that can view the program.

In the old days, the size of the difference between broadcast networks and cable networks was huge. Now, ESPN serves almost exactly the same viewer base as network TV.

The rating point was 4.1, and that is down from the previous year. The point of this article is to address one issue that affects TV ratings, which is previously bad TV coverage of the same live event series.

Thanks.

Sal said...

TV ratings have been declining steadiy all year. Holding the Fox coverage up as the 'gold standard' of race coverage is faint praise, indeed. All the coverage is guilty of the same trouble...too many breaks, too many gimmicks, and coverage limited to too few drivers. It makes just as much sense to blame all the changes in the sport in the past few years for the trouble...charity laps that inflate the 'finished on the lead lap' stats, phantom cautions to close up the field during the frequent parades to manufacture 'close' finishes and a convoluted not-a-playoff formula that gives drivers too far out of first place an atificial shot at being a 'champeen'. Maybe the falling ratings have more to do with the cumulative effect of all the 'improvements' to the sport than the inept coverage fans get, no matter who airs the race.

RH said...

Totally disagree. Yes, ESPN's coverage is terrible, but the ratings have been down across the board. I believe the real problem is that NASCAR has alienated their traditional fan base by making too many changes too fast to try and get "new" fans. The new fans of the Jeff Gordon era are moving on to other things, but NASCAR has moved into new markets to appease corporate America and these new fans. To do this, they eliminated traditional races like Rockingham and the Southern 500 (I still can’t believe that race was eliminated). They have forgotten what got them where they are, mostly the loyal fans from the southeast.
The other change is the cars. For the past 15 years, they have made so many rules that it is basically an IROC series. The days when people could relate to the crews and the work they did because it resembled what they did in their own garage are over. The cars don’t look like street cars anymore. There’s not the same connection there used to be with the different manufactures and the fans.
This decline in ratings was predictable as NASCAR sold out to the Jeff Gordon era fans. They assumed that these people would be fans for life. They were wrong. And the traditional fans that were going to be fans for life now feel like NASCAR turned their backs on them it. Face it, yes the coverage is bad, but the ratings decline is because people just aren’t as interested as they used to be.

Steve from MD said...

John,

Quite simply, the fans have spoken. The ESPN ratings decline is just one way to measure (viewers). Attendence is another, which from what I read is down as well. As other writer's stated in their thoughts, there is too much greed and the networks are trying to appeal to the "hip" NASCAR fan with too may toys. Too much bloat. Tradional fans like us are turning off. The network exception to this from what I read here is SPEED.

Anonymous said...

Most of the comments here are on the money,but the big decline in nascar isn't only on tv,it's also in the stands.People are tired of the WWE approach to racing and the GREEDY FRANCE PUNK. No enforcement of their own rules,greed,and mostly boring races,and commentators that are either dumb,or overbearing help in the overall decline of the sport. I had the privelege last fall to take an inside tour of HENDRICK motor sports and talked to a lot of people there who hate the races now. One person told me he would not get up from an electric chair if he had to go watch another race.Sad but true.Go see a good dirt track race,or a the dragraces.

Jo said...

While I agree that the quality of coverage has become a big issue, another factor in the ratings is DirecTV HotPass. I know that when my driver is featured on HotPass, I don't watch the network feed at all--I stick with his in-car and audio, just like I'd do if I were watching the race at the track. And with Junior, Stewart, Gordon, Kahne & Hamlin on HotPass almost every week, that's got to draw a number of fans with a satellite dish to choose the "my driver" option instead of the very uneven quality of the network coverage.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the ratings decline...Nascar just plain sucks today!!!! They have taken the hardcore fan and threw them under the bus. They don't care about the people or the tracks that made Nascar what it is today. They turned the cars into clones just like open wheel. The only way you can tell them apart is by the decal on the nose. The TV coverage? That is the biggest joke of them all. Foxes "3D" video game approch? If I want a game, i'll play one. They don't show enough of the race and way to much of the annoucers. They all need to watch the old races on ESPN Classic. You hardly EVER saw the yammering heads, just the race. For me, I really don't care to watch anymore. This from someone who would not miss a race for any reason.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Nascar first and foremost is "parity". This has been the downfall in most sports, and it is ruining stock car racing. Trying to find an edge is now considered "cheating". The COT is a prime example. I'm all for making the cars as safe as possible, but the IROC concept is incredibly boring.
As for ratings, I agree with most of the comments in this regard. Splitting the coverage between networks has been an abysmal failure. As a long-time fan, I feel like I know more about the sport than most of the current commentators.
For pre-race coverage, there is no equal to SPEED Channel. It's unfortunate that they don't share race coverage responsibilities as well. If you need to split the coverage, Fox and Speed would be the only way to go.
And then there's Hotpass! The greatest addition to the 2007 CUP series. Love it, love it, love it! The only drawback is occasionally Dale Jr. is left off of the schedule. Drat!! I am then doomed to watching network coverage. However, thank goodness I can "watch" the race on TV, and "listen" to it on MRN.
I love NASCAR - have been a fan since Richard Petty was my #1 driver, but I am worried about its future.
Hey Nascar! Let the mechanics work their magic. Oops - sorry - do I call them technicians now, or even - perish the thought - engineers???

john said...

NASCAR is failing the fans in many ways, first and foremost by their lack of credibility as a true sport. They have brought this on themselves, and the fans were noticing long before Tony Stewart made the NASCAR/WWE comparison.

The manufactured "Hollywood" endings, fake cautions or selectively thrown cautions (according to what driver stands to benefit and what race outcome NASCAR is trying to engineer); not to mention 101 other ways the races can be manipulated behind the scenes with NASCAR's non-existent rule book and inability to apply to the so-called rules fairly and consistently.

Fans are turned off -- from the Chase gimmick, which is nothing more than artificial "excitement", to NASCAR turning their back on tradition with regards to the Southern 500 and Rockingham, to the ridiculous "lucky-dog" rule, to those cheesy looking COT's...the list is endless. Bad TV coverage (as this article perfectly summed up), is only a small part of the problem.

The more NASCAR moves away from being a real sport the more respect they are going to lose. As someone else here mentioned, I used to watch every race, now I only watch if I have nothing better to do.

Anonymous said...

Like others have said,somewhere somehow nascar has lost it's appeal.Throwing its Southern base under the bus,stupid look alike cars,lucky dog,race to the chase and all the other manufactured WWE crap.

Use to be I had to be there on Sunday cause it was nascar racin',Now it just doesn't matter,if I see fine,if I don't fine.Thanks brian,you took something good and turned it into something most everyone dislikes.

Anonymous said...

How does Bill Weber still have a job? I never watched TNT's pre race show because of Weber and I hit the mute button every time he started talking during the races.
ESPN isn't perfect but at least they don't have Chris Meyers, Bill Weber or Larry McReynolds.

Anonymous said...

TNT was the absolute worst coverage of motor racing that I have seen. It was a three hour package of commercials, with short clips of racing inbetween. That theme song by hinder, "born to be wild" should be burried, cause TNT beat it to death. Forcing race fans to endure that song, every chance they got.

Anonymous said...

Ratings are down for every sport not just NASCAR. The Nielsen ratings system is outdated and is not an accurate assessment of how many people are watching an event.

Anonymous said...

Daly Planet Editor said...
If you have a chance to take a minute and read some ratings stories, they are based on the size of the "universe" that can view the program.

In the old days, the size of the difference between broadcast networks and cable networks was huge. Now, ESPN serves almost exactly the same viewer base as network TV.

The rating point was 4.1, and that is down from the previous year. The point of this article is to address one issue that affects TV ratings, which is previously bad TV coverage of the same live event series.


While I do see that the gap between cable and network viewership is closing, the gap is still there. I went a little overboard on the "most ridiculous" thing, my apologies, but I just don't think that TNTs coverage had anything to do with it. It's not to say that TNT did a good job. Their coverage was absolutely atrocious.

I'll use my MNF comparison again. When MNF went from ABC to ESPN, ratings were down from the previous year, yet it was still considered a huge success.

A New York Times article was written recently stating that NASCAR had peaked, and ratings, attendence, etc. has backed this theory up. There's a little bit more aluminum being found in the stands.

As for ESPN, I remember a time when downing ESPN's coverage would have been considered a cardinal sin. In fact, I think that Bob, Benny, and Ned contributed greatly to the sports rise. But in the period when ESPN lost NASCAR, the network as a whole has declined. Now, it's chic to poke fun at ESPN. I've never liked Fox's coverage of NASCAR, NFL, or MLB.

Anonymous said...

You make some great points. Declining ratings don't necessarily mean that the networks aren't getting their money's worth in broadcasting sporting events. I find it somewhat humorous that so many "old school" fans who were so excited for the return of ESPN are now so disappointed at their performance. Anyone who watches ESPN on a regular basis knew that they would have a lot of flashy and irrelevant features during the broadcast. No different than how Sportscenter and many other ESPN programs have changed over the years.

On a different note to those who complain about Rockingham and the Southern 500 losing race dates... If the "old school" fans were that passionate about NASCAR than why didn't they support races at some of the sports greatest venues? If I lived in the Southeast than I would have attended every one of those races. Obviously this opinion assumes that the majority of "old school" fans live in the Southeast.

I attend 8-12 races a year but the only one within driving distance is Las Vegas and even that is a 8 hour drive.

RH said...

Forgot to mention in my earlier post: The top 35 rule has also led to NASCAR being more of a show than a race there by chasing fans away. Those of us that grew up attending races understand what the phrase "qualified for the race" really means.

Hey genius, the MAJORITY of old school fans are from the southeast, not all, like yourself apparently. We are talking about the majority here, and the majority of the pre Jeff Gordon era fans are from the southeast. Majority does not equal all.

The point is that NASCAR has sold out to corporate America. They were so worried about making more money, that some empty seats at a race like the Southern 500 led them to give that date away. Now what do they have? You guessed it, empty seats.
I'm glad you enjoy NASCAR and can afford to attend all of these races. ALthough I hope you skip California, flat out unwatchable.

wickedj said...

this article reminds me of when that twit from Cali speedway said the fans where "Shopping" during the race

anyway ESPN's "debut" was godawful Rusty Wallace needs to shut up

you know youre coverage sucks when even Robin Miller starts commenting on it

Anonymous said...

First of all, why are you using Jeff Gordon as a whipping boy. I have been a fan since 1971 and I like Gordon so what. Now about the COT. I like that too, if they had the COT at Indy then Harvick would not have finished seventh because of a bent fender. The "old" cars are too aero, look at the cars from the 70's and 80's, they were boxes with spoilers, it puts more emphasis on a drivers talent. Who cares if they look alike as long as the racing is better. TNT's coverage sucked. ESPN's coverage sucked. The cookie cutter track syndrome is catching up with NASCAR, ie boring races, racing is too sanitized, let'em rub. Non dedicated fans=empty seats. High ticket prices,gouging hotels,high gas prices=empty seats. CHEVY RULES!!!

rh said...

Saying pre or post Jeff Gordon ERA is not a negative towards Gordon. He was the dominant driver when all of these changes took place.

Monkeesfan said...

What would solve all the varied problems of the sport between lousy coverage and sub-mediocre competition?

LEAD CHANGES AND DIFFERENT WINNERS.

NASCAR has to figure out that the racing needs the level of lead changes common to Talladega and it needs more winners, in drivers and especially in teams - so far only eleven still-active teams have won races in this decade; that number needs to exceed fifteen.