Monday, August 27, 2007

ESPN Deals With "The Chase" For The First Time

NASCAR fans understand the problems with The Chase. When discussing this concept with casual racing fans, its easy to watch their eyes glaze over and the same questions pop-up. Every hardcore NASCAR fan has had the following conversation.

OK, so the top twelve guys get in and the rest stop racing? Can the other guys still win the race? What are The Chase guys chasing? Why do the other guys keep racing if they can't win The Chase? Is Dale Earnhardt Junior in The Chase? Ugh.

After carefully avoiding NASCAR like the plague, ESPN is now front-and-center when it comes to explaining The Chase to the American public. The results of their efforts so far this season have been both encouraging and frustrating.

Part of ESPN's agreement with NASCAR was their commitment to a daily NASCAR program. This show would have the news, the interviews, and the highlights of the sport in much the same way that the old RPM2Night updated the motorsports scene.

This one show, however, is only a small slice of ESPN's potential on-air exposure of NASCAR. The media company also has the ESPN News Network, a daily SportsCenter show, several general sports discussion programs, and even some long-form talk shows on ESPN2.

Certainly, the opportunity for exposure is tremendous, and that is exactly what NASCAR is counting on. Please note the counting on.

ESPN's team that handles the racing is a little busy to explain The Chase. They can use their sophisticated computers and the color coding and everything else, but they have a race to call. The vast majority of the chase information must come from ESPN programming other than the races themselves.

So, when is the last time you saw NASCAR treated with respect on Pardon The Interruption? How about the "no NASCAR or hockey" chants on Around The Horn? First Take did a nice piece after the rain-delayed Michigan race was over, seen any NASCAR since then?

ESPN News and SportsCenter are forced to run NASCAR stories when the network has races on-the-air. But, its a tough sell during the week when there are no highlights to show. Unless the story has Dale Junior or Tony Stewart in it, chances are it can wait until Friday.

NASCAR Countdown is the pre-race show ESPN does before the NEXTEL Cup races. In this hour, Monday Night Football sideline reporter Suzy Kolber and former NBA star Brad Daugherty are left to explain The Chase, and its format.

So far, their focus has been on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his possible exclusion from post-season play. Never has either one of them done a stand-alone piece on what The Chase is, why it came about, or what ABC Sports viewers will see once it is underway.

NASCAR Now is the network's daily show, whose struggles have been well-documented on The Daly Planet as well as other Internet racing sites and publications. This is the first year for this new concept and the series has already lost an original co-host, been blasted by Tony Stewart for its tabloid-style hype, and continues to employ as the full time host a non-racing fan who is basically an ESPN Radio anchor on-loan to NASCAR.

When Erik Kuselias is working on the radio, he leads deep discussions about Major League Baseball, the upcoming NFL football season, and recently even a team-by-team pre-season breakdown of the league. His knowledge of stick-and-ball sports is outstanding. His knowledge of NASCAR can be put in a thimble.

Now, ESPN finds itself a couple of weeks from The Chase with no perspective from which to draw. Their coverage is new, NASCAR Now is new, and NASCAR on SportsCenter is new. First Take is new, PTI just won't do it, and Around The Horn can only criticize it.

How the company as a whole approaches The Chase and presents it to ESPN and ABC viewers will have a profound effect on the TV ratings for the last ten races of the year. It is this block of racing that suffered poor ratings because of the NFL regular season.

It is this block of races that was performing so poorly that NASCAR decided to alter its longtime points format and do something to breathe life into this final stretch run.

Now, the NASCAR torch is passed to ESPN in an ironic twist. It was this network, and programs like NFL Gameday and NFL Primetime that tore the focus of Sundays away from NASCAR and wrestled it back to the NFL.

In a way, this year its Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on NFL Countdown vs. Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty on NASCAR Countdown. Does it get more ironic?

The outstanding and award-winning NFL pre-game show on ESPN now previews the direct competition to ESPN's own NASCAR races on ABC. It certainly is going to be fascinating to watch this dynamic play-out on-the-air.

Don't you wonder how Chris Berman will handle reading a live NASCAR promo in NFL Countdown? Who says television can't hurt your brain?

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


Todd said...

tell me, do they still have that half naked guy singing on the pre-race show? I've said before that is such a bad deal to long time NASCAR fans, so I watch SPEED till the go off on race day.

GinaV24 said...

Since I'm not a "stick and ball" sports fan, I have only occassionally watched ESPN. I do watch football and I used to watch hockey. I've seen Pardon the Interruption and SportsCenter and they don't really interest me. Since I used to watch RPM2Nite, I had hopes for Nascar Now, but that has turned into an unwatchable show most days, so I gave up on that early on. I'm a long time NASCAR fan, so I don't need the chase explained to me (I hate it)-- it's a made for tv ratings ploy -- trouble is, I don't think that has really worked out since the ratings are still falling. IMO, that is because the racing has not been particularly good -- an exciting finish is great, but when 498 laps are follow the leader, well, I'm pretty hard core, but I don't bother to watch that. If ESPN is expecting Erik Klueless to explain the chase to fans, they, along with Erik, are hopeless. I'm not watching the ESPN broadcasts regularly and when I do, I have the sound muted and listen to Sirius radio so I can get real information, listen to my driver's channel and not experience the level of commercial interruption on TV. Even bringing the final 10 races back to ABC may not help the ratings, unless ESPN gets their total act together -- I don't care to have my races interrupted by SC updates during green flag laps and why do I care what Suzy and Brad think? Actually, I don't care what Rusty thinks either.

Kevin in Indy said...

I'm kinda like Todd. I will only watch Speed's pre-race coverage then wait until the HotPass coverage starts. I leave EPSN out of the equation. Too bad I'm not one of those metered homes that they base TV ratings off of.

Anonymous said...

You write the same thing every single day. The racing is good and that's what matters. Stop watching Nascar Now if you hate it so much.

Anonymous said...

You keep reading the column, even though you complain that John writes the same thing every day.


TexasRaceLady said...

"His knowledge of stick-and-ball sports is outstanding. His knowledge of NASCAR can be put in a thimble."

Personally, John, I think you're being much too generous --- the head of a pin is more likely large enough.

I don't look for ESPN to raise the ratings for the Chase. The coverage is far too disjointed and disconnected from the fans.

I have yet to discover what Suzy and Brad contribute to the coverage. Their comments seem stiff and certainly interrupt the flow of the race.

As far as pre-race, I avoid ESPN like the plague. The antics of Kenny and Jimmy are infinitely preferable to the glop on ESPN.

I keep hoping that suddenly ESPN will "get it", and the coverage we once had with them will return.

Anonymous said...

ESPN needs to be dumped like a non performing driver. At least NBC had a prerace show with guys who knew that NASCAR involved more than 1 driver (Jr)Saturday night race on ESPN?? how about showing it on ABC instead, for ratings. Been then when would ABC be able to show quality shows like Dancing with the Stars.

Can someone please find Bob Jenkins

Matt said...

Bob Jenkins will never be back doing NASCAR because he is still angry at NASCAR for shutting ESPN out of the first contract.

Anonymous said...

Matt, where did you get that information? Did he tell you that personally, or is it your opinion?

Remember, never say never. ;)

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hi Guys,

Bob is actually back at ESPN this season, lending his voice to the Indy Pro Series, the Busch racing of the open-wheel guys.

He does that package with Robby Buhl and Mike King. There are sixteen races, and they are edited in Indy and shown on a tape delay basis, meaning they are heavily edited for time and format.

I have caught one of them, and Bob sounds like he is in great spirits, look great, and I think any issues with the ESPN administration of the past (now long gone) is over.

Thanks for bringing up the topic, I worked with Bob for many years and he is a great guy.


SophiaZ123 said...


I think YOU are too generous with Erik K.


His knowledge of NASCAR would fit on a pin head with ROOM left over for the Lord's Prayer.