Saturday, August 25, 2007

ESPN Rebounds With Bristol NEXTEL Cup Telecast


Often in sports, teams stumble upon circumstances that just naturally help their efforts. Sometimes, things start out rather grim and then begin to work themselves out, seemingly without any effort. We refer to those moments as "blessings in disguise."

This weekend, ESPN gave away the practice and qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway to the SPEED Channel. ESPN had schedule problems, so SPEED covered both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series on-track activities. Since SPEED already was showing the Craftsman Truck Series race on Wednesday night, ESPN was basically on the outside looking in most of the time.

Friday night, the network stepped back into the deep end of the pool with a high energy Busch race under the lights. It was a disaster from start to finish. No matter what ESPN tried to do, it simply did not work.

When they showed the leaders, a wreck happened in the pack. When they showed the hard racing, someone passed the leader. When they showed the pit stops under caution, the missed the restart coming out of commercial. They simply could not buy a break, and they certainly needed one.

Saturday night, as the NASCAR Countdown show continued its mediocre stagger toward the race, it seemed that a lot of the Friday ESPN mistakes were repeating themselves. A technical problem appeared on-the-air again, and then another horrible Suzy Kolber live-on-the-grid interview of a top driver. Does anyone ever listen to her questions? The pit reporters must cringe to see her coming their way.

Then, with the turn of the first wheel, the Bristol track delivered a big and unexpected gift to ESPN. Talk about a blessing in disguise. The most aggressive drivers in the top racing series in America lined-up like fifteen year-olds in Driver's Education class and began their Safe Driving lesson.

The long green flag runs at the beginning of this race were just what the doctor ordered for all of the ESPN announcers and production team. It gave everyone a chance to shake-off the problems of Friday night and get back in the groove of delivering a good effort.

Just like a baseball player in a slump, the NASCAR on ESPN gang went back to basics and concentrated on the fundamentals. Staying ahead of the leaders, listening to the announcers, and watching the action on the track really paid-off for this bunch tonight. A two groove track and lots of green flag racing let them do just that.

At Bristol, ESPN learned the hard way that almost anything "extra" that needed to be shown under green flag racing conditions required special treatment. The ESPN video split screen effect of two side-by-side video boxes is outstanding. It is sized correctly, and has a background that does not distract from the live action.

ESPN used the effect for pit reporters, live interviews, and most effectively to showcase more than one on-track battle simultaneously. It worked all the way up until the end of the race. In trying to show viewers that there was action all over the track, the production crew showed so many battles it was just confusing. There was no perspective on the leader inside the last fifteen laps, just lots of "battles in boxes."

In the end, however, the network really showed that they listen to the fans when they again went to a nice big wideshot and showed the top twenty cars battle to the line with the electronic scoring inserted. What a great way to end a race, so fans can not only see where their driver finished, chances are they actually saw him do it. Great move by the Producer and Director to coordinate that in advance.

As we mentioned in an earlier Daly Planet article, someone has been working very hard with Rusty Wallace on his TV performance. It took him a while to acknowledge his rough edges were just not going to make his TV career a smooth one. Also, the absolutely professional performance of Dale Jarrett in relief of Rusty on ESPN telecasts might have hastened that realization.

Wallace is thinking before he speaks the vast majority of the time. Gone are most of the emotional outbursts that consisted of catch phrases and run-on sentences. Saturday night, Rusty handled TV duties by calling the other on-air announcers by name, flowing smoothly between thoughts, and often times handling the "tosses" down to the pit reporters. He is very much improved, and just in time for The Chase.

Our friend Dr. Jerry Punch is having a tough time. He seems to be tired, and at crucial times when the action is hot he simply does not speak and then talks quietly in a monotone. His delivery is still as a reporter, and this was tough at Bristol.

When a former radio guy like Allen Bestwick or even a veteran TV personality like Marty Reid stepped-in for Punch, the difference in the energy of the telecast was amazing. Bestwick may not be "Mr. Personality" on-the-air, but he is clearly a consummate professional who can keep the energy high in a very "Dave Moody" kind of way. Reid was just happy to be there and his enthusiasm is contagious.

Needless to say, long green flag runs at Bristol need some big energy. Searching for something to say while the field tools around nose-to-tail with no one on pit road is a tough row to hoe. Andy Petree again stepped-in and was solid in his information. One of his best abilities is to admit when he has said something wrong before a replay or after a pit report. Fans love a good guess, and they also love someone not too high and mighty to admit they missed something.

Perhaps, the intense media hype of shows like NASCAR Now is interfering with ESPN's ability to speak to drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like he was just about ready to deck Mike Massaro when he had to again speak about his step-mom in the pre-race. Jamie Little had several drivers who were almost flinching from her high volume in-your-face style of reporting. Friday night, Dave Burns had two drivers who almost totally ignored him, goofed on him on national TV, and then looked like they wanted to push him out of their pre-race pick-up truck ride.

NASCAR is now seven months into the hype machine of ESPN News, NASCAR Now, NASCAR Countdown, ESPN.com, and even SportsCenter. It looks like this approach has been weighing very heavily on the drivers who are targets of the hype. Tony Stewart already got into it very publicly about ESPN and their "knife in the back" style of reporting on NASCAR.

As the season heads into its most intense time, ESPN may be well-served to make a little peace with the NASCAR drivers instead of reporting on every little family squabble and off-color comment. The lack of happy cooperation with the pit reporters was clear for all to see on this telecast. This is the time of the season when people are tired, tempers are tight, and careers are on the line.

ESPN again finds itself surrounded by SPEED next weekend. SPEED shows the Craftsman Trucks on Saturday late afternoon at Gateway, and they again show the practice and qualifying for both the Busch and NEXTEL Cup Series in California. ESPN has the late Saturday night Busch Series race, and the 7PM Eastern NEXTEL Cup race on Sunday.

California is the last NEXTEL Cup race on ESPN, as the coverage shifts to ABC Sports for the rest of the season. This can only mean one thing for most viewers...two weeks to Brent Musburger.

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. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.

30 comments:

Matt said...

John, your comments are right on. I was thinking the same thing about Dr. Punch. Maybe working almost non-stop every weekend since February is taking it's toll on him? Perhaps ESPN should look into hiring a seperate Play-by-Play
man for the Busch or Cup races. (And we all know who that is.)

And speaking of him, did anyone notice how happy Tony Stewart was when being interviewed on countdown by AB? Every driver loves talking to Allen Bestwick and visibly hate talking to any other pit reporter on ESPN. Wonder why?

Now we all know that ESPN won't make any changes for this year, but they MUST make major staff changes if they expect to produce any sort of respectable Championship coverage. This is not TNT's "summer swing" or even FOX's early season races. This is the Big Time, the Spotlight time of the year and ESPN must step up both on and off air to gain respect from drivers, teams, and fans.

Brian said...

Dr. Jerry Punch seems like a great man, and he seems like an awesome reporter after seeing some of the stuff he's done in the past. Did he sound a little under the weather or tired today, or was it just me?

Anyway though, as John said, you can definitely see how tired the drivers are of most ESPN Pit Reporters. I haven't see this with people interviewed by AB, they all know who he is, we know who he is.

It's just interesting to see how much happier people are with him, instead of someone like Suzy, or anyone else, haha.

ESPN seems to be listening about small tweaks and changes, that's great. I know most people are with me on this, but man just swab AB and Dr. Punch already. Seriously.

I miss AB in the booth, he is one of the best, if not the best play-by-play guy out there, I would personally tie him with Mike Joy.

I wish they could swap people out, but they seem very hesitant to make any personnel changes, my words are a waste, but I'd like to see AB and Dr. Punch swapped.

Marty Reid is great, too!

Brent Musburger is funny, maybe not for the right reasons, but he certainly makes it interesting! Haha.

Seiko said...

John good review of the race tonight.
On the subject of Rusty I believe its too little too late.

You had to mention Brent Musburger didn't you. Now ill be saying pardner (thats how he pronounces partner) for the rest of the weekend.

Anonymous said...

"two weeks to Brent Musburger"

Aaaarrrggghhhhhhhh!!!

At least the chick with the ponytail is hot. I like her.

Carl In Alaska said...

OK, earlier I predicted a 45/55% commercial vs racing breakdown after the race. I apoligize, it was 37.5/62.5%. I believe that includes caution laps. Just can't sleep.

Anonymous said...

We must have watched different races. I thought it was pretty close ot the worst race coverage I have ever seen. Time Brewer's explanation of "short spindles" left mroe questions than answers. The quote of the race has to be "He is mired deep in the chase" what the heck does that mean? Why did ESPN end up with such a second rate group of annoucers? Is everyone else busy? Be glad when this is all over.

bevo said...

Good review John, and nice suck-up to Moody! :)

I don't think Rusty is the right person for that role. Jarrett should take over next year. He's objective and he brings an expertise without a "look at what I did" perspective.

The SportsCenter snark has infected everything else they cover and you're seeing that with the reporters covering NASCAR. The glory days of Dan Patrick, Olbermann, Steiner and Mayne are long gone. That style worked because of those personalities, there wasn't the mean-spirit feel of now. It seems like many of the reporters covering the actual events think they're auditioning for SC.

Anonymous said...

The coverage sucks... can ESPN go into a commercial break or come out of a commercial break without showing us some stupid pre-produced piece og garbage?

Remember... we are here to WATCH CARS RACE ON THE TRACK! That's it... we can go to MTV if we want music videos.

Anonymous said...

Sunday Morning's SportsCenter showed pre-season football highlights ahead of last night's race. Even the analysts are saying during the show that pre-season football isn't an accurate indicator of anything. So why does it still get ahead of NASCAR? You "stick-and-ball" people may be on to something.

Anonymous said...

Did we watch the same race?

I thought ESPN fell to a new low in bad camera work, missed stories, and ignored drivers.

I was live at the Speed Insider boards and we had a running joke through the entire race thread about not knowing that various drivers were even in the field -- guys like the defending winner, Kyle Busch, the 2 currently hottest drivers, Tony and Kurt, the guys coming back from deep in the field, Tony, Biffle, Kyle, ...

Not only did they never once do anything resembling a "Through the Field" rundown on everyone's handling status and pitstop plans, they didn't update who was on the lead lap and who was not when green flag stops were interupted and didn't mention that there were "tail end of the lead lap" cars after that.

The Fox Trax indicated that some cars were fast early and faded while others came in late and made passes, but ESPN didn't bother to mention "comers and goers". Nor did they think it was worthwhile to discover what happened to Johnny Sauter the first time. Fox would have been on it with 3 camera angles before the pits opened but all ESPN found necessary was a late mention of Sauter's "troubles".

I'm reading articles about a boring race, but judging from the Fox Trax and what others reported from MRN, the drivers' radios, and Hotpass, there was a decent race hiding under lousy camera work and empty "coverage".

Anonymous said...

I loved this follow up comment from bevo:

"The SportsCenter snark has infected everything else they cover and you're seeing that with the reporters covering NASCAR."

I have quit watching any pre-race television from The Four Letter. I don't watch TFL for Sports Ctr anymore. I go there for the event, and then thats it. I will watch during college football season, again, mainly the event and maybe Kirk, Chris and the Dick Vitale of college football. Bevo's comment sums up why I don't. The "snark" has infected everything.

As to the race, I would like to have seen a tighter finish shot, it was a little too far away for me to id the cars-but hey, at least they are working at it.

I like Jerry Punch-a lot. I'm in Raleigh, and so if you know about him you understand he is also a sentimental favorite of mine. And I hear he has wanted the role he has now for a long time. Quite frankly, I just don't notice him as good or bad. If you listen to PRN radio you know how bad overhyping a race is, and MRN does it right.

I love Andy Petree and Tim Brewer. Last night I liked Brewer's trying to explain the blown engine-I still don't quite get it but I like the attempt and the graphics. I also liked both those guys as crew chiefs.....esp Tim Brewer when he was with Junior (Johnson). So I am predisposed to like them now.

I was impressed we did not have to see Carl's crew jumping around after the win. I assume they did, but I don't need to see it. Show it to us in a wrap up.


This is clearly a step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

Courtesy of Jayski.com

Commercial breakdown Sharpie 500:
Total number of commercials: 123
Total number of companies or entities advertised: 79
Total number of brief promos of products/services during the race broadcast: 14
Start time to record race/commercial periods 08/25/07: 8:00 PM
End time to record race/commercial periods 08/25/07: 11:19 PM
Total minutes: 199
Minutes of race broadcast: 146
Minutes of commercials: 53
Number of debris cautions with no debris identified: 1
Number of missed restarts: 1
Total race brdcst time: 146 Total comm. brdcst time: 53
See the full report at CawsnJaws.com.(8-26-2007)

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anonynous 11:17AM,

I agree with your comments on in-race stories, but with Bristol everything is just a little too fast for big picture storytelling.

I think the big test will be the upcoming California race. Will they follow the real stories of the race, the Chase, and the top 35?

Or will we see Draft Tracker, Suzy and Brad, California Speedway Girls, music videos, and celebrities?

Get ready, because ESPN has an LA office and the ABC/Disney guys are all into the West Coast hype. It could be another "entertainment extravaganza" instead of a hardcore important race weekend.

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Sean said...

I posted this in the other column, but I guess I'll post it here too.

-THE GOOD-

Only 1 missed restart(still no excuse though)

Good pit reporting most of the time.

Rusty didn't say aero loose 50 times.

No "draft crap"

No black out with 3 laps to go.


-THE BAD-

ESPN continues to have trouble updating what happens to cars who have wrecked.


Rusty continues to be Mr. Common Sense.

ESPN SHOWED THE FULL VIDEO CLIP OF HARVICK AND MONTOYA PUSHING, WHILE THERE WAS GREEN FLAG RACING.


-THE UGLY-

I felt like I was watching Golf the whole race. Does Dr. Jerry Punch ever get excited, ever? This guy never rose his voice once, even on the final lap. Good job Dr. on continuing to put fans to sleep, and for the ratings to drop.


COMMERCIAL TIMING. They went to a commercial twice while the caution had just come out. ESPN seems to be the only one having these problems out of all the networks.


INTERVIEW THE TOP 5 AFTER THE RACE. I want to hear Clint Bowyer after his 3rd place run speak. Or Tony Stewart after having a bad car all day, and then finishing up 4th.


ON AIR-CHEMISTRY. These guys don't fit with each other and it shows. NASCAR fans need some sort of excitement in the race. Switch Allen Bestwick with Punch, and the race would be 10x better broadcasted. Remember the St. Louis Busch Race anyone?

Anonymous said...

Great review of the race coverage.

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like he was just about ready to deck Mike Massaro when he had to again speak about his step-mom in the pre-race."

There is something personal going on between these two. I don't know when it started - a few weeks ago probably, but Massaro's interview in practice/qualifying back then seemed to really upset Junior. I don't even remember what was said, but ever since then, he visibly tenses up when Massaro asks the questions (which is often). He looks angry and answers in a monotone. Either Massaro needs to talk to him and clear the air, or ESPN needs to send someone else to cover Junior's pit for the next few weeks until things blow over, which I'm sure they will. It is not a good thing for us as viewers to watch. Junior seems fine with people other than Massaro.

I hadn't noticed any issues with Jamie Little (you were right yesterday, she is improving)or Dave Burns, though I don't think the drivers were impressed with Shannon Spake when she was in the pits.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Punch is fine where he is. This is a new group of guys working together for the first time. The chemistry is not going to be like it is on fox, where they have been working together for seven years. Give Jerry a break and find someone eles to pick on, how about Bill Weber? Ot someone who actually does bad at their job.

bevo said...

Anonymous 2:48 p.m. -

We are not "picking" on Jerry Punch. We are simply stating that his talent is best used in the pits. He is a fantastic reporter, he gives great insight about the race and knows how to chase down a developing story during the race.

If you want some comments about Bill Weber go back in the archives (it's on the right side of the main page) and read about the TNT coverage. Yes, that's correct! Bill Weber DOES NOT work on the ESPN coverage! Amazing isn't it? Right now the coverage of NASCAR races is handled by ESPN and soon ABC. That is why we are commenting on Dr. Punch, Wallace, Petree and the others.

I find the comparison of Jerry to Bill Weber to be insulting. Compare him to someone like Bob Jenkins, Mike Joy, Eli Gold, Ken Squier.

William said...

I keep asking myself, Who does ESPN create this show for? Who is the target demographic? It's telling that I have to ask this because I'd rather just be watching what was a pretty good race.
I can only figure that ESPN is trying to bring new viewers to NASCAR. They are looking for people that only watch their station and didn't have ESPN back in the day when they previously had NASCAR races.
ESPN spends way too much time explaining the same things over and over(even my Fiancee is getting annoyed with seeing the broken spring animation) They are entirely too enamored with low shots that accentuate the speed of the cars. OOoooh, it's a fast car, never mind that someone who cares how the race is going can't tell much from colored blurs rushing by! They must be going after the people watching that don't have a favorite driver because they don't tell us what's going on with anyone stuck back past the top 5. They don't tell us who pitted when or how many laps until they will have to pit, TNT was better about that.

Is hearing the vital statistics of the race, seeing who goes into the pits and the order they come out, and having a view of several cars at once too much to ask? Would the Casual Race Fan hate that? Why doesn't ESPN respect that the race is why we watch?

They don't cut to a booth outside of a football stadium during a play to explain another play. They don't explain basic baseball rules or strategy during every single game. Do you think they would ever make a "tool" to show the areas of lift and drag on a baseball to show how it sinks or curves?

RESPECT THE RACE! It's why everyone is there and watching on TV! Show us the damn thing!

Anonymous said...

Did I miss something or were there no comments on ESPN about Kurt Busch drinking Miller beer in Victory Lane? If so, could it have anything to do with Miller's being a sponsor on the Everything's Sinking Pretty Much network - but, Tony Stewart & Schlitz are fair game???

Anonymous said...

According to NASCAR Scene, the Richmond Nextel Cup race is on ESPN as well. I believe ABC begins coverage at New Hampshire.

Anonymous said...

The ESPN coverage was so traumatically terrible that I remain depressed, hours after the end of the race. Disjointed, annoying stages, "cold" presentations ruin any description of racing action.
The dulcet tones of Suzy Kolber make me feel like I'm in kindergarten instead of watching superb athletes put their lives on the line.
The only thing worse than ESPN is Bill Weber.

I'm read for some football...with hopes of regaining my sanity.

cwebs said...

I gotta agree with the folks that are complaining about ESPN's coverage of:

Anticipating pitstops

Analyzing different pit strategies

Recapping what happened or didn't happen during/after a round of yellow flag stops

Reporting when important cars lose/gain laps

Showing us cars (especially lead-lap cars) coming down pit road and/or coming off pit road.


I know this kind of stuff isn't always easy to cover on a fast short track like Bristol, but it seemed to me they weren't even really trying! I might not be so critical if I hadn't already seen similar coverage lapses by ESPN near the end of the races at both Indianapolis and Michigan, neither of which could be called “short tracks”!

Sure, there were times during last night's race where even a perfect TV crew would have missed things, but there were many other times when ESPN was just out to lunch.

Many times while some important stuff was happening, ESPN was busy either over-analyzing the wreck or mechanical problems of a back marker, running a "30 at 30" update, showing us the "Good Hands Move" of the race, forcing Suzy & Brad into the broadcast, going to the "tech center", or simply packing in more commercials.

I do agree, however, that a Bristol race maybe isn’t the best time to call them out on this. As stated by JD, I think next week’s race at California will be a better test for ESPN on these particular issues.

In last night’s thread, I said ESPN did an overall fair job of covering this race. To me, “fair job” means a C grade or just simply “average”. Unfortunately, ESPN has lowered the bar so far down that they can claim an “average” broadcast as a victory.


Were there tail end of the lead lap cars on one of those restarts??? I don't remember them even mentioning that. Probably, they figured it was just too hard to explain such a "complicated" thing to all of the newbies they seem to think are their target audience.

cwebs

Andy Pandy said...

I thought the ESPN guys did better than usual, but they’re still a long way from FOX. Rusty cut down drastically on the “Tell you what” comments – I don’t know if I heard a single one. Andy added good info, and Dr. Punch was OK but lifeless. Most of the action was shown and described well, and we did get to see more than just the winner cross the line.

Now for the problems:
Can the three guys hear each other through the headphones? How many times will Jerry mention a fact about the driver on the screen and the next voice is Rusty stating the same thing in different words, like he just came up with it? It happens regularly, and not just with Rusty and Jerry.

How hard is it to simply mention when someone makes an unscheduled pit stop? There was a brief shot of Andretti heading to the pits in the first couple of laps but not a word was said. The same with McCumbee last week. I don’t care if they’re running in the back. Every driver has fans who want to know what happened to their driver, and all they have to do is say “The 49 is making an unscheduled stop – it looks like a flat left front” or whatever they can tell at the moment. Five seconds here and there out of three or four hours won’t hurt.

Why must Jerry always say “Joe Driver is shown as the leader” and “Dave Racer is shown in fifth place”, both during racing action and going to commercial? It sounds like they are being black flagged or for some other reason are being scored differently than where they actually are.

And Tim Brewer – he adds some good descriptions, but he just doesn’t seem to be made for TV. Whenever they cut to him, it’s like playing a 45 rpm record at 33. All the energy is sucked out of the broadcast and it comes to a screeching halt.

Suzy and Brad – no value added. I may be in the minority, but I think Jeff Hammond and Chris Myers are funny and informative in the Hollywood Hotel, but ESPN’s humorless version just doesn’t do it for me.

I can’t bring myself to watch ESPN’s pre-race show when I know SPEED has one going on, too. NASCAR RaceDay is much more informative and entertaining, faster paced, and the folks really seem to be working hard to put on a good show. John Roberts keeps the show moving and lets the other guys contribute but not dominate. It seemed like Wendy Venturini interviewed half the people in the infield this week. She asked good questions, seemed to have the respect of the people she was interviewing, and looked like she was having fun doing it.

Bring back FOX - or, at least, put AB in the booth.

Anonymous said...

Another poster nailed it by describing the coverage as "disjointed." The commercial breakdown at cawsnjaws.com for the race showed the 2 longest segments of race coverage only went 11 minutes each, and the race was interrupted by 24 commercial breaks comprising over 26% of the 3 hr. 19 min. airtime. And Rusty's "I'll tell you what..." was replaced by Dr. Punch's "high banks of Bristol."

Anonymous said...

ESPN's people apparently assume that because THEY don't know NASCAR that the fans don't either, and they must explain how everything works every week.

How arrogant.

Anonymous said...

Reading all the other blogs, I find much agreement. ESPN is a hype machine, not a race network. Speed has more professionals that know their audience. No need for the over done weekly explainations. ESPN could really use different announcers. I actually mute the broadcast and listen to MRN or PRN. I can't stand Rusty's redundancies. Punch is fine but tired. Isn't he doing college football soon? The way NASCAR is set up, college football and even pro football will be more than welcomed. I'll read the race results on one of the .coms. The chase is making for boring points racing. No risks and no paint trading at Bristol is proof that drivers are points racing. Personally, I think they should put 36 numbers in a hat and draw 10 or 12 at the start of the year and say those races are double points or some number and let the chips fall where they may. It would give more than 12 drivers a shot at the championship. I thought Bristol was sold out. Careful looking into the stands during the race saw many empty seats. But then, maybe the bathrooms were full and the souvenir booths were busy. The race was less than exciting. Steve

Anonymous said...

I never had any idea that I could actually miss Wally Dolly. I absolutely hate the ESPN coverage. My list of complaints could go on forever. If Speed is showing coverage, I watch until the green flag drops. Since ESPN took over for the season, I switch my TV to mute, turn on MRN or PRN, sit in front of my computer and use TRACKPASS and listen to the incar scanner. When listening to ESPN, I not only DON"T get enough information about the actual race because they are so busy trying to impress me with how clever they can be, I'm sick of hearing "Juan Pablo Montoya" over and over and over again. Nothing against the guy at all, but I think these announcers just like to say the man's name, over and over again. ARGHH!

cwebs said...

anonymous -

That's it in a nutshell - We're not getting enough information about the actual race from ESPN.

To me, that's the first thing they should make sure to get right. Certainly, they need to figure out how to provide filler and develop chemistry in the booth, but at least tell us what's happening IN THE RACE!!!