Sunday, August 5, 2007

ESPN Says "Shut-Up And Drive" Disney Style

ESPN play-by-play analyst Dr. Jerry Punch choked the words out of his mouth. "Shut-up and drive" he said. Three little words that may have a pretty broad-reaching effect on ESPN's coverage of NASCAR for the rest of the season.

Instead of offering information for fans, the Disney entertainment influence in ESPN programming continued to come to the forefront as pop star Rihanna's new music video featuring scantily-clad women played on ESPN's coverage of the NEXTEL Cup Series.

Shut-up and drive they said. Although the original music video has absolutely nothing to do with NASCAR, that just does not matter in the new ESPN/Disney world.

Fans may notice that ESPN's pre-race show, NASCAR Countdown, also closed their first segment with a full length music video. Disney is an entertainment corporation, and the changes that they want to make to the fundamental way in which we all watch NASCAR on TV is going to be very interesting.

The Rihanna music kept pumping coming back from commercial while the network ran "mini-videos" to keep this music theme going. In addition, Suzy Kolber and Brad Daugherty were featured regularly from the ESPN Infield Studio with commentary while the race was under green. As we talked about last week, the actual on-track racing action has been quietly de-emphasized to make room for selected ESPN "content."

This "content" could include the Tech Center, Infield Studio, Music Video, Celebrity interview, or anything else that gets the viewer away from the "mindset" that they are supposed to be watching every lap of the race.

It seems that to ESPN, the actual racing is just "background noise" to be joined and then left whenever they see fit. This is a big change in the NASCAR on TV philosophy.

One of the special effects from ESPN is called "full throttle" and lets the audio from all the team scanners be played on-the-air during a restart. Originally a good idea, this concept needs to be limited to the top ten cars. The "thrill" of this audio is now gone for fans, and the confusing voices now do not relay any kind of useful information.

Andy Petree and Rusty Wallace continue to be enthusiastic and informative in the announce booth. Often, they would lead to Tim Brewer in the Tech Center for more information. Thankfully, this week ESPN used a split-screen effect and allowed viewers to continue watching the race during Brewer's reports.

One of the biggest issues for the fans in ESPN's coverage is their lack of "full field" rundowns. As we have seen with other networks in the past, taking the time to use the pit reporters and "rundown" the fates and fortunes of the entire field is worth its weight in gold to the fans. With ESPN, if a car is not involved in an incident, or in the front pack, it is just not mentioned.

ESPN has chosen to insert "feature content" in the races instead of going back and talking about the non-top ten drivers. The network has so many toys, and so many video features available and waiting to be used, that it must almost be overwhelming for the Producer. The focus on the actual events unfolding on the track has lessened.

Without the commitment to recap the field, it is difficult to understand where the players in "The Chase" are running, where the "non-top 35" drivers are racing, and finally where the drivers involved in the on-going race stories have gone. This is a big hole in the ESPN coverage. Just ask Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, or Juan Montoya.

While Kolber and Daugherty offer a "McDonalds mid-race recap," this feature is basically a SportsCenter highlight package. It only contains the obvious, and does not help fans get any information other than exactly the same video clips they have already seen several times. For fans of the drivers running outside of the top ten, this coverage has really gotten hard to take.

Unfortunately, the big crash with less than twenty laps to go told the story of ESPN's approach to NASCAR this season. The network was following the single file "non-racing" when the mad scramble in the middle of the field resulted in a melee. That pack was where the racing action was for several laps, but ESPN did not care. They have the replays, and that is good enough for them. Just follow the leader.

Still undecided on how to handle a NEXTEL Cup finish, ESPN showed the winning pit crew jumping around just long enough to miss the top six cars finishing behind Kurt Busch. Then, the camera wideshot and the scoring graphics came...just a little too late.

Even as Busch did his burnout, the Aerosmith music began to play as if to remind viewers that this was the new ESPN, and things were going to be very different. One thing is very clear after Pocono, the one group that is clearly not "back in the saddle again" is ESPN.

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.


Matt said...

Today's coverage was a great improvement from last week, but that's not saying much. The play-by-play team was relatively solid. The Cut-away car was interesting and no different than what FOX or TNT did. The Pit Studio is what it is, FOX does the same things. But there are 2 problems with ESPN's overall theory of covering NASCAR.

1)EVERYONE is a Dale Jr fan and wants to know what he is doing every lap of the race. Sorry ESPN, but that's just not true. There are many of us who do not need minute by minute recaps of Dale Jr's race. If ESPN would put half as much effort into the rest of the field as they do Jr, coverage would be 10X better.

2)Pit reporters should never leave their assigned pit. I don' think Mike Massaro reported on anyone but Jr for most of the race, same goes for Dave Burns and Kurt Busch, Jamie Little and Jimmie Johnson. Oh and was Shannon Spake even there? Don't think I heard her talk more than 4 times all day.

At the end of the race, ESPN did a nice job talking bout Elliott, Rudd, Raines, Blaney, Martin, etc but they should have mentioned before 20 to go. Apparently ESPN's motto for NASCAR coverage is "A dollar short and a day late."

Gilbert Sam, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gilbert Sam, Jr. said...


I respectively disagree with your assessment on ESPN/Disney Corp., push of entertainment and main stream into NASCAR. Though, I understand you worked this business for years.. There are shareholders that need to be satisfied of ISC and Disney.. And, there are other fans that enjoy the entertainment product.

Ultimately to continue growth and your portion of dividends you must appeal to new markets. NASCAR wasn't main stream in the early 90s, the business has changed changed today for the better, some may differ.

And, remember ALL sports know they are entetainment then sports today. Look at the value of tickets and contracts of drivers and athletes today compared to then..

The same people that complain about Rihanna, are the same who thought Max Siegel couldn't grow a company.. Hmm.. It's a new age.


PS: Why no comment on Petree not remembering the #41 driver, Reed Sorenson when he was involved in the late race incident? Your post in July was titled,
"Andy Petree Shines In Gateway Busch Practice," well, I give credit where credit is due, but I do critize when you miss your marks, maybe he can study up next time.. Thanks to Dr. Punch for saving him.

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to tell Rusty to quit the "I'll tell you what" used in every sentence. Why are we hearing from so many commentators during the race that offer nothing? ESPN coverage is truly annoying.

jfs-va said...

Fully hetero male that I am, I have no interest in watching Rihanna and others in their skimpy little outfits telling me to "shut up and drive". I would really love to know if this type of thing is somehow reeling in new viewers. I similary don't watch football and basketball for the cheerleaders.

To be fair, SPEED is of course doing this same thing to promote their shows.

Full throttle, ugh. Totally worthless.

I really don't see why we need the recaps from Suzy and Brad or why we even need them at all. I think of the weekly race as being like Monday Night football. They don't have two people giving you game recaps and then throwing it back to the game announcers.

SophiaZ123 said...

Wow! Nice to see a post here more interested in DISNEY and their pockets than COVERING A RACE.

Stick and ball sports have PAUSES which allows for the clutter of "smoke and mirrors baloney" to satisfy the suits.

Racing except for cautions, never STOPS. So the more time WASTED with FILLER while the race is going on in the background is a LEGITIMATE GRIPE.

To Quote Rusty Wallace "I tell you what" if somebody does not tell Rusty about his new "Four word stammer" he is going to continue to ruin the race.

The coverage of what is supposed to be CARS on the track, stank.

Too many voices still and I guess most of us who want to see just THE RACING are obviously dinosaurs. DISNEY/ESPN/BV/NASCAR is smiling as they flip us all off as pockets are line, ticket sales are down (empty seats all over the tv's in recent weeks) ratings are down. All the PR spin in the world can not excuse that the real reason is like John said. Racing is simply background music for ESPN's PERPETUAL SELF PROMOTION MACHINE.

Of course i am watching SPEED for the real stories on NASCAR and all the races.

Oh and I thought the SCANTILY CLAD WOMEN rubbing their hands on their bodies during the race was very inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

They don't just follow the lead pack. I mean, at about a dozen laps in Daugherty announced that Montoya was in ninth place and "marching toward the front."

What a minute...where did Montoya start?

Ryan said...

At least Shut up and Drive is better than Back in the Saddle,and did anyone else think Kurt Busch's sponser mentions were Michael Waltrip-esque?

Darbar said...

If this type of music video is Disney family friendly, then it's time for me to sell my Disney stock. The Rihanna video is better suited to MTV than a Nascar race on a Sunday. Hey, ESPN, we don't need hype, you don't need to bring rockers and overtly sexual videos in order to captivate the Nascar audience. Give us good Nascar coverage, get rid of all the unnecessary over-hype, and above all else, give us reporters/comentators who know the sport. Remember, Nascar is NOT the X Games, so leave the MTV generation stuff with the skateboarders and dirt bikers.

And to Gilbert Sam, ESPN reporters for Nascar will not have an impact on Disney stock. Yes, sports is entertainment, but for my entertainment dollar, I want the best there is to offer, and ESPN isn't giving anywhere near their best effort, as evidenced by their substandard reporters. And if they think that starting their broadcasts using aging rock stars or videos that don't belong on anything but MTV, I have to question whether ESPN has the wherewithall to understand Nascar or the Nascar fan.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious why it is the SPEED can fill multiple hours of airtime with interesting material, but ESPN seems to have trouble filling one hour without resorting to music videos that add nothing to the coverage.

That, and the repeated simplistic explanations make ESPN's Cup coverage "NASCAR for Newbies."

Did you see the Busch race Saturday? See the shot of the official in a pit holding up a lugnut?

BESTWICK: "Is the the 99 pit? It is. That's a penalty."

No diagrams, animation or other stuff. Just an assumption that, just as a baseball ban doesn't need to have a foul ball explained, fans watching the race knew what they were seeing.

I'd swear the folks producing ESPN's Cup coverage are bored with the whole thing and have the idea that no one could possibly be interested in the race without music videos and inserts of drivers on fake billboards to hold their attention.

At least they showed the rest of the field finishing this week.

SophiaZ123 said...

To Anon about the lugnut!! So true.

As Bob Dylan once said, we don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Ya 'spose ESPN thinks all us NASCAR fans have the IQ of a pair of socks?????? said...

Gilbert Sam Jr.,

That's a very unfair criticism of Andy Petree. We're all humans and make mistakes sometimes. He made one slip of the tongue during a 4 hour broadcast, it's not that big of a deal. Do you really think he doesn't know that Reed Sorenson drives that car? I don't. He's a well-respected former NASCAR driver, owner, and crew chief. It's not like he's one of the ESPN "NASCAR newbies" that couldn't pick out Martin Truex Jr. from a police lineup (cough.. Erik Kuselius.. cough) if his life depended on it.

ESPN has been criticized a lot here (and usually justifiably so), but your statement that Andy Petree needs to "study up" was nothing but a cheap-shot.

If you're a semi-new fan of the sport I apologize because you might be unfamiliar with Andy Petree and could be mistaking him for one of ESPN's general announcers that don't know a thing about NASCAR (lord knows that ESPN has shoved enough people like that down our throats this year LOL).

If you are a veteran fan though I stand by my statement that your bashing of Andy Petree for one minor slip of the tongue during a 4 hour broadcast was uncalled for.

Bobby said...

One thing I've noted is Tim Brewer is much underutilised. On Fox, Jeff Hammond is fully integrated into the coverage and is linked so he can be a full studio analyst with the cutaway car, but can study pit lane and "spy" on radio chatter as to break down things coming ahead. Tim Brewer is just on the car -- you don't see him anywhere else breaking down pit strategy.

Scantily-clad girls aren't appropriate when families are watching. This is something you'd see at starting grids everywhere but NASCAR. In F1, Champ Car, and most European, Australian, and Asian series, scantily-clad women holding out a card with a car number and driver are decked out at the start of the grid, and drivers' wives and children aren't there.

It seems these meaningless music videos have become the de rigeur rule in racing. Gary Lang (at Fox) would ridicule using videos without drivers or mechanics, and using pop stars as the focus.

The simulated sex scenes from the pop stars are nothing irregular than what you see in the NBA, when all 30 teams have these ugly scenes with scantily-clad women. But NASCAR doesn't permit scantily-clad women on the grid of a race.

Besides, what type of audience are they wanting? Ann Benson (the boss of a close friend) is much better than Rhianna ANY day, and my friend and I had a ball talking about Ann's performance on national television (including Larry's "It's going to be a drag race! Wow! They touch, they touch" into the Fox unison "Craven got him (Ku. Busch)!"

No-talent pop stars are the trend because of their sex appeal. Not a good thing.

We don't need these no-talents dominating the shows, and I change the channel when I hear Aerosmith!

shinnery said...

I will tell you what, my mute button on my remote control is getting a workout during ESPN's broadcasts. I will tell you what, I wish someone would pipe MRN in to west Texas. I will tell you what, this week's B-2 flyover was actually a C-130 despite what the caption said. I will tell you waht, is there any way we can get rid of R. W.?

cwebs said...

That's two weeks in a row now that ESPN has misidentified the military aircraft over-flying the racetrack. Last week, the B-1B's were also called B-2's. At least that one could theoretically be written off as a typo or innocent mistake. This time they proved to us that they just simply don't care to get it right.

Note to ESPN - please devote better talent and more resources to your NASCAR broadcasts!!! Brian France, are you paying attention??? The fans certainly are, but not for much longer if things don't start to improve...

Anonymous said...

all the networks go to the infield studio under green. even the great and mighty fox. any race coverage where you do not hear good old dw, is good race coverage.

Anonymous said...

Here's a little something for ESPN: 20 year Air Force veteran willing to correctly identify aircraft show during flyover. You pay room, meal, travel, and credential expenses, I'll be ready to go in 24 hours. Contact me through the Daly Planet.

At the rate they're currently improving their race coverage, ESPN should have it right about 2 years after the contract expires.

If I want to see scantily clad women, I'll go to the beach or the Talladega infield.

Disney hasn't been worth a hoot since Walt passed away.

For Gilbert Sam, the stockholders of ISC are the same folks who own NASCAR, the France family. They don't care if their product is being served up in a shoddy manner, just so long as the checks from Disney clear.

The great concern that the Frances use to have about NASCAR being a family sport and being fan friendly went out the window shortly after Brian France took over. Having scantily clad women, no talent singers, and drug using celebrities is the current face of NASCAR. That's really being family oriented...NOT!

Rob from Toronto said...

that kolber gal has one very weird voice and it always seems too odd for me when relating to nascar content..if espn had any sense(which they rarely show) they would bring the excellent duo of bestwick and lajoie into the mix for the winston cup races and not just the busch ones..the difference between saturdays montreal race team and sundays pocono team where extreme..rusty is annoying and shows no real skill in broadcasting beyond being a glorified fan-boy..all that being said..the pocono race was perhaps the most boring race i've seen in my life..the only thing that would have truely saved it would be robin williams doing frantic play by play to a dour steven wright as his sidekick :D

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that all throughout the race, the ticker at the bottom said next weeks race was at Michigan, for both the Busch Series and the Cup Series? And once, in the middle of the race, the announcer said next weeks race was at Watkin's Glen, while the ticker said it was at Michigan!

micah said...

I don't know what happened to ESPN after they lost the tv rights to broadcast NASCAR to Fox and NBC, but it certainly hasn't been for the better. In their efforts to out-fox Fox, they've turned in to a parody of themselves. I've been dreading their return to NASCAR because I knew they were going to treat it like they do everything else they get their hands on. All glitz and absolutely no substance to speak of. Other than a scant few qualified individuals (I don't think I need to name them), they've put the SHOW in the hands of a idiots who seem to go out of their way antagonize some of the drivers who don't kiss their behinds. The Tony Stewart episode speaks volumes on this issue. That's ESPN's method of operation now days. If there is no glitzy story, then create one. They go out of their way to bait. Stewart's reaction was great. If they can't do a better job then this, we, as fans are in for a frustrating second half of the season. I'm a longtime Jeff Burton fan. I think he's 4th in the points. Guess what? You would have never knew he existed with all the Junior hype machine at full throttle. If NASCAR is looking to get ride of it's longtime die-hard fans just to "Hollywood" their game and add bandwagon fans, at best, they're certainly going about it the right way. Thanks for listening. Micah

Anonymous said...

I watched the IRL race from Michigan instead of the Pocono race. The IRL race was delayed because of rain, and ended up on ESPN classic. They stuck with the race till the very end. I love the side by side during commericals. Makes it so much easier to follow the race. I am quickly becoming a fan of the IRL, and slowly losing intrest in NASCAR. Watching a NASCAR race is to hard to follow, unless you want to pay for track pass. (I have been watching NASCAR races full time since 1993) Really I am only watching the Craftman Truck series full time now, but Speed TV is making that a pain in the a*# too! I know why the ratings are slipping for NASCAR, it's to hard to follow on TV.

Sal said...

I will give ESPN credit for one large improvement. During the last 12 laps of the race, they found cars farther back in the field that were racing for position to follow, rather than the standard "leader running by himself on the track with no other car even close" shot that seems to have become the standard for ALL the networks that cover the races. So, there was one thing that was better!

Anonymous said...

Why can't these networks understand that fans set aside 3 hours of their day to watch a race. Not music videos, not pre-produced features, not recaps of what we have already watched... but a race.

Please just show us the race.

Anonymous said...

Maybe hearing Hinder a zillion times was so bad after all. Keep on suckin ESPN. Nice try with Drap Crap. You're really informing us NASCAR fans. About the only thing done right was pissing off Tony which at least made your sub-par broadcasting more interesting. You're winning the popularity contest for sure. Gone are the days of ole...

Ron P. said...

Open Letter to ESPN:

Just Shut Up and Show the Race!
Nuff Said

gsmithmme said...

Another thing I noticed.. Does Rusty ever do any homework? There were several times during replays that he would stumble and say something like "well he got into the back of.. ummm... uh, well the 19 car." Seems like he would know every driver in every car. If John Madden can remember every football player on two teams, then Rusty could bone up on drivers names and know what car they are in.

ESPN is pathetic race coverage. Oh, and the TOP 35 RULE SUCKS!

Anonymous said...

"New audience is my grandmother who lives on the upper East side of New York and you bring her in by doing a combination of good stories and getting into the emotion of the race," said ESPN producer James Shiftan.

Huh. Wonder if his grandmother's a big fan of Rhianna?

Anonymous said...

Gilbert Sam, Jr.

If you are going to jump on Petree for not naming Sorenson as the driver of the #41, and creidt Jerry Punch with saving him, you have to mention that Punch consistently referred to Pocono's turn 4 during the qualifying/practice telecasts.

I like the ESPN team at the track. I think they do a good job. Watching NASCAR Now is painful and I just don't watch it anymore.

Steve in MD said...


After reading your comments and comments from other reader's, I think that we just have to accept the fact that these, "cross-promotions" are a fact of life now. These promotional opportunities are a big reason why FOX, TNT and ESPN pay NASCAR big $$$ for the rights to broadcast the races.
With ESPN/DISNEY music videos during the broadcast, ESPN has set the bar lower now, taking the place of TNT (The Closer) promotions.

After reading about TNT these past few months, should we really be surprised?

How much longer before ESPN has actors popping by on the set during the race to promote their new movie, TV show, book or music video. Ala MNF?

Not only does this occur with NASCAR but has been in play with the NFL football broadcast networks too.

I am not condoning this but it must be the only way a network can ever re-coup their large $$$ investment and sell it to the suits and beancounters.

Gary said...

What happened to Shannon? Bad hair day? We missed her; heard her only a few times at Pocono.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Micha, well said. ESPN coverage in the eighties was perfect. Wish they would bring that back.

Sal, I am the opposite with you. They should have been showing the "also rans" all through the race and concentrated a little more on the top ten in the final 10 laps. Kurt Busch and those chasing him wasn't even mentioned until the white flag when Rusty has a "Oh yeah, kurt Busch is checking out and running off" moment at the white flag. It looked like they knew they needed to mention lots of other guys, and where trying to make up for it in the last few laps.

"Oh yeah, and these other guys are racing hard, not just Kurt and Dale Jr."

BLECH! Horrible coverage, I moaned and groaned about it all day, not to mention that Kurt Stunk up the show.....TEAR HIS ENGINE DOWN AND INSPECT IT!!! HAHA!

Anonymous said...

Kurt Bush didn't give a 'sponser mention' he did a fullout 15 second beer commercial. Also when was the last time you saw guys in victory lane with beer not some softdrink/energy drink/ water is it JUST because he drives a miller lite dodge? Or has NASCAR/ESPN decided to let 'men be men' not milqetoast, also didn't Kurt exit the car and jump around BEFORE whoever was reporting got there for the interview? Is that Kurt and Penske or NASCAR/ESPN

Desmond said...

My biggest concern with the Fox coverage has been that the production is so horrible that it doesn't appear to be aimed toward race fans as much as to lemmings who see NASCAR as merely "the next big thing."

I'm afraid that all the networks are like that now. The days of Bob, BP, Ned, Ken, Eli, and Buddy are long gone and will never return. These glitzy, hype-filled productions are here to stay and NASCAR and its TV partners must live with the consequences.

And let's make it clear: what we see or don't see is the fault of the network executives and the production staff members carrying out their wishes. Mike Joy, Dr. Jerry Punch, Allen Bestwick, and other professionals continue to do a great job despite the circumstances.

We should continue to support them, while holding those in power responsible. Thanks, John, for doing just that.

SophiaZ123 said...

A note about beer in VL..if I am not mistaken, Busch beer is OFTEN put on top of the winning car after the Busch races.

On another note, I found out today on a local news site that MRN IS STILL around but I tried tuning in for the BRICKYARD, unaware that IMS has their OWN RIGHTS and I shoulda jumped to an AM station that day.

This radio roulette is almost like all the different channels showing the races!!

But I TELL YOU WHAT, I shall yank out the Boombox for the next cup race.

I TELL YOU WHAT if my tv hears that from Rusty Wallace one more time, it's threatened to run away!!

(tv left me a note this morning on the remote! :-) )


I must admit ESPN did show some back of the pack drivers which was a good thing.


Anonymous said...

It has just occurred to me maybe both you and we, the fans are barking up the wrong tree. I really enjoy your column(s)and reading some of the comments. However, you ae now getting so many, there are just too many to read. This post is late and probably will be read by no one, including you because it is at the bottom of the pile.

But back to my brainstorm. We are all preaching to the wrong choir about ESPN's and others POOR RACE (RACE, NOT ANYTHING ELSE)COVERAGE. Perhaps we should be complaining and pointing out the problems to the real sponsors of our sport. Sprint, Lowes, Home Depot, Shell/Pennzoil, Dupont, Dodge, Budwesier, Miller Lite, Alltell, Mobile One and all the other advertisers that BUY time to televise the race. I am quite sure ESPN and the other broadcasters don't pay themselves for self promotion either. Perhaps if they realized how unhappy the fans are with the television coverage and that it could affect their bottom line, I would bet they would step in very quickly and both the broadcasting companies and NASCAR would be jumping and asking "how high" as they did it.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I'll tell you what - let's go to the replay and take a look at that guy driving the number 2 car. He LOOKS like he's drinking a cold beer, but the top ISN'T EVEN OPEN! Kurt does a fine job of faking that he's drinking his sponsors' product, but if you look you can see the can is still sealed! Rusty - PLEASE find another line! You don't need to tell us that you're going to tell us what. Take some lessons from Kyle Petty!

Anonymous said...

Anon said: "He LOOKS like he's drinking a cold beer, but the top ISN'T EVEN OPEN!"

True! I miss the Sponsor Celebration Station feature from the old motorsportstv site. He would have been all over that fake beer swigging. LOL!

Anonymous said...

I tell you what, Sundays coverage of the race at Pocono was very painful to listen to. I tell you, if I have to hear Rusty Wallace, tell me what again, I tell you what I just dont know what I will do, but it won't be "stupid fast".

In the chat room we kept a running tally of Rusty's Tell you whats and he hit 79 by the end of the race. Please someone tell Rusty to get a new catch phrase!


William said...

I agree with Mr. Daly