Saturday, August 18, 2007
ESPN's Busch Series On-Air Meltdown
Back on June 19th, The Daly Planet wrote a column that asked if NASCAR coverage this season would result in ESPN having to create an ESPN3 Network.
Well, for all practical purposes, ESPN3 went on-the-air Saturday at 3PM. No matter if your channel guide said ESPN Classic, NASCAR fans knew only one thing. This was the channel that was carrying the pre-race show.
As we predicted, the on-air operations problems of trying to carry all the live programming on ESPN2 has resulted in trouble. Without ABC available, ESPN faced the very real problem of having only two cable TV networks for three programs.
Saturday, the Masters Tennis coverage ran long, forcing ESPN into a tough decision. Either delay and then cancel NASCAR Countdown, or have it air on another ESPN TV outlet. The choices were ESPN News, ESPNU (college sports), or ESPN Classic.
The company made the decision to use ESPN Classic as the conduit of coverage for this third event. Their bold move insured no violation of their NASCAR TV contract, but also showed exactly where NASCAR sits on the food chain at ESPN.
ESPN itself would originally not cancel their feature presentation of...scrabble. That's right my friends, the Busch Series could not replace one hour of scrabble. Racing was banished to ESPN Classic with absolutely no warning other than the crawl at the bottom of the screen. Cliff Drysdale, who hates NASCAR, was very pointed in his banishment of viewers to Classic "if you were here for racing."
At 3:28PM, boxing suddenly returned to ESPN Classic. Where did NASCAR go? Tuning back into tennis, the crawl at the bottom of the screen now said NASCAR was on ESPN. Scrabble has been bumped. Things were certainly getting fun now. ESPN had just angered the scrabble fans, and we know how ugly they can get when miffed. The worst part is, they know big words.
NASCAR fans watching ESPN Classic had no idea of what just happened. At least if they did, I certainly missed it. NASCAR was now on ESPN, scrabble fans were crushed, and "Mister Cliff" and his buddies were still playing tennis on ESPN2. Did I mention this was fun?
The poor victims of this were the fans and the NASCAR on ESPN announce team. Jerry Punch and friends had no idea of what was going on, and if they did they certainly did not apologize to the fans or help them understand what had happened.
At 3:44PM, the tennis finally ended. Guess what popped-up? NASCAR was now being simulcast on both ESPN and ESPN2. NASCAR had gone from being delayed and not on the air to being shown on ESPN Classic. Then, without warning, it was switched to ESPN. Then, when tennis ended, it was being shown on both ESPN and ESPN2.
At 4PM, the ESPN network returned to regular programming with a brief and ill-informed word from Jerry Punch. You have to wonder exactly what the producer told him was going on. Let's face facts, this was a meltdown of the highest order.
If this type of situation is happening to the Busch Series now, imagine when the college football season starts in a while. ESPN will have golf, tennis, and college football in progress on Saturdays along with NASCAR. If you thought today was fun, I am certain ESPN has a lot more in store before November.
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