Saturday, September 29, 2007
Busch Series Gets Whacked By College Football on ESPN2
NASCAR fans looked nervously at the clock on the wall when the LSU vs. Tulane college football game hit halftime. They were nervous because it was already 2:10PM Eastern Daylight Time.
This week, once again, ESPN2 was relying on the luck of the Gods to slip a live Busch Series pre-race show and then the race itself between two college football games. Things did not work out too well.
When ESPN purchased the rights to the Busch Series as a part of their new NASCAR contract, TV veterans were scratching their heads. They wondered the same thing. Where would they put the series when college football began?
The Daly Planet even ran a column suggesting that perhaps the network might use the failing ESPN Classic network as an outlet for NASCAR programming and call it ESPN3. While ESPN Classic started with a bold agenda and even some original programming, it has slowly been scaled back until now it is slaved to only re-airing the programs already in the ESPN Library that the company owns. As a distribution channel, it would be much more valuable to funnel live events than continue to re-air programs from the past twenty-five years.
Allen Bestwick and Andy Petree presented a great NASCAR Countdown pre-race show for this event in Kansas. Unfortunately, it aired on ESPN Classic as a last minute switch because the LSU vs. Tulane game was still in-progress. The entire thirty minute show never aired on ESPN2 at all.
The continued success of the Busch Series is vital to NASCAR as a whole. As most fans know, this season has been a struggle for the series in terms of fan attendance and TV ratings. It is all the more important, as the series reaches the final races, to put the best TV programming possible on-the-air.
There are going to be lots of excuses from ESPN, but the bottom line is clear. They bought this series, aired it all year without a problem, and knew that college football was coming in September. Suddenly, the NASCAR series that has provided live racing since February is second-tier programming. Why?
The reason is simple. ESPN wanted their NEXTEL Cup package and the Busch Series came along for the ride. Once college football began, it was as though the past seven months of hard work and live coverage of this series was simply tossed aside as if it never happened.
NASCAR fans have been watching the Busch Series all season on ESPN2. The NASCAR on ESPN2 Busch Series telecasts have generated over one hundred hours of live TV for ESPN2 and ABC combined. The series has produced great racing, lots of good stories, and several new drivers and teams that we will be hearing from in the future.
This situation of "hoping" college football games will end in three hours continues through October and into November. How is this fair to NASCAR fans who suddenly find themselves put on the back burner because of football? The Busch Series is a ten month sport for hard-working NASCAR teams and drivers.
Somehow, after seven months of the season, it becomes trapped with nowhere to go because of circumstances that were known back in 2006 when the contract with ESPN was done. Maybe some NASCAR lawyer might want to open a manila folder and see exactly what happens when not only the pre-race show but also the green flag and a lot of laps are pre-empted by a slow-playing college football game.
Then, the lawyer might want to check his watch. Its only a matter of time until it happens. There are only so many "near misses" in TV land. This one was close.
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