Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fasten Your Seatbelts...He's Back!

Its time for ESPN to produce the key NEXTEL Cup event on their schedule. Loudon, New Hampshire is relatively close to Bristol, CT and the ESPN headquarters. Veteran employees refer to this location as "the mothership."

Most Bristol-based ESPN employees have never been to a NASCAR race. A lot of them don't even know where the Stafford or Thompsonville Speedways are located. That would be Connecticut.

The single face that ESPN has chosen to "front" its ABC telecasts is Brent Musburger. They present him in the same way that the old ESPN presented Jim Simpson. He is simply a Jack Whitaker type, who the network believes somehow bestows a higher level of credibility on the programs in which he is involved. For NASCAR fans, nothing could be further from the truth.

Musburger as the credible host of a NASCAR telecast confirms for us exactly what The Daly Planet has been saying for months. This huge media company has made the NASCAR on ABC telecast package about ABC, and not NASCAR. Its not about the action on the track, or the personalities involved. It is simply about the fact that "we" are letting you watch it.

This Sunday, the ESPN crew that produces the ABC telecasts will use eleven announcers. Three in the booth, one in the Tech Center, two in the Infield Studio, four on pit road...and one in the "host position."

The network will once again originate a one hour NASCAR Countdown pre-race show, that will go head-to-head live with NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED. Then, the Loudon telecast will begin, and it should be interesting. This is basically a one mile non-drafting flat track where everyone tiptoes around trying to survive until the final fuel run.

What this does for the ability of the network to insert elements like Draft Tracker, the Tech Center reports, SportsCenter cut-ins, and Infield Studio on-camera segments has yet to be seen. From what we have witnessed so far this season, it could be a big challenge, especially with long green flag runs.

While Dr. Jerry Punch sets a certain tone with his former experience in NASCAR, things change when Musburger is on the telecast. He is not a NASCAR fan, has no NASCAR experience, and now joins Suzy Kolber and NASCAR Now host Erik Kuselias as just another "TV type" who ESPN has decided they will assign to this sport.

In a way, that is damaging to what remains of Musburger's credibility. First identified with the wonderful NFL Today on CBS Sports back in 1975, Musburger has certainly been there and done that, especially in the world of college sports which he loves. Now, firmly nestled in a Montana ranch and a Florida winter home, he is not the same person on-the-air that we enjoyed in his TV prime.

Musburger brings a certain dynamic to stick-and-ball sports. Like him or hate him, the "game" takes on a different meaning when ESPN/ABC and Musburger are on the scene. While that is true for college towns, the same thing is not true for the town of Loudon, New Hampshire.

Many NASCAR fans on-hand for the weekend would like to talk to Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond, or take a picture with Jimmy Spencer and his ever-present cigar. The strong female NASCAR fanbase results in lots of Wendy Venturini pictures, and lots of lots of excitement over a Kenny Wallace sighting.

In this world of longtime NASCAR fans, the odd man out is Musburger. Simply put, he does not get this sport. His actions and words are consistently the opposite of what draws fans into this nine month extended road trip. While the big story at a college football game might be that ESPN is in town, NASCAR has had every lap of its highest level of racing live on national TV for years.

Announcers and TV networks simply come and go in the NASCAR world. Fans know the on-air talent not from their TV network, but from their commitment to the sport. That is where Musburger gets lost in the shuffle. Names like Mike Joy, Allen Bestwick, Dave Moody, and Barney Hall bring a stronger reaction than Musburger.

In what is perhaps the most unique twist to this sport, ESPN actually finds itself totally surrounded at each NEXTEL Cup event. When they look one way, they see the SPEED Stage where that network originates tons of live programming every racing weekend. When they look the other way, they see the smiling face of DirecTV and the Hot Pass team waiting to present the direct alternative to ABC's telecast.

When the network pauses to take a breath, the MRN and Sirius Satellite Radio team begin to call the action with multiple announcers around the track who could make watching traffic lights change exciting. Eventually, the yellow light is going to pull-out and make his move, but the big question is...will green go with him?

The entire time that ESPN was gone from NASCAR, they shunned the sport. With deep anger and company-wide agendas, they did everything possible to push NASCAR off the map. Yet, somehow the sport became more popular then it ever was on ESPN. Now, simply because ESPN once again stepped-up to the plate and paid the price for the new TV contract, it does not mean that the fans will once again embrace them.

For many, Musburger unfortunately represents exactly what they detest about the "new" ESPN regime in the Disney era. Gone is the in-depth reporting and the family atmosphere, replaced instead by unending hype and aggressive reporting that borders on hostility. Its almost like one "template" of how to produce TV sports has been locked onto the network. Hype, glitz, and controversy now rule the day for ESPN.

So, gear-up for a very interesting Sunday afternoon in New Hampshire. Certainly, every ESPN and ABC management type who can make the short drive to Loudon will be in attendance. We all know that things work a lot better when there are tons of executives who normally drive desks now standing around in khaki pants talking on their cell phones in the TV compound. Maybe, just pull those seatbelts on your recliner a little bit tighter Sunday afternoon. It could be quite a ride.

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.


bevo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bevo said...

If you remember back Musburger was the straight-arrow no accent Midwestern type announcer. Once he got involved in college football he started this weird affectation where he tried to become Keith Jackson. All of a sudden he was a good ole boy from down in Georgia. Listen to the games he calls. If he's talking about a play by say Tennessee or Alabama it's "they gonna luv that down in ____", "his daddy raised a fine young 'un". If it's Cal or USC all of a sudden it's gone. The most fun is when he's doing a game involving both and he switches during the game depending on who he's talking about.

stricklinfan82 said...

The only TV network that did things the right way under the modern era TV package was NBC. They didn't throw Bob Costas down the NASCAR fans' throats. They hired ESPN's Bill Weber to be the pre-race host, and used NASCAR-knowledgable announcers in the booth and on pit road.

Fox brought in Chris Myers and Jeanne Zelasko, the "new" TNT gave us Mark Fein, and ABC/ESPN have given us Chris Fowler, Suzy Kolber, Brent Musburger, Erik Kuselius, Ryan Burr, and the legendary Doug Banks in the 8 months they've been covering NASCAR.

I guess it could be a lot worse. At least ABC/ESPN have put credible NASCAR people in the broadcast booth.... for now anyway. Yes it sucks having people like Musburger as the "studio host" but I'm sure old-school fans like me remember when it was much worse than this. I still remember the ABC days in the 1980's when they used various mixes of general sports announcers like Al Michaels, Jim Lampley, and Al Trautwig and Indycar announcers like Paul Page, Sam Posey, and Bobby Unser to call the NASCAR races. There were numerous boneheaded errors like calling Sterling Marlin "Sterling MarTin" all day long, calling Phil Parsons Benny's son, and seeing a pit reporter interview Harry Hyde while thinking he was talking to Harry Ranier the whole time. If anyone has a video of the 1986 spring race at Atlanta on ABC try watching and listening to it without cringing.

Things got a little better for ABC in 1988 when they put Dr. Jerry Punch in the booth and a lot better in 1989 when they added Benny Parsons. They didn't "get it" though until 1994 when they finally added the ESPN NASCAR guys like Bob Jenkins and John Kernan to their NASCAR broadcasts but even then they went through some awkward years where they insisted on keeping Paul Page on to host the show and adding Danny Sullivan, who sat by himself on the backstretch and added commentary to the guys in the booth.

It's bad yes, but just be thankful we haven't had a Dennis Miller or Tony Kornheiser put in the booth..... yet.

cwebs said...

JD said -

Hype, glitz, and controversy now rule the day for ESPN.

Truer words were never spoken.


Anonymous said...

There has been much criticism toward ESPN and ABC recently.

What is the solution to the problems ? What would make television broadcasts better ?

What do fans want and expect regarding coverage of NASCAR races ?

Who can do the best job of commenting on race action ?

What group of personalities will provide the best on air chemistry ?

Why is NASCAR so habitually lacking in television broadcast performances and when can we expect to see improvement ?

Does NASCAR really pay attention to the concerns of fans and care about such concerns ?

Are fans at the mercy of the almighty dollar and profit margins of NASCAR and sponsors and if so, is the situation unchangeable ?

Fort Worth, Texas

Anonymous said...

Wont it be hard for musburger to get to the race since he is still in Nebraska doing football play-by-play?

Anonymous said...

"...NASCAR has had every lap of its highest level of racing live on national TV for decades."

Not to nit pick, but you've overlooked the many green flag restarts that ESPN has missed this season:)

stricklinfan82 said...

How ironic is it then that their slogan for NASCAR on ESPN is "Every lap matters"? LOL.

stricklinfan82 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I like the way ESPN came out this past week and "apologized" again! Well, it wasnt really an apology more so than a pack of continual excuses for not being able to televise an auto racing event. Brent Musburger stands out as much as Suzie does to tenured NASCAR fans. Although they stick out, its exactly what NASCAR is asking and looking for in these elementary level productions. NASCAR believes they need to educate people. These educated people will become fans thus fufilling the business model. The trouble is, this education starts each week at a pre-school level, with folks like Musburger playing the straight man role -- asking questions like. "what does it mean when the green flag comes out". This hidden agenda and education is sending the sport straight into the fence. Not only has ESPN sent the sport "into the concrete" as Jerry Punch says as he describes a brush with the Safer Barrier, they continue to recruit stick and ball reporters. The bottom line is, true NASCAR fans are forced to suffer -- as ESPN educates themselves. There is no doubt Disneys Mickey Mouse is calling the shots for NASCAR coverage on ESPN.

Anonymous said...

Two college football notes that are actually strangely relevant for Mr. Daly.

1) As a prior posting noted, Musburger is doing a night game (still on the air at 11:00 in the east) in Nebrska. Is ESPN chartering a flight from Lincoln, Nebraska to Manchester, New Hampshire?

2) The Louisville v. Kentucky football game wound up being aired live on ESPN Classic, further evidence of our moderator's theory that ESPN owns rights to so many properties that it needs a third option.

bevo said...

Have no fear - Musburger will be there.

I'm sure ESPN has a crop duster or two at their disposal to fly Brent to New Hampshire.

Anonymous said...

I don't know... this game is running very long, due to a coach's challenge apparently. I wonder what ESPN will do to get bret to the race?

Anonymous said...


Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey Guys,

Remember, only Tim Brewer is allowed to call him Brett. Make sure and watch for that Sunday.

Musburger is working football games on Saturday, and then traveling to the NASCAR races on Sunday for the remainder of the ABC schedule.

This is similar to Suzy Kolber, who is working the remaining races, and then traveling immediately to the Monday Night Football destination.

Its always fun in TV land.

Anonymous said...

Near the end of the game, it was nice to hear Brent mention where he will be tomorrow. He also mentioned Tony Stewart and how interesting a race can be in person.

Anonymous said...

thank goodness for hotpass and the ability to listen to only the team radio...not sure how i would have made it through this year without it

Anonymous said...

The introduction of the COT has been a bitter pill for us long time fans. The "Cast Of Tomorrow" can even be critiqued before it actually performs. I was enjoying the truck race broadcast last night and thinking "We won't have this comfort tomorrow". Thank you Mr. Daly for "getting it" and a reminder about the impending train wreck we will witness.

Dan said...

During the Nebraska game, Brent did an on air promo for the race, and ended it by saying "when your NFL game goes to commercial, come over and check out the race". For the "host" of a very big race, it was strange to hear him essentially admit that Nascar was going to lose out to the NFL. The fact that he made the comment with a promo for the race was even stranger.

w17scott said...

Mr. Editor - Thanks for the heads-up about Missed-burger ...I look forward to 2 informative hrs of SPEED Raceday, then settle back to hear the great call of Barney Hall, the improving Joe Moore and the solid journalists on the MRN broadcast team. Enjoy, I know I will

Anonymous said...

Have you noticed, and I'm sure everybody has, that Suze Kolberer sounds like she has just gotten out of broadcasting school? She has to PROJECT her voice, ESPN just dosen't get it! Makes me wish for Feb. to get here in a hurry.

Anonymous said...

There's little doubt that ABC is making NASCAR pay for taking the broadcasts away from them years ago (never mind that they didn't want to pay).

Brent Musburger is without a doubt the stupidest old fart ever to do a NASCAR broadcast. He should be 86ed and a real race guy brought on.

Erik Kuselius is a dumb as a rock New Yorker who doesn't anything about the sport.

Somebody get rid of these guys - PLEASE!!!!

Anonymous said...

i'm a nebraska gal who enjoys our husker football---but mostly, i enjoy NASCAR!!! yesterday i was able to be off work early enough to miss only 5 min. of one of the few games the huskers will play at nite, only to be so confused by those two announcers, i swore to one of our store customers that i will watch the games on MUTE if they are announcing!!! and when erik asked about how they start the points at the start of the CHASE TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP and i heard brents comment, i yelled at my t.v. and ended up with a headache!!!---maybe he needs more than a 1st grade education for our sport!!!! GOD HELP US ALL IF WE HAVE TO LISTEN TO MUCH OF BRENT!!!

Anonymous said...

On Sunday, I was really glad there was Football to watch.
NASCAR FAN since 1970. !!

GinaV24 said...

Thank goodness, I was AT the race which meant I could watch the action on the track, not what TV thought I should see AND listen to the MRN broadcast and yep, it was a good race. ESPN has been a major disappointment to me -- they don't get it, NASCAR doesn't really seem to care since they already have their $$ from ESPN, so what does it matter to them if the fans don't like it? I'm seriously considering changing from cable to Direct TV so I can get hotpass next year. And all of these people who know nothing about NASCAR, including the Jeannie girl from NBC and Chris Meyers on Fox -- they were as bad as Suzy Q & Brett(LOL), Erik Klueless, etc. What a waste of time!