Wednesday, September 26, 2007
"NASCAR On ABC" Explodes In The AOL Fan House
All kinds of interesting things happen in "NASCAR land" as the season begins to slowly wind down. Many fans have been watching the TV coverage of the sport faithfully since Daytona in February. Hundreds of hours of practice, qualifying, races, and weekly shows have come and gone before their eyes.
When it comes down to defining the quality of NASCAR's TV coverage in 2007, the Internet has allowed the fans to have a greater voice than ever before. This past Monday, on the AOL Fan House website, a conversation began that is still resonating throughout the NASCAR landscape. It may continue for a long time.
The AOL Fan House is a popular site for fans to add their own views to the NASCAR news, views, and opinions of several hosts who post regularly on this blog-style site. In addition to NASCAR, there are many other sports discussed in the Fan House. The traffic on this site is very high. Its just a fun place to go and browse.
This entire season, the TV coverage of NASCAR has undergone a transformation. While the Fox guys were still there at the start of the season, most other things changed. ESPN took the entire Busch Series, TNT had a six pack of summer races, and then ESPN took the remaining Cup races and put them on ABC. SPEED kept the Trucks, and ESPN2 rolled out a daily news show as SPEED stuck to the SPEED Stage at the track.
While ESPN's Busch Series flew a bit below the radar, The Daly Planet wrote in a column before the network's first NEXTEL Cup event that things were about to change. In no time at all, for the entire ESPN production team, they certainly did.
There may be no bigger stage for TV announcers and producers than NASCAR's NEXTEL Cup Series. Beginning with the biggest race of the season, no other sport hosts such high-profile big events on a regular basis as NASCAR.
From February to November, fans want the type of high quality sports TV broadcasts that we might find in the Major League Baseball Playoffs, or even the Superbowl.
At this time of the year, fans have seen ESPN produce a fair amount of Cup races on a variety of tracks. They have met, and become familiar with, the ESPN on-air crew. They have seen all the TV "gizmos," and listened to the sound tracks and theme music. Where ESPN and ABC are concerned, NASCAR fans have now seen everything they have to offer. The "ESPN on ABC" NASCAR racing season is in full swing.
The article on the Fan House was simple in its title. It said "NASCAR on ESPN on ABC Sucks." That is not exactly my style of headline, but it has its place in the rather informal world of the Fan House. The author's point was simple. She had seen enough from the ESPN on ABC gang, and made her views clear. Then, she asked the NASCAR fans what they thought...and all hell broke loose.
To readers of The Daly Planet, things might have seemed a bit familiar. Missed re-starts, Jerry Punch, the Draft Tracker, Suzy Kolber, Brent Musburger, the list went on-and-on. The comments were from people who had clearly watched the races and paid attention. Many of them said they have muted the ESPN audio and use another source like the Sirius Radio or an Internet audio feed. That is not a good sign.
Others addressed the sometimes over-used Tech Center and its on-air announcer Tim Brewer. The comments asked why fundamental things need to be repeated week-after-week, and why the Tech Center would sometimes cover-up live racing rather than be split-screen all the time? That led to the lack of split-screen commercial insertion issue. If they can do it for the IRL on ESPN and ABC, why can't they do it for NASCAR?
There was one topic that overwhelmed the comments, and that was Rusty Wallace. Fans have strong memories of Benny Parsons on these races, and those shoes are hard to fill. Even with his season of working the IndyCar races last year, Wallace is essentially a NEXTEL Cup TV rookie. I think he now understands that the pressure and public profile of NASCAR's TV package is very different than that of the open-wheel world.
The Wallace comments focused on his repeated use of ESPN's new toy, the Draft Tracker. Early on, it was great at fundamentally explaining drafting to new fans. Unfortunately, Wallace has used it, or been forced to use it, in situations where perhaps the racing action was not "all about the aero push."
In addition, while Wallace has worked at his on-air phrasing, the issue with pronunciation of driver names, series team owners, and even some common NASCAR terms was brought-up again.
Surprisingly, the fans kept mentioning the SPEED shows and their personnel who broadcast their NASCAR programming. One thing fans noticed with Punch, Kolber, and Jamie Little was their recent lack of NASCAR experience. Names from Kenny Wallace to Steve Byrnes and John Roberts were offered as potential replacements for next season.
Fans tread lightly when it comes to Jerry Punch, who has a history in the sport and whose hard work was well received earlier in his career. In the broadcast booth as a play-by-play announcer, Punch has struggled. Never having been in this role before, it seems a bit unfair to judge him so harshly this season.
He has, however, done the entire Busch Series this year as a "warm-up" for the Cup races. Punch, Wallace and Petree sometimes seem to be talking on several different levels as the race goes on. Many fans see Punch as perfect for NASCAR Countdown or as the NASCAR Now host. Which leads to the most popular email in Daly Planet land.
This season, Allen Bestwick has bounced around like a ping pong ball. Pit Reporter, NASCAR Now host, Play-by-Play race announcer, NASCAR Countdown host, and finally NASCAR Now news reporter. In the sports TV world, Bestwick has been a "utility player" of the highest order this year. One thing is for sure, most fans really like his style.
The howl to put Bestwick in the booth and Punch in the Infield Studio has rarely been louder. Most NASCAR fans know that when a race team is having trouble, sometimes its just the chemistry. Owners just mix things up, and sometimes that is all the problem needs. In Dover, Punch had a tough time on-the-air.
When exciting racing was going on, he did not rise to the occasion. When accidents were happening, he was as dry and unexcited as anyone could be. It was really strange. Then, after a big promo for a commercial free ending of the race, the network ran many more commercial breaks undermining his credibility. It was a tough weekend, and the fans at the Fan House seemed to have had enough.
Its always interesting to see other Internet sites talk about TV, because they only do it once and a while. Here, we do it every day. It should not come as a big surprise then, when the Fan House comments mirror many heard here on The Daly Planet.
As one woman named Mary G. said quietly "this has been a difficult year to be a NASCAR fan." There are eight opportunities left for ABC to change her opinion.
You can read the Fan House NASCAR blog by following this link.
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