Wednesday, November 14, 2007
"Code Red" Continues At ESPN
There may not have been sirens and flashing lights inside of the ESPN Broadcast Center, but there was clearly a "NASCAR state of emergency" declared last Friday afternoon that has continued through today.
Whatever happened, and who ever did it, the effects have been sweeping across the ESPN networks and programs. Suddenly, NASCAR discussions are taking place on programs that have openly mocked the sport for years. Suddenly, NASCAR promos are being read by announcers at college football games that do not know Jimmie Johnson from Junior Johnson or Darlington from Daytona.
The NASCAR comments originating from some ESPN announcers are actually finding their way onto the Internet courtesy of alert NASCAR fans. Note to ESPN: Do not let college football announcers talk NASCAR unless they are prepared to live on YouTube forever.
NASCAR fans are still cringing from the staged liveshot with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon at halftime of the Monday Night Football Game. Stuart Scott, one of the biggest racing-haters on ESPN was chosen to interview two tough NASCAR stars. Only several things were missing. Instead of two drivers in uniforms pumping the racing action coming-up at Homestead, ESPN had arranged for something...a bit different.
What viewers got was two buffed and polished "actors" sitting side-by-side in cozy chairs and fashionable clothes talking about togetherness and camaraderie. Several Daly Planet readers suggested these two had gone from "fearless racing drivers" to "stylish metrosexuals" in one interview. That term was coined for the buffed New York City young professionals who seem to be "just out of the spa" anytime of the day or night.
What ESPN and NASCAR were trying to accomplish in this interview was anybody's guess. It certainly did not make anyone want to tune-into a NASCAR race. The hastily expanded one hour editions of NASCAR Now have become nothing more than a chance to re-air old features and add more commentary to a program already light on hard news.
In a way, this sudden company-wide "push" to promote the final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race is simply embarrassing. The reason is easy to understand. It did not have to happen this way. When one looks for the cause of this late-season scramble, they need look no further than the ESPN campus in Bristol, CT.
In February, NASCAR fans were expecting a return to the focused and racing-driven coverage of NASCAR that ESPN had seemed to perfect in the 1980's and 90's. Instead, what greeted them for the Daytona Busch Series race was the trio of Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler, and Brad Daugherty. The only two people missing were Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.
Since that time, ESPN has limped along with little support for the trio of Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, and Andy Petree. The most recent example was the visit of the Mike and Mike in the Morning ESPN Radio show to the Texas Motor Speedway.
As the hours of the show went by, no one from NASCAR was present and there were no NASCAR stories. Finally, in the last thirty minutes Jimmie Johnson showed-up to answer some obligatory questions from the racing-challenged hosts.
NASCAR fans also had some questions. Where was Jerry Punch? Where was Rusty Wallace? Why didn't big sports fan Allen Bestwick or glamour girl Jamie Little stop-by? Where was the ESPN NASCAR team's presence on an ESPN show at an ESPN race? The answer...there was none.
This is typical of the off-balance and disjointed approach ESPN has taken to integrating NASCAR into a company that is staunchly "stick and ball" sports across the board. Consider this, ESPN showed Joe Torre stepping onto the field live at Dodger stadium while being announced as the new team Manager. They actually interrupted regular programming to show this live to the nation.
Several weeks ago in Memphis, TN a young driver named David Reutimann won his first Busch Series race in over fifty starts. He was driving one of the cars decorated that weekend by the children from St. Jude's Children's Hospital, which is located in Memphis. It was a program that NASCAR fans were aware of only through the Internet, as nothing had been mentioned on ESPN's NASCAR Now or on the Busch Series live coverage.
After Reutimann took the checkered flag, ESPN immediately left Memphis to join a college football game that had not yet started. They did not care that it was Reutimann's first win, they did not care that one of the young patients had designed his car, they did not care about NASCAR. What they did care about was that no sports fan should miss Joe Torre's first steps on the hallowed ground of Dodger Stadium.
Needless to say, there was no follow-up with Reutimann on ESPN News, or ESPN SportsCenter. There was no brief taped interview with him on halftime of the football game that interrupted his moment in the sun. As NASCAR fans know all too well this season, when it comes to ESPN and NASCAR, there is no effort extended to follow-up any post-race stories.
This Sunday the final NEXTEL Cup race of the season will be produced by the ESPN on ABC team. It is scheduled to start slightly before 4PM Eastern Time. Most NASCAR races in this series run about three and a half hours. The track at Homestead has lights for night racing. One small South Florida afternoon rain shower could easily delay this event by thirty minutes. One red flag period for accident clean-up could do the same.
At 8PM Eastern Time Sunday night host Jimmy Kimmel will welcome the nation to the American Music Awards from the NOKIA Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. This program is live on the ABC Broadcast Network.
There are not two ABC networks. The local stations across the nation will be making the choice to stay with the NASCAR race, or move to the primetime live awards show. This season, ABC stations have left live races for local news, inserted local news updates over the racing, and covered the pre-race show.
NASCAR fans are not optimistic that stations are going to stay if the race is in-progress, and are certainly not going to stay to watch the NEXTEL Cup Championship trophy given to the winner if it is past 8PM. The big question on the mind of the fans is whether ESPN is ready to join this race or this presentation in-progress on one of their mainstream networks?
If the footsteps of Joe Torre into the blue world of Dodger Stadium can interrupt national programming on ESPN, than maybe the final NASCAR race of the season can do the same thing. If the programming on the local ABC stations suddenly changes from Tony Stewart to Jimmy Kimmel without any other TV options, NASCAR fans are going to think long and hard about how ESPN and ABC have treated them this season.
Maybe NASCAR should take a moment and think about that as well.
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