Wednesday, November 7, 2007

ESPN Begins To Make NASCAR Changes


This time of the year is called the "silly season" in the world of NASCAR. Fans certainly remember this "season" for putting Jayski firmly on the NASCAR map.

Rumors of change bubble to the surface, are denied by all parties, and then things change in usually a bigger way than had been suggested in the first place.

For ESPN, the "silly season" is certainly here. After an entire year of struggling with NASCAR Now, their daily news show, change has come to ESPN2.

IndyCar play-by-play announcer Marty Reid has suddenly surfaced as one of the hosts of NASCAR Now. Not only did Reid once handle the drag racing and open wheel duties for the company, but he also found time to serve as the "relief host" this year for ESPN's NASCAR coverage on both the NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series. That is the ultimate in TV multi-tasking.

Reid is a veteran motorsports talent with ironclad credentials. Over the last several seasons, he worked very hard to integrate himself into the tough NHRA circuit. Fans celebrated the fact that Reid immersed himself in the sport, and worked hard to learn the people, the culture, and seemingly almost all the technical aspects of this series. Now, he has crossed-over to IndyCar fulltime.

Sometimes, it takes change to make things right in "TV land." Announcer Doug Banks was let go early this season from NASCAR Now, and ESPN News anchor Ryan Burr was brought-in to work alongside of primary show host Erik Kuselias. While Burr had a strong news presence and a fast-paced delivery, neither of these men had a background in racing.

ESPN NASCAR pit reporters Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro both hosted episodes of NASCAR Now this season, but never returned for any additional anchor duties. Several weeks ago, veteran NASCAR driver Bill Lester suddenly appeared on the NASCAR Now set for an entire weekend of shows as an analyst. ESPN said it was a one-time experiment. We called it an audition.

This week Marty Reid returned on Tuesday night and immediately shook things-up on the program. Abandoning the format, Reid hosted an interesting conversation that featured a NASCAR writer, a driver, and a TV reporter. The entire show was devoted to talking about the sport.

Wednesday, Reid hosted again and while returning to a news format, he unveiled some additional changes that have not been seen this year. For ESPN2, the NASCAR "silly season" was in full swing.

Reid bypassed the Gordon vs. Johnson story that has dominated this show, and put Denny Hamlin first on the docket. Hamlin was interviewed by satellite, and Reid asked some hard questions, and then let Denny promote his charity. Exactly the type of balance that this show has lacked.

Reid followed-up with Brad Daugherty, who was treated with respect and not put on the spot as he has been all season. Daugherty provided his opinion, which is his role, and was allowed to make his points without being forced to "pick" or "choose" on issues provided by the host. What a refreshing change.

Reporter Shannon Spake interviewed Carl Edwards and Reid just played the host role, and gave Spake the spotlight. Then, for the first time this season, ESPN used footage from another one of its own shows in NASCAR Now. The program Rome is Burning features high-energy talk show host Jim Rome, and a portion of his interview with Clint Bowyer was integrated into NASCAR Now.

This lack of cooperation between ESPN departments and networks has hampered this show all season long. Often, ESPN News would interview various NASCAR personalities, and the footage would never be used again on NASCAR Now. Even SportsCenter's treatment of NASCAR should have been fair game for this show. Finally, seeing some integration of resources between programs and networks was nice.

Reid's news portion of the show consisted of speaking with Terry Blount, one of NASCAR Now's Insiders. Reid is a TV pro, and makes these potentially awkward scripted questions look and feel like just a conversation. Blount responded with a focused and informative news update, and really came alive when Reid asked unscripted follow-up questions.

ESPN Fantasy Writer Christopher Harris has been called a lot of things this season. Many fans are upset that ESPN's Fantasy Racing League gets substantial time on the program each week. One interesting aspect of NASCAR Now is that Harris has never been held responsible for his own picks, basically he picks and runs. Well, that is until now.

Right from the start, Reid gently poked fun at the fact that Harris had a very bad Texas weekend. This man randomly "matches up" drivers and then "picks" them. For those of us not involved in fantasy racing, it makes absolutely no sense. Many fantasy players have written the Daly Planet to say it makes no sense to them either. Perhaps, this aspect of the show will see some sort of change for next season that reflects the standings and shows how Harris himself is doing.

Under Reid's direction, the show had taken on an easy-going tone and allowed the fan to feel a part of the program. This element has been sorely lacking all season. Several times, NASCAR Now has put-up an email address at the end of the show, only to rescind it over-and-over again. Originally, comments were being posted at ESPN.com, but that changed when many of them were directed at the poor quality of the program.

Reid, however, stepped right into the email world and then took everyone by surprise. He actually began reading fan email back on the program with graphics of the text on the screen. Interactivity had finally arrived at NASCAR Now.

After the first two comments were read, Reid showed an email complaining about too many ads on ESPN. The viewer questioned why the "side-by-side" effect for commercials that ESPN uses in the IndyCar Series was not done for NASCAR?

After reading the question, Reid again broke new ground on NASCAR Now...by answering it. There was the host of the show, an IndyCar, NHRA, and NASCAR veteran answering viewer mail. This simple moment should have been done from "day one," but it was better late than never.

Reid encouraged viewers to send more email, commended them for their passion for the sport, and then closed the show with a music video that did not include Aerosmith.

ESPN had shown positive change that probably was hard to do this late in the season. NASCAR Now, done effectively, could be just as big a franchise as Baseball Tonight or College Gameday. Given the resources to shine, there is no doubt that the right team could build this show into a fan-interactive success.

A big thanks to Marty Reid for stepping-in and trying to help ESPN sort out this program series. His style and class comes through on the screen, and it will be interesting to see where he lands next season.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email editor@thedalyplanet.tv if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and leave your opinion.

18 comments:

PammH said...

I was sooo impressed not to hear about the J&J battle yet again! And that viewer email was actually read & answered. I can't stand Shrub, but I will be tuned in tomorrow nite to NN-something that has been very hit or miss this yr for! Even Claire B. Lange on her XM show has been imploring the execs to listen to the fans about important changes & it seems that someone finally is...WOW!!!!

SophiaZ123 said...

Ok...two days in a row about changes on NN. Aside from the stupidest comment I ever read yesterday (breaking the races up into quarters or somethin;) NOW JD, you had to tell me

THEY GOT RID OF THE AEROSMITH VIDEO!!! WOW.

I may just have to catch the midnight showing now. See what the hubbub is about. But honestly, if this is another bait and switch tactic by ESPN to go back to Erik the screamer and junk stuff and "THAT" video, I will be livid.

But if it is TRULY changing for the better, I will have taken a peak at the show ONLY because of what I am reading written here of the changes.

Thanks for the heads up so many can catch the repeat.

Matt said...

I was SHOCKED that Marty actually took the time to answer that question about "side by side" and in the process, I think, made it clear that ESPN wants to do it but can't get approval from NASCAR and it's sponsors. Bravo to Marty Reid and ESPN. These past 2 weeks with Marty Reid have been the best weeks of NASCAR Now all year. I once again will say I hope Marty will be a part of ESPN's NASCAR coverage next year.

Seiko said...

Wow I can't wait for the replay in an hour. It will be the first time in 3 months I have watched the program!

Something needed to happen and Marty Reid is one heck of a pick to make it happen right.

I'll hate to loose him on the NHRA side, but if starts being part of the race coverage itself not just hosting NN it will be worth it.

drh277 said...

I for one do not think it was nice to see integration between programs. I do not want to tune in to Rome is burning to see his interview with Bowyer only to tune in an hour and a half later to Nascar now and see the exact same interview. This is the same thing as ESPN using the footage from a Nascar now on it's race coverage 2 days later. This is ESPN at it's worst.

elena said...

You are so right about NN show today improving with Marty.

I think the format and the flow could use a little twiking and when they find the right format, keep it conistent.

Maybe they could start with news that just broke or has not been reported in the program. NASCAR and the people associated with it play an important role in the fabric of our country and it's not just races on the weekend and feuds. Many of the shows on tv (not just in ESPN) have the news at the beginning of the program.
News that could have been included today besides the Petty Cup team move after 58 years:

* NASCAR released the NEXTEL Cup Series Champions Week schedule where the top 10 drivers will do a victory lap in NY. (Implications for chase drivers)

* Announcement with Governor Easly that a wind tunnel is coming to Salisbury, NC

* NCMA announced the 2008 award nominees, plus Richard Petty will receive a special award for a lifetime of acheivement and dedication in this industry. The motorsport industry has an annual impact of $5.9 billion in NC and supports 26,000 jobs.

* Nevada Governor Gibbons and US Congressman presented Kurt Busch a certificate for his outstanding humanitarian contributions.

The above are just long bullet points, there are more details in each news story.

So, instead of wonderful news, we got about 4-5 minutes of Fantasy League stuff!! I figure it would have taken about 2-4 minutes to present a fuller version the above news. I think the news segment could also include any fundraisers that are sponsored by any NASCAR entity (drivers, owners, tracks, etc.). They happen all over the US, so it would give fans an opportunity to attend and let the viewers know what a difference they make in their communities.

So after the news, they could go into interviews- Carl and Denny, clips of drivers on other shows--Clint in Rome Burning, and editorials like Brad.

I really do think that a consitent format would make it a better program.

AnnOminous said...

drh277, all I saw of the Jim Rome interview of Bowyer on NASCAR Now was one question and its answer.

If that's all there was, I sure would of felt gyped watching Rome is Burning!

elena said...

Someone in a prior post asked about complaining directly to ESPN. Well, they do have an ombudsman. They do not have one or hide the link to her, so I just went to ESPN.com and wrote the word "ombudsman" in the ESPN search space and it takes you there.

As awful as as some of the comments have been about NN, you should read some of the complaints about the coverage on other sports. ESPN seems to have problems everywhere.

Anyway, her column comes out once a month, and adresses a different subject. She does not mind telling it like it is.

Daly Planet Editor said...

drh277,

I miss the opportunity to see NASCAR content the same day when I missed the random interview on ESPN News or another ESPN program.

I agree that just replaying is bad, but good content should have an opportunity to be used on this show on the same day.

We just missed so much this season.

Sal said...

I was astonished when I tuned in to hear Marty, David Poole, and Jeff Burton talking about some of the topics that fans have debated all season. It was actually interesting and informative...something that NN hasn't been all year. What a difference it makes to have someone hosting the show that actually knows something about the sport! This is a real step in a positive direction, and I can only hope that it continues.

Anonymous said...

The Charlotte Observer has an article about Speedway Motorsports (Bruton Smith's company) posting a quarterly loss for the first time in three years. It's of interest in this area since Bruton keeps saying he's moving from Lowe's and building a new speedway and he also just bought NHIS.

Of TV interest, it said: "Another challenge is television, with Speedway Motorsports reporting lower revenues under NASCAR's new broadcasting rights agreement.

H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and chief operating officer of Speedway Motorsports, said network TV ratings are down 11 percent and cable TV ratings are flat, in part because of higher saturation.

"There's more NASCAR on television right now than there ever has been," Wheeler said."


Mr. Daly is that true? It doesn't seem like there's more NASCAR on television than in recent years (less practices shown on ESPN and SPEED not being able to show them, less NASCAR evening programming on SPEED.)

Maybe it's not saturation but that people aren't happy with what they're seeing?

Anonymous said...

I saw the Tuesday show but figured that,as in the past,Klueless would be back on Wednesday so I didn't watch it. Now I'm sorry I missed it. Hopefully, they will keep Marty as the host. I think the Tuesday show was the best show I've seen all season. They had the right host and the right guests for the format.

John said...

Based on Marty saying he will host for three day's, today will be it. The last thing I would like to see on Friday is Erik.

The first thing I would like to see is Allen Bestwick. Finger's crossed.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Ryan Burr usually the host on Fridays?

Anonymous said...

Instead of airing Cup practice tomorrow from 1:30 - 3:00 p.m. eastern ... The time slot is filled with (part of) "ESPN First Take" and 2 eps of "Couch of the Year" ...

Instead of airing the first Cup practice on Saturday from 11:00 - 11:50 a.m. eastern ... The time slot's filled with "Sports Center" ...


This is truly a slap in the face when espn thinks this other stuff is more important to their NEW (nascar) viewers ... IF they DON'T want to air it, let SPEED air the stuff ... This is what TNT/NBC have done in the past (Well, except qualifying & practice for last year's October Busch race at Memphis) ...



I can never remember when Nascar Now is on ... So, I don't watch it unless I stumble across it whilst surfing ... The quality of the show in the past has not made it "must see tv" for me ...

I used to watched every ep of Nascar Victory Lane ... But, this season, because of Hendrick domination ... I've probably watched maybe half of the eps ... How many times can we hear the same thing over & over again by those same 5 guys before we want to poke our eyes out with knitting needles??

Anonymous said...

annoymous @ 11:06 AM - Humpy's an old guy and he's wrong about the amount of Nascar on tv now ... Go back two years ago, we had Nascar Nation, NBS 24/7, Nascar Drivers: 360, Nascar RaceDay, Nascar Victory Lane and several other shows ... There's a lot LESS on now compared to 2005 ...

Anonymous said...

Look what SPEEDTV is showing today instead of the three practices of the trucks, but they will be showing BUSCH practice. Why not show your own series?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to read that ESPN actually had a decent show but this is only one show. They still have A LOT of work to do before I watch any of their NASCAR related shows again. They could start by getting rid of those two dingbats they have on pit road-Shannon Spake (who never ceases to amaze with her dimwitted questions) and the other one who has made such an impression that I can't remember her name.