Saturday, November 17, 2007
NASCAR Fans Have Made Their Demands
It was a simple suggestion from my girlfriend. I was searching for a way to ask NASCAR fans to express their true feelings about this year's TV coverage going into the final race weekend of the season.
Her words were brief and to the point. "NASCAR fans...make your demands," she suggested. That sounded good, so I wrote the column in this link.
Little did I know the incredible outpouring of emotion and information that would be the result. From across the country, from Canada, and even from Alaska the comments began to build. It was clear that we hit a nerve.
Those contributing were sometimes veteran fans of twenty years or more, and sometimes new race fans brought into the sport when The Chase moved onto broadcast TV a couple of years back. The interesting thing is that almost all of them focused on exactly the same points.
Fans felt very strongly that all teams should be considered equal regardless of their place on the track. They wanted to remind the TV networks that groups of fans, dressed in their team colors, did not care if their driver was fifth or fifteenth as long as they knew what was going on in his race. Often, they felt the networks got "tunnelvision" and focused on the top five cars for the entire event.
Daly Planet reader "Charlie" suggested the network TV guys take a walk around the track before the race and look at the fans. In t-shirts, hats, and many other team colors the TV guys would see that every driver was represented. "Charlie's" point was that the TV networks need to understand the viewers are just like the fans at the track. Every driver is represented among the millions of fans watching on TV.
This theme continued with pleas for additional full field rundowns. "Sandie" said the one thing she never wants to hear from a NASCAR TV announcer is "where did he come from?" when a car works into the top five. Fans should already know "where he came from" and its the job of the network to provide that information, she maintains.
Several times this season, cars have been involved in incidents on the track and then never heard from again. My favorite driver, Dale Jarrett, was actually left sitting on the track completely crashed and still in the car.
Viewers never knew what happened until Kyle Petty later apologized for the incident. Jarrett is not only a former champion, he is also a part-time ESPN NASCAR announcer. Fans asked that the TV networks "pay off" the stories of every car that is no longer in the race.
This led to the very valid point of not updating the condition of drivers involved in on-track incidents. Imagine a pro football or baseball game where a key player leaves due to injury and his condition is never updated. It does not happen.
Just as one of the duties of sideline reporters in football is injury updates, the same is true of the pit reporters on NASCAR telecasts. Tell us how our key athletes are doing and do it every single time.
The word "time" was mentioned a lot, and for only one reason. NASCAR has been cheating the start times of both the Saturday and Sunday races back to get more TV viewers. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. TV ratings are down across the board for the sport. Fans asked that NASCAR return to the traditional 1PM Eastern Time starts for a wide variety of reasons.
Since the start times were cheated back, the end of many races often comes after 7 or 8PM in the evening. While this might thrill some TV executives and Ad Salesman, it disrupts the real lives of the fans. "Robbie" from Atlanta said "having just enough time to run the race in perfect weather cheats the fans out of a full length race if it rains."
In real life, fans move off to dinner and begin getting ready for the week ahead, even as the trackside lights come on and the host TV network tries to keep the audience. As fans know from this season, the later start times have been a disaster.
The comments from the fans kept coming until they numbered well over one hundred. The email from media personalities and reporters also came my way. They suggested that we had provided for both NASCAR and their TV partners a free focus group.
Fan "demands" ranged from general respect for the sport to mandatory post-race interviews, qualified announcers and the use of side-by-side commercials next season for uninterrupted coverage. It was clear that this TV season was perhaps not NASCAR's finest hour.
Now, we have this final post on The Daly Planet before the big race. The same fans that suggested change and wrote so clearly about the TV issues this season will be watching the ESPN on ABC TV crew as they produce the Homestead finale.
It certainly will be interesting to see if anything changes, and if the suggestions of the fans have trickled down into the ESPN TV compound. Please join us during or after the race to let us know how you think this final telecast was produced.
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