Saturday, January 12, 2008
Decision Time For Fans Is Right Now (Updated 1/2/08) Wow!
Update 1/2/08 - Due to the incredible reaction to this column, we are leaving the COMMENTS section open. After you review the column, please take a moment to read the thoughts of the other NASCAR fans on this issue. As usual, please feel free to add your own. Thank you for the encouragement to return for next season, we will keep you posted on our decision.
There are a lot more important things to ponder on this New Year's holiday than NASCAR. After we reflect on our personal and professional lives, we create a list of things that we would like to improve in 2008. That is the priority.
But, sooner or later the big question of this off-season rears its ugly head. It is the question that is sent to me every day by email. It is the question asked in The Daly Planet comments, and on websites and blogs all around the Internet.
Many of us have been NASCAR fans for decades. I watched Ned Jarrett and Inside Winston Cup Racing from my VCU dorm with my friends every weekend during the season. I had the chance to work on the NASCAR races with ESPN. I had the chance to put together This Week In NASCAR with Eli Gold for Prime Network. I even had the chance to work at Sunbelt Video and coordinate the production of NASCAR TV programs.
While all of that created the foundation for my enjoyment of the sport, these are very different times. This past season on TV for the NEXTEL Cup Series started with so much promise and ended in complete chaos. There is just no other way to put it.
The way that I "consume" NASCAR racing is television. The fact that 2007 was the first year of a new TV contract with a new line-up of TV partners is the reason we started this blog. We wanted to find out how Fox Sports, TNT, and ESPN/ABC would do producing our favorite sport.
Put aside the Truck and Nationwide Series for the moment. Put aside the support programs like RaceDay and NASCAR Now and Trackside. The question on the mind of many veteran NASCAR fans only has to do with the 2008 Sprint Cup Series. It is a simple question that has been phrased many ways by fans across the Internet. Here it is:
"Considering the way I felt after this season, should I come back and watch the races next year?"
While some fans on other websites complained about the switch to the COT and the quality of the racing, they usually included something else. That was the TV coverage. Other fans pointed specifically to the TV issues as the reason they might not return.
Since we deal with TV on this site, I would just join those fans in saying that I never thought it would be a tough decision whether or not to return. But...it is.
Not returning and spending ten months of my life watching races on TV for thirty-nine weeks now seems like a realistic option. That is the fall-out from the lousy job the NASCAR TV networks did this season. Check the Internet, this refrain is everywhere from NASCAR.com to SceneDaily to SPEEDtv. I am certainly not alone.
The memory of the Daytona 500 finish is great. It is blunted by the fact that Fox only showed the winner finish in the rest of the races. Unforgivable, and yet never changed by Fox's David Hill or Ed Goren who profess to be "NASCAR friendly" TV executives. A great TV crew, great pictures, and then no one finished but the winner. Frankly, I do not want to see that again.
TNT's promotional announcements were only interrupted by advertising and occasional glimpses of a NASCAR race that was running in the background. Bill Weber and Marc Fein looked like they were going to duke-it-out during the pre-race show, and Weber's condescending and arrogant on-air attitude made him impossible to watch. Only the hard work of Larry McReynolds, Kyle Petty and the pit reporters gave the TNT broadcasts some credibility.
It was during this six race stretch that many fans discovered their local MRN or PRN radio outlet, or decided it might be a good time to pay for that Sirius contract. Even the public relations stunt of moving commercials around at Daytona could not save this mess. The anger of the fans still smarting about the Fox problems grew a notch. But, the hope of ESPN returning to the NASCAR trail was on the horizon.
The first race back for ESPN was the Brickyard 400 from Indy. This is a portion of the column from The Daly Planet that ran after the race broadcast:
The email started pouring in minutes after Tony Stewart crossed the finish line of The Brickyard 400. It came from many different locations around the country, and represented fans of many teams in the sport, except one. Not one email was from a Tony Stewart fan, and that was for one reason. He was the only driver who fans saw cross the finish line at Indy.
In what may be the most colossal sports blunder since the Heidi Bowl, ESPN welcomed themselves back to NASCAR by failing to show anyone other than the winner of The Brickyard 400 finish the race. ESPN had asked fans to join them for a one hour pre-race show, and then a three hour race. Unless you were a Tony Stewart fan, the reward for your efforts was...nothing.
If your driver was fighting it out for a top ten, or struggling for a top twenty finish, it did not matter to ESPN. All the stories they had been following for three hours suddenly did not matter. The fundamental fact that race fans want to see the battle to the line by the field did not matter. Even basic knowledge that people get passed in the final straightaway could not change ESPN's idea that what fans wanted was drama and not racing.
This was the start of perhaps ESPN's biggest struggle for credibility in a professional sport in the 25 plus years of the network's existence. Hip-hop blaring, Brent Musburger talking and Draft Lock "smoking" will always be in the minds of the fans.
Then, strange things started to happen. ESPN refused to reset the field before a restart. They refused to talk to the drivers coming out of the Infield Medical Center. Once, they left my driver Dale Jarrett sitting in the middle of the track in a crashed car...and never mentioned him again. I wasn't upset, I was livid.
What ESPN failed to understand was that we were not watching who was leading. We all had our favorites, and we were trying to watch...the race. I have been following Dale Jarrett for his entire career. It was only Kyle Petty's later apology that informed ESPN viewers of what had happened. We never were told if Jarrett was injured.
The last straw for many viewers was Mike Massaro being forced to continue to pound Dale Earnhardt Junior with questions after he fell out of a race, and missed The Chase. Remember that? In a scenario that is still tough to watch, ESPN threw aside the kind of dignity and respect that is the hallmark of the sport, and shot themselves in the foot on national TV with the most popular driver in NASCAR.
What part of this makes us want to return? Where are the NASCAR executives who are going to step-up and say this is not going to happen again? In a November column, we mentioned Brian France as saying ESPN was in the middle of a "learning curve." He then went on to say the following:
"The production and fan expectation they (ESPN) have to be at is much higher than before," said France. "They are finding that out."
So, here we sit pondering our return to NASCAR. Everyone will be in the COT, Gibbs will be Toyota powered, Junior will be at Hendrick and Kyle Busch will have something to prove. On one hand, it should be interesting. On the other hand, will we be able to see it?
Since we are on the fence, it would really help if you told us your thought process as you make or break the commitment to NASCAR for 2008. Ten months of your life and over one hundred hours of live TV is what is on the table.
The countdown clock over at Jayski.com is now under 49 days to the Daytona 500. Are you planning on the TV networks learning from their mistakes and making sweeping changes for 2008, or are you going to step-away from the sport because of this season's problems?
Take a moment to tell us your New Year's NASCAR TV resolution.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the simple instructions. We do not want your email address, and there is nothing to join. We just want to know if you will be coming back to NASCAR in 2008?