Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Nationwide Series Announcement Lacks Some Info

There is a big shift this season in NASCAR's second-tier national series. As fans know, Busch Beer is gone and coming on-board as the new series sponsor is the insurance company, Nationwide.

This transition is completely different from the NEXTEL-to-Sprint change that the Cup Series will undergo for the 2008 season. While that is the merger of two cell phone giants, Nationwide comes aboard out of the blue and steps directly into the NASCAR spotlight.

One key element for Nationwide in sponsoring this series is that all of the races are carried on the ESPN family of TV networks. That consistency is what NASCAR always wanted for this series, and what only ESPN can deliver. The media company has designated ESPN2 as the "home" of the Busch Series, with an occasional race stepping-up to both ESPN and ABC Sports.

After Nationwide came along, ESPN pledged support for the overall effort to turn this brand around and NASCAR pledged to get some consistency in the rules about who can compete in the series. NASCAR desperately needs to turn this series from a Cup practice session into a full-fledged national caliber racing series. 2008 is a pivotal year.

Along those lines, the ESPN PR group has a well-written press release out about the series, including the new schedule and the details of their efforts for this second year of live national TV coverage. The information details the extensive TV distribution and the high-tech electronic toys that the network will bring to their coverage.

While this press release is interesting for what it contains, it is much more interesting for what it is missing. Nowhere in the nine paragraphs of ESPN information about the Nationwide Series are there the names of the ESPN TV announce team. There is not even the name of one ESPN on-air NASCAR personality.

January 18th is the first day that the Nationwide teams take to the track at Daytona. So, it is now less than 25 days until the sport returns, and less than 50 days until the grind of practice, qualifying, and racing begins.

Back in October of this year, several of us began receiving email "tips" that Rusty Wallace was perhaps not returning to do all of the races on ESPN in 2008. One thing led to another, and that same day ESPN VP Norby Williamson put out a statement.

"Rusty Wallace is our guy," said Williamson. "We have a long-term contract with him and he is the voice of NASCAR on ESPN." In light of the current Nationwide press release, this begs one very good question. What happened?

The ESPN press release mentioned the Dish Tech Center, the Infield Studio, the Draft Track and ESPN Deportes, the Spanish language network. It described in detail ESPN's "multi-platform" approach to NASCAR. ESPN.com website traffic was up over one hundred percent they pointed out.

What ESPN forgot to point out was who would be calling the 35 live races...on ESPN.

Will Jerry Punch return for the Busch races as the play-by-play announcer for the entire season? Since Rusty Wallace has a long-term contract, why wasn't he mentioned? Where was Andy Petree, didn't he sign a multi-year deal with the network?

The reason these questions come up is because ESPN did an extensive job of promoting their NASCAR talent for the Busch Series in 2007. What changed? Is this simply the function of Christmas vacation and a wait for the New Year?

After an impressive first season on-the-air with ESPN, it should be interesting to see what role part-time driver Dale Jarrett will play in the Nationwide Series coverage.

Fans remember that DJ was limited to the Infield Studio in 2007, but often wound-up being the focal point of the telecast even from that location.

Along with Jarrett, fans watched the musical chairs in the Infield Studio until ESPN decided that Allen Bestwick would host the Busch Series pre-race show. Bestwick stayed off pit road, and also handled the Infield Studio duties during and after the races.

Despite his hard work in many substitute roles in 2007, Bestwick's "TV place" in the upcoming Nationwide Series could range from handling the play-by-play to going right back on pit road. It is TV...after all.

As the 2007 season wound-down, we saw Brad Daugherty get the opportunity to move up to the announce booth and call a Busch Series race with Rusty Wallace and Jerry Punch alongside. Daugherty changed the rather "dry" dynamic of the ESPN booth immediately with his inquisitive nature and his endless enthusiasm. It was almost like having a fan from the stands join the guys in the booth. It was kind of...fun.

Looking back at ESPN's first NASCAR season, one thing is certain. By the time that the Brickyard 400 rolled around for this TV announce crew in July, the primary on-air talent were fried. Even with a vacation, these same three guys were basically looking at around 33 Busch races and 17 NEXTEL Cup events.

50 races is a lot of races for one announce team. Throw in a bunch of practice and multi-hour qualifying sessions, and by late summer only one thing remained in the ESPN announce booth. Burnt toast.

Perhaps, ESPN will be a bit more flexible with the booth teams for 2008, and let other talent step-up during the Nationwide practices and qualifying. Even on some Busch Series events, Randy LaJoie brought a breath of fresh air to the series, and Allen Bestwick and Randy seemed to click in the booth. That Montreal memory is hard to shake.

We also saw Mike Massaro host the Infield Studio, and Brad Daugherty worked very well on live practice and qualifying. He asks good questions, which in turn make the analysts and pit reporters step-up to give good answers. Also on the ESPN crew is Shannon Spake, who co-hosted a TV series from the NASCAR infield a while back on the SPEED Channel. ESPN is clearly not lacking in available talent.

Later columns will talk about the changes in NASCAR Now and the Sprint Cup coverage on ESPN for the 2008 season. That is going to be interesting.

Now, the focus is on the struggling Nationwide Series, which clearly received short shrift from ESPN in 2007. Hopefully, we will all soon learn what announce team ESPN has assigned to their biggest NASCAR TV race package. It would have been nice if that info was in their first Nationwide Series press release.

That kind of makes one wonder if some things for 2008...are still in discussion.

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Matt said...

I can't say I'm surprised that no announcers were named in the press release. After not seeing any in the IRL release, it was a pretty indication that ESPN's Motorsports division is going to go through a massive talent overhaul. I am upset and shocked though that DraftTrack is still a part of ESPN's plans. It is a lousy idea that had fans, drivers, and other media members making it subject of many jokes. I can't figure out why ESPN would want to continue using such a useless tool.

SophiaZ123 said...

Sadly, I ain't surprised.

I predicted ESPN would make NO CHANGES FOR THE BETTER in 2008. Bringing back that STUPID Draft Track and all the other crappy stuff proves that they care not one whit WHAT THE FANS WANT.

Methinks a bunch of NASCAR POWERS THAT BE deserved coal in their stockings this year.

Instead, NASCAR fans will get a lump of coal each weekend with PUTRID coverage. I shall be emailing my local FM station to see if they will still carry the CUP races this year.

I am thinking about scaling back on watching the NATIONWIDE series if they are going to just gunk it up with NON RACING stuff. I already plan on doing this the latter half of the season when ESPN denigrates the CUP series.

Oh, well. Will keep up with the races on radio and VL and INC.

Anonymous said...

DraftTrack's still going to be used?

Man, even the Glowing Hockey Puck died a quick death after one season--what's ESPN's problem here?

LuckyForward said...

As the old saying goes, "You do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." And so it will be in 2008 with ESPN.


Tripp said...

The lack of a talent list is not surprising.

Having more than a little experience in the PR game I know that you don't blow out all the information in the first release. You hold a little back for use in subsequent releases. Since there's still almost two months until Daytona, the ESPN/ABC PR machine needs a continuous flow of announcements to fill the void.

FWIW, They should split up the coverage duties for the Cup and NW series. One team will inevitably be "burnt toast" as JD says after all those races.

My recommendations for the Cup broadcasts would be Bestwick, DJ, Andy with Tim in the Tech Center. For the Nationwide Series, Marty Reid and Randy LaJoie, or Marty and Brad with either a driver or crew chief in the third chair. Brad does bring excitement and fun to a broadcast, but he's not technically deep enough to carry the booth with just one other person.

Will I get my wish? Probably not, but it would be interesting to speculate about it. We'll have to wait for future PR missives to see what's actually going to happen.

Newracefan said...

JD I agree with the burnt toast idea it helps to partially explain why the Busch races were better. Draft track BOOOOO, I was hoping that it would fade away but if it must be used do it once per race and only at the appropriate tracks. Here's hoping that there is a talent shuffle at ESPN including who's in the booth (AB please...... and how about some DJ) and who's behind the scenes to improve the camera shots and the enforcement of calling a show and not the race. I won't even get into commercial placement as oppose to spreading out the info release as one poster suggested.

darbar said...

What I'm thrilled about is the announcement of how Speed Channel will be covering upcoming testing at various tracks. Starting on January 7, Speed will host shows from Daytona on testing by Sprint, Truck and Nationwide cars. They will also televise the 2008 Sprint Media Tour, and testing in Las Vegas and Fontana. Speed is calling this "Preseason Thunder". And all the usual suspects will host and report for this series.

And, on Feb 6, Speed will not only broadcast in HD but in Widescreen. Speed is going to be a serious contender and one can only hope that the powers-that-be in Nascar will eventually award Speed TV a contract to broadcast all races.

Busch Series Fan! said...

Yep, if ESPN continues 2008 with the same NW broadcasters then in July adds cup, these folks will be exhausted. Doesn't everyone remember JP's lack of enthusiasm in many of the late-season races? They need some additional people to add interest and viewers to the races.

GinaV24 said...

Well, if ESPN gives us the same old junk in 2008, the ratings will probably continue to fall. There are too many other sources of following the races for NASCAR fans to put up with the same bad broadcasting again. I would like to know who will be calling the races for both the Nationwide and Cup series because depending on WHO is in the booth will determine whether or not I bother to watch any of the races on TV or simply rely on the radio. DraftTrack was stupid and I can't believe it's coming back! That tells me that NASCAR and ESPN aren't paying any attention to the fans reactions at all.

69 said...

The broadcast teams have been using Draft Track for years, its just been part of the "virtual garage" thing. You know where they show you how a car can pull up behind another car and the air flow difference will make the hot dog wrapper fall off of the grill. Remember they use really bad video game like graphics.

At least ESPN can make it work on the real racing picture

Ace said...

ESPN was at the top of its game when Bob Jenkins anchored their Cup broadcasts.
He also did ESPN SpeedWeek. If it were my decision, I would put Bob in the booth with Rusty and Dale.

Jo said...

Drat Drat double DRAT! Draft track will be back. Crumbs. That said - I add my thought to those already stated and JD's - please split the announce duties - toast is a nice way of saying it JD. How after ALL the races in series and Cup and practices etc., do these folks even know where they are? It also helps explain the lousy coverage of Cup on espn, they were exhausted and sick of talking.

I think espn can afford 2 different announce teams. It would also help Nationwide be "different " and more seperate from the Cup.

I hope Matt is right and a massive behind the scenes overhaul is happening - heavens know its needed.

Geez - all I wanna do is watch good coverage ( heck I ain't asking for great just good) of good racin'. Is it to much to ask for?

racinlady said...

Would really like to see Allen B as the main guy on either Cup or Nationwide. He and DJ seem like a good combination. I did enjoy Brad D when he was on, his enthusiasm was a nice change and was missing from a lot of last year's shows. I always liked Jerry Punch before but was disappointed this year, maybe the toast factor was to blame? As far as draft track, I don't know whether I just hated it or hated that they thought it was more important than showing live racing--the same with their tech center. Gadgets like these should only be used to fill long cautions and/or rain delays. I don't know how stupid they think we are. After all, we've all driven behind or alongside a truck before and I think we all GET it.

The thing that bothered me the most with ESPN was that some drivers were covered continually and others were totally ignored. It would have been nice to know when drivers were moving up through the field without having to go blind reading the lousy crawl. Unless that driver was JR they almost never mentioned it. When at the races, that kind of information is available on Fan View so I'm sure it's available to the announcers too. People complained that the races were boring this year. I don't think it was the races but the announcers and/or coverage that were boring. There were several times that they missed passes for the lead because they weren't paying attention. Also, I'd like to know when a driver is off the track and why. What do they have all those pit reporters for anyway? There were many times when they forgot to tell us who got the lucky dog.

Even so, can't wait for Daytona!

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Do you think it could be possible that ESPN does plan some big shake-up in its NASCAR coverage, but wants to wait until close to the Super Bowl so the announcement of the talent changes will attract little attention?

I have a little problem understanding the possibility of the ESPN crews' getting burned out since I believe Barney Hall and Joe Moore did almost as many races for MRN in 2007 - especially in the 1st half of the Cup season - and Barney never seemed to have a drop off, even though he is older than Jerry Punch.

I guees it is too much to hope that TNT, in particular, or EXPN might use Eli Gold.

free playstation 3 said...

while they slightly addressed that espn2 would be the home, i don't like they said the races would at times be shown on espn and abc. what's going to happen when college football season starts. they really didn't address how that is going to happen. i wish they would have said espn2 would be the exclusive home. i'd rather know it will be on espn2 every week, than have to flip channels because a game ran too long.