Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A TV Tale of Three NASCAR Banquets

The ESPN2 presentation of the Busch Series Banquet on Tuesday night completed the TV airing of all three of NASCAR's national touring series end-of-season affairs.

In seemingly direct contrast to the ability of NASCAR to entertain millions with exciting high-speed racing action, the inability of the sanctioning body to provide even a hint of excitement or spontaneity during these functions is puzzling.

NASCAR fans are a bit handcuffed where the banquets are concerned. The NEXTEL Cup Banquet aired on ESPN Classic, which is in far fewer homes than ESPN2. This move was a tough one, as ESPN2 had been the "NASCAR network of record" all season long for the ESPN group. The reason it was moved, as racing fans know all too well, was for stick-and-ball sports once again.

In a final ironic twist, when the Cup Banquet re-aired on ESPN2, the start was delayed for a SportsCenter telecast due to a live game running late. Now, after midnight on the East Coast, NASCAR fans without ESPN Classic had set their DVR's and TiVo's to ESPN2 for the originally scheduled time.

Needless to say, they wound-up missing a good portion of the show. Even with the last NEXTEL Cup program of the year, ESPN could not buy a break. It's just been that type of season for this family of networks.

Both the Busch and Truck Banquets were taped by their respective networks, and then edited for broadcast. It seems that this is the way to go with this type of content. Even the NEXTEL Cup Banquet would have been better served if shown a bit later to viewers in an edited fashion. It allows the network to eliminate the "dead time" on the stage and also to "tighten-up" the sequence of events.

In terms of hosting, both the Truck and Busch Banquets struggled a bit with co-hosts. As a single host, Dr. Jerry Punch did an outstanding job with the tough NEXTEL Cup assignment. In both the formal and informal styles shown this year, it seemed that two heads were not better than one.

One of the vestiges of the Bill France Jr. era was the continuation of the posh Waldorf-Astoria banquet setting for the Cup Series. A decade ago, this location and format had a very different function and a very different meaning. Now, we live in a YouTube and Google dominated world where media is sent by text and phone and almost every other way imaginable.

One can only wonder what kind of events and functions could be clustered around a relaxed multi-day setting in Las Vegas or Charlotte where all three national series could have their banquets, with the Sprint Cup function being the finale. That topic was debated in an earlier column, which you can read by clicking here.

The advertisers of Madison Avenue have long since changed to only advertising agencies. They represent NASCAR sponsors with headquarters in Atlanta, Memphis, Dover and ironically enough, Mooresville, NC. That would be the Cup champion.

The fundamental argument that NYC is a global sports media mecca or that sponsors simply can walk to the banquet from their offices is a myth. Things have changed, and this year was the ultimate example.

ESPN just closed their Manhattan studios. ABC's Good Morning America wanted little to do with the NASCAR boys, and everything to do with Helio and his dancing skills. The parade around Times Square made no sense, and most of the national media on-hand were the NASCAR bunch...who live in Charlotte. To top it all off, for Jimmie Johnson to appear on NASCAR Now, he had to drive to ESPN in Bristol, CT.

While some media stories touted one hundred thousand people surrounding the "parade of cars," the YouTube video told a very different tale. The same old New Yorkers, dressed in their dark colors, merely stopped to see what was making all that noise and holding up traffic.

The fact that NASCAR was once again allowed to block off Times Square in the middle of the day is still the source of NYC area website debate. After all, its not like the Yankees won The World Series...or something important like that.

The biggest positive statement of all three banquets across the board was that NASCAR may still have some of the most interesting and appealing athletes of any professional sport in North America. On TV, you would have to go a long way to match the heartfelt emotion of Bobby Hamilton Jr. or the feisty confidence of Tony Stewart during their time in a tuxedo.

Finally, what other sport can offer a grandfather reading his championship speech from a wrinkled piece of notebook paper? Ron Hornaday was thanking the young man who used to sleep on the Hornaday couch when he was new to town. Back then, an unknown racer named Kevin Harvick just needed a place to stay.

Now, years later, Harvick paid Hornaday back with a Truck Series ride and the rest is history. In documenting his own health issues, thanking those close to him, and showing a national TV audience his own humility, Ron Hornaday displayed the kind heart of a tough racer in exactly the way that would have made Bill France Jr. very proud. These are the TV moments that bring new fans into the sport.

What were your opinions about the 2007 NASCAR Banquets? Do you think they were aimed only at the sponsors in the audience or maybe feel short-changed by the lack of fun? If you could suggest one thing to improve the TV presentation, what would it be? What was your opinion of the musical guests?

We know the best suggestions come from TV viewers, and this blog is read by a lot of diverse NASCAR industry types, so give it your best shot.

To add your comment, simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the simple instructions. Please read the rules for posting on the main page before adding your comment. Thanks again for stopping by The Daly Planet and adding your opinion to this on-going Internet conversation.


elena said...

I love NASCAR.

SPEED and ESPN Classic is not available through my cable.

Taping for later showing does sound like a good idea. Although, sometimes you risk missing some of those memorable authentic moments for the sake of brevity.

I see advantages of NYC and Las Vegas. There’s something magical and exotic about NYC. Some of the downsides include extreme cold weather and horrific traffic. I guess there might be something like wearing out your welcome when you block city streets during the morning commute.

Las Vegas has great weather in the late fall, lots to do, lots of room, and a wide range of prices for hotels and restaurants. Some hotels have that NY feeling.

For the sake of the drivers and crews, I would not like to see it in Charlotte. That is way to ordinary and every day. That’s why people go away for their honeymoon, or 25th anniversary, or their senior prom dinner after the dance. You don’t want to go to a place where you have been to 1000 times.

I think you can omit the special music. I saw the Heisman Award Presentation and it was wonderful. The entire time was devoted to the honorees. Special music would have seemed like an intrusion. There has been a lot of criticism of the music at the banquets. It seems like most fans want country-western music. That’s fine, but when drivers are interviewed not many give that as their first choice. I mean do you really Kasey, Denny, Kyle Bush, David Reagan, etc. would really like that kind of music? When asked what he had on his iPod, Mark Martin said his favorite was rap. So go figure, if you have music, you should please the guys.

The drivers were not presented their awards at the Busch or Cup banquets this year. Why? I mean that’s what the banquet is for. In both banquets, the driver came to the stage, talked, and grabbed their own trophy on the way back to their seat. There is no other award show, NONE, where the recipient just grabs his trophy and leaves the stage. Maybe establish a tradition like having a retired past champion present them. I thought it was awful when the stage model just handed Chandra and Jimmie the jewelry boxes as Brian France ran off the stage.

I wish NASCAR would survey the current drivers. I don’t mean the ones that will not be going. I mean the top 25-30 and find out what they like. I heard the party after the awards in NY lasted past 3am. So, we know that some had a really good time.

Look forward to reading more suggestions.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR is a wonderfully appealing sport. No argument can be made to the contrary.

Unfortunately, those who manage racing continue to operate with the selfish mindset that enables them do as they please, ignoring the desires or best interests of others.

Such anachronistic behavior perpetuates the reputation of "the Good Ol' Boy" and "Redneck, Country" personas that are unattrative to many in this day and age.

NASCAR refuses to 'catch up' with modern society, preferring to remain old fashioned and exclusive. Yet, it expects fans to accept whatever it dictates, as complaints are most often ignored and suggestions are, for the most part, disregared.

Such patent dictatorial behavior will be the slow death of the sport of racing, as more and more life'long fans become disenchanted and the interest of newer fans fails to be maintained.

New York is NOT a good place for the NASCAR banquet and celebrations. That city restricts and discourages the participation of the most important part of the NASCAR equation....The True FANS.

NASCAR should celebrate in a place that can accomodate and include fan activites and should not disregard the loyalty of those who make it possible for racing to flourish. The time for the ostrich to pull its head out of the sand is long overdue.

The lemmings who have followed the sport for so long are becoming a dying breed. The "New Birds on the Block" are smarter, more discerning, financially savvy and far more likely to boycott if their satisfaction expectations are not met.

2008 make be a 'make or break year' for racing, in many ways.
NASCAR has choices, decisions and actions which loom large on the horizon. Let's hope the road taken leads fans to the race tracks and not away from them.

The next series of celebrations need to have a 2008 aura instead of being time warped in 1965.

Shorebilly said...

As I have noted while commenting here before.....the "official" 2008 NASCAR schedule has been released for about a month now. If any of the ESPN programming staff reads this column (something that I doubt, because I personally think that they could care less about the NASCAR fans), please take note, cross reference the 2008 NASCAR schedule with the official lineups for Tennis and the rest of those important "stick & ball" sports...if they are available this far in advance!
Mr. France (maybe he reads this column?) please use the "NASCAR is in control no matter what" powers that you have inherited and DEMAND that ESPN "clean up their act" and air the CUP races on time, un-interrupted, and in their entirety. After/if the simpletons at ESPN manage that, then perhaps us mere NASCAR fans could hope that the ESPN gang can air "NASCAR Now' in it's scheduled time slot.
As far as "On Air" talent goes...ESPN could loose the yahoo who does his best to imitate Howard Cosell....this person has no clue as to what is going on....remember that we don't have those sticks and balls, so I understand that it is difficult to remember what number goes with which driver....maybe NASCAR needs to mandate larger driver names to be printed above the doors, just for that idiot!
I could go on, however it would be useless....ESPN does not seem to get the message that the greater majority of NASCAR fans think that ESPN's coverage of anything NASCAR simply sucks!!! And the NASCAR "powers that be" have finally met an entity that they cannot control!

Glenn Klima
New Milton, WV

SallyB said...

The opening of the Hall of Fame in Charlotte would be the perfect time for Nascar to move all the championship banquets to all the racers back yard. For starters, it would eliminate the need for extra travel expenses for the teams, and allw most of them to actually stay in their own homes once the season is over, rather than spend another week on the road. While having fan participation in the actual banquets isn't practical, holding the banquet in Charlotte would at least encourage fans to spend some time in the area ,visiting the local shops. Appearances by drivers could involve the fans in ways that they are now excluded from. Having the Cup banquet as yet another sponsor love fest is redundant. Every fan already knows who sponsor the drivers...they hear it every week every time a driver, owner or crew cheif is interviewed. This function should be a celebration of the drivers, teams, and the fans who ultimately make all of it possible. Continuing to have the banquet in NYC makes it seem like Nascar is a poor relation, coming to try and grab some attention where no one cares. It's time that Nascar decided they were 'big' enough to not need New York City to make them feel 'legit'.

Anonymous said...

IMO, when thinking about the awards banquet we fans need to remember that, while Nascar lets us peek through the window, ITS NOT ABOUT US. Like all awards banquets its about honoring those who have achieved, not about those who watched.

IMO, the Nascar banquets look like what they are -- private, internal events to honor the participants.

While Champions Week is and needs to be the media wrap-up for the season, the banquets are fine as they are.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that having the banquet in NYC was antithetical to what NASCAR is all about.

Why not Charlotte or Daytona? Why in the world does NASCAR abandon its fan base for the end-of-the-year celebration?

Andy Marquis said...

As an east coast fan and a Washington, D.C. resident, I would be very upset if NASCAR moved the banquet out west.

Yes, Vegas deserves more of a NASCAR presence. Las Vegas is very deserving of a second race. California is not.

The Awards Ceremony needs to stay on the East Coast, where most of the mainstream fans are. Maybe not New York. Richmond and Charlotte would be great areas to host the ceremonies.

The lame, dried out comedians and the poor music quality are two killers. They should either get good comedians, someone with a name (Mencia, Ron White, Jeff Foxworthy, etc.) and good musicians or just leave them out.

Kelly Clarkson does not appeal to NASCAR fans. First of all, she's an average ordinary pop singer. Her time's over, she's done.

David Spade is a hasbeen. He's been reduced to making cameo appearences and headlining 2 minute scenes in Adam Sandler movies. These guys are not funny. Either be funny, or go away.

Oh, and ESPN sucks.

Anonymous said...

Las Vegas has great weather in the late fall, lots to do, lots of room, and a wide range of prices for hotels and restaurants. Some hotels have that NY feeling.
Sure, let's just continue aleinating the fan base that kept this sport going for so many years and do even more out west.

For decades, people outside the southeast did nothing but make fun of this sport and the "rednecks" that followed it.

Now they're being rewarded for those years of ignorance by being given races that diehard fans in the south--who were there all along--have lost. So it makes perfect sense to move the banquet out west, too.

Keep punishing the original fans. We're used to it.

earl06 said...

The banquets are not for the fans, they are an opportunity for the teams to thank their sponsors. There is no way to change this, it's strictly business. Comparing the excitement level of the banquets versus music/TV/movie award shows doesn't work because we already know who is getting what.

For the few fans that feel the need to be included in champions week, some events in the Charlotte area would be appropriate. When the Hall of fame opens in a couple years, I'm sure that's what will happen.

For now, the banquets accomplish what they were intended to and there is no reason for NASCAR to change anything.

Thornton said...

They need to get out of NYC. The people there could care less, and basically have never cared for about 25 years. The boredom fest that is the Cup banquet, needs alot of tweaking. Put fans in the audience, and pare down the amount of sponsor employees to just the brass tacks. It's a wonder, when drivers can do interviews at the track in front of 160,000 fans, and talk into a t.v. with 20 million people watching,they have no fear, yet when you put them in front of the people that foot the bill, there is an adverse reaction to spontanaity. It's akin to having the Mob boss show up at your wedding, when you are about to say your vows...
The networks have a demanding task in front of them. But no matter how bad ESPN was in their coverage, when your bosses send you out to tape paint drying, you have nothing but an uphill climb.
The first poster says he would not like it in Charlotte, because "that's why people go away on their honeymoon."I've got a newsflash for you:The drivers love to be "home" at any given chance. Listen to them during the All-Star weekend, and they'll tell you that.
I agree with Bruton Smith: Put it somewhere where they are wanted, and include the fans. The American Music Awards include the fans, The Grand Ole Opry includes the fans, Hell, even the Oscars include the fans to a degree. Stop making it all about the sponsors, and start making it about the drivers and crews (and the fans that buy the product and support them), and you might have something worth watching.

Thornton said...

Follow up on my previous comment:
The fans buy the sponsors product, so in effect the FANS FOOT THE BILL. Without the fans, the sponsors have nothing.

Speedcouch said...

NASCAR lost me with the Cup banquets when they started adding so-called "entertainment" to them a few years ago. No real fan tunes in to see a comedian or pop singer. They tune in to see the drivers and hear them. The rest is unecessary and appeals to no one. This is the first year I didn't even record the banquet to watch it later. I saw enough of no-talent Clarkson all year long and didn't need to see/hear her again.

Personally, I don't care when they hold the banquet as long as they go back to allowing the drivers to speak from the heart instead of these stupid teleprompter speeches we've heard the last 6-8 years. That isn't something I care to see.

I happened to catch a bit of the Busch banquet the other night. While I didn't think they needed Shannon there at all, Allen Bestwick did an awesome job and the drivers I saw were natural and sounded sincere. Edwards most of all. He's articulate, geniune and didn't need a teleprompter. He still managed to thank his sponsors, while adding some life to his acceptance speech. Something that has sorely been lacking from the Cup awards for way too many years.

Anonymous said...

"There has been a lot of criticism of the music at the banquets. It seems like most fans want country-western music. That’s fine, but when drivers are interviewed not many give that as their first choice."

If there is music at a future banquet (I'm undecided whether there needs to be music at all), it does seem like country music is going to have to be the choice or else fans will criticize the singer.

I wonder if NASCAR will have any trouble booking a country act after the semi-rude reaction to Kelly Clarkson. People may not realize that Kelly's manager is Reba McEntire's husband (Reba and Kelly are touring together starting next month.) He might not have been happy about the reaction to his artist. If word gets around in Nashville that the NASCAR banquet audience is not a receptive one, they might have a harder time booking a big country act for the banquet. Someone in banquet production -if there is such a thing - might need to make some amends - quickly.

Anonymous said...

Adding on to my comment at 10:57, it seems NASCAR has a problem in general finding banquet entertainment. The singer at the Busch Banquet (the Five for Fighting guy) hasn't had a hit song in about five years.

The Truck series had the band Fuel as the music and they also haven't had a hit in years. So who is booking these acts and why can't they book a more prominent act, in any music genre?

That's the question.

Either the banquet is not seen as prestigious enough for a top act, or the compensation package for the appearance isn't good enough for a top act, unless they are the NASCAR ambassador for the year (i.e. past performers Clarkson, Jewel, Scott Stapp, or Lisa Marie Presley, who sang -terribly -at the Busch banquet a couple of years ago.)

Anonymous said...

The Cup banquet doesn't need a comedy act or music. Just get a decent host to hand out the awards and do transitions to commercials. There has been a lot of talk lately about how robotic the drivers have become and that they can't/won't show personality. The canned speeches just play into that. Ditch the teleprompter and let them read off some 3x5 cards or speak off the cuff.

elena said...

A couple of observations:
1. Many long-time fans on this and other sites blame NASCAR for being all about money while ignoring the fans, including at the banquets.

Well, I ask what about the drivers? Does anyone think they want to go back to the good old days? Richard Petty is one of the drivers that bemoans the fact that they did not make that much money compared to the drivers of today, and he's right. Richard Petty won 27 out of 48 races and the championship in 1967. He made $129,375. In 2007, Kyle bearly made it in the top 35,and made almost $4,000,000. Mark Martin is semi-retired and still made close to 4 million, too. All the drivers are chasing bigger paydays, so it is not just the suits at NASCAR. Every driver is eager to use his fame as a driver to cash-in on commercials, just like Tiger, MJ, Payton, Jr., Jeff Gordon, etc.

2. I would HATE to see fans included in the banquet. I love NASCAR and the drivers. Many of the "good ole fans" do not. The banquets are about the drivers and their time in the limelight. NASCAR has some of the most hateful fans I've ever seen, I would hate to see Jimmie or Jeff getting boo'd while trying to accept their trophies. They put up with that for 36 races a year. Let them enjoy the applause of their family, friends, drivers, etc. One can only imagine what fans might throw at them. What a shame! Keep fans out of the banquet!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
If word gets around in Nashville that the NASCAR banquet audience is not a receptive one, they might have a harder time booking a big country act for the banquet.

December 13, 2007 10:57 AM

I only watched the Nextel Cup banquet. But the blank expressions and outright lack of enthusiasm for the musical guest floored me. I actually rewound to see the driver's/wives expressions: absolutely blank, even at the end of each song. Even if you don't like the music, politeness dictates you feign some enthusiasm. At least at the formal/corporate events I've been to.

Was it the formality of the occasion that made them seem so unappreciative? I don't know, but if the event is aimed at the drivers and sponsors, I have no idea what kind of musical guest would catch their attention in such a stiff atmosphere.

I also agree that drivers should not be allowed to use a teleprompter for their speeches. That would probably make for the single biggest improvement in the broadcast.

Anonymous said...

I attended the Busch Series Banquet and wish they wouldn't have edited as much as they did. I was disappointed when they did show the shortened version and the comedian wasn't even shown. His name was John Pinette and he had everyone laughing the whole time. He was so much better than David Spade at the Cup banquet. Musical guest also was great! It was really a great time for everyone!

Busch Series Fan! said...

I think awards shows are boring so I stay away from the nascar banquet broadcasts. I really don't think we need them on tv.

Tripp said...

As others have said, the banquets are not for you and me, they're for the drivers, teams, sponsors and others who have toiled through the season to make it to the top of their sport.

These folks live under the media microscope for nine months each year. They deserve at least the one night to relax with their close family and extended team members to bask in the light of what they've accomplished.

Having been to many banquets in other businesses, I expect to be fed, entertained and subjected to speeches. That's what banquets are in most cases. Why should one expect NASCAR's banquets to be different?

Banquets by definition are bad TV. As long as NASCAR broadcasts these banquets, they will probably be ploddingly slow and often boring for the viewer. If the teams like them as they are, leave them alone.

Now if NASCAR wants a rip-roaring season-ending broadcast, well that's something different and will probably never be called a "Banquet".

Helena said...

To recent posters who say," keep the fans out of the banquet", and "the banquet is for the sponsors teams and drivers who have toiled through the season" :
Who in the world do you think they show up at the track for?
Who buys the sponsors product?
Who pays for the tickets to get into the track?
Who watches the telecasts,including the commercials?
Who buys the drivers' merchandise?
We watch all year long in support of these teams, and when the final bell rings, since I helped pay for it, then invite me in to the banquet.
After a race, the driver thanks all the sponsors anyway, so don't tell me that the banquet is for the sponsors. It's to honor the drivers championships. If you are afraid that Jeff Gordon will get booed at the ceremony, so what.
If you are afraid they will throw something,....I can't believe you even said that. They have security at these functions.Either invite the fans, or quit televising the damn thing.

Big Henry said...

Only one good comment here: No one needs this on TV. It is hokey and stuck in 1985. Even the term "banquet" makes people laugh.

Newracefan said...

Although I have watch all the banquets this year and would again, I am not sure they should even be televised. They are all for the guys involved and the sponsers and not so much for the fans. This is easily seen when watching the cup banquet. The truck and Busch banquets were edited with the fans in mind. Our thoughts on the entertainment (music or comedian) are irrelevant; what do those attending want. What I would like to see is an awards show that was geared with the fans in mind and make the banquets what the drivers, sponsers, etc want, if they have them at all. I wonder if the drivers would look so wooden if there were no TV cameras. Hey maybe Brian France would actually stay on the stage for more than 3 seconds. If an awards show won't work then get the sponsers out of the banquet, televise it and let the indivdual teams/race shops thank their sponsers on there own and in their own way. This will get all/most of the awards in the banquet like the championship crew chief (what that doing at the luncheon) and hopefully make it easier for the fans to watch. I live about 2-3hrs from NY but would never go there during Championship week, I would consider it if was south or in Vegas; I agree with JD in this era there is no need to be in New York.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Thank you for some very interesting and diverse opinions and suggestions. It is amazing that one topic can generate such different views.

Earlier today, I received an email from ESPN indicating that neither the Cup or Busch Banquets would re-air in edited form. They also indicated they will not be airing any NASCAR content over the winter.


kl james said...

I have been watching the cup awards banquet since they first went to New York,and each year the the individual drivers sound like they all read from the same script.Maybe if we let the drivers be themselves during this time if would show more of the drivers true personally.I doubt we will never hear a off the wall remark made by Mr. Barney hall hosting in the eighties when asked if he was nervous, he replied, nervous as a fag at a hot dog roast!

Anonymous said...

Earlier today, I received an email from ESPN indicating that neither the Cup or Busch Banquets would re-air in edited form. They also indicated they will not be airing any NASCAR content over the winter.

That figures.

Wouldn't want to keep the fans happy over the winter.

Here we go again. ESPN really doesn't care about NASCAR.

Desmond said...

I also doubt that the banquets should be televised at all. Maybe there are some memorable moments in the speeches, but if the occasion is mostly to satisfy sponsors, why is there any reason for the fans to care?

In that same vein, it no longer matters where the banquet is held, though I personally prefer Las Vegas.

Also: So Kelly Clarkson's manager is Reba McEntire's husband? I thought it was Simon Fuller, of the Spice Girls and American Idol fame.

elena said...

Kelly Clarkson is with Startstruck Entertainment and the CEO is Narvel Blackstock, who is Reba's husband. Narvel serves as Kelly's personal rep.