Sunday, November 11, 2007
NASCAR has done an admirable job of keeping their two primary TV partners at arm's length this season. That is until now.
The countdown to Homestead has officially begun, and the pressure is on both ESPN and SPEED to be the "NASCAR TV network of record" for 2007. This coming week will tell the tale, as both networks go head-to-head every single day.
Last Friday, ESPN suddenly issued a press release changing the NASCAR programming on ESPN2 beginning the following Monday. The network had decided to expand the NASCAR Now program to one hour in length from Monday through Thursday. NASCAR Now will air from 6 to 7PM Eastern on those days. Erik Kuselias will host these programs with the exception of Thursday's show which will feature Ryan Burr.
This change "suddenly" came about on Friday along with a much higher profile for NASCAR across the ESPN networks. Rumors were flying about a NASCAR phone call to ESPN that may have awakened them from their college and pro football slumber. There was only one week left in the NASCAR season, and ESPN was doing absolutely nothing in the way of new programming to lead-up to the championship weekend. Then, suddenly, there was a whole lot going on.
SPEED has been surrounding ESPN with weekend NASCAR programming originating from the tracks themselves. SPEED's big problem had been during the week. This vacant landscape is filled with "lifestyle" shows and only the venerable Inside NEXTEL Cup on Mondays fills the gap.
Next week, SPEED will be also be adding one hour shows during the week. INC will air on Monday as normal, with a Krista Voda update from Homestead as the race set-up begins. Then, SPEED will add an hour Championship Show on both Tuesday and Wednesday at 8PM that will review the past three NEXTEL Cup seasons.
On Thursday, SPEED will carry their normal The Chase Is On show with Steve Byrnes and Carl Edwards that will originate from Florida. Following this thirty minute show, the Survival of the Fastest Phoenix episode will debut.
Then, on Friday, things get very interesting. SPEED steps-up and begins live coverage from Homestead at 10AM Eastern Time. They will be on the air for five hours. On the final weekend of the season, SPEED gets the Truck, Cup, and Busch practice sessions live in that order.
Prefaced with a thirty minute version of NASCAR Live, and ended with the Go or Go Home show, SPEED has all the live action from Homestead right up until Cup qualifying. At 3PM, ESPN2 takes to the air with live qualifying that is scheduled to run until 5PM Eastern Time.
Right after ESPN2 leaves the air on Friday, SPEED returns with Truck qualifying. Then, they begin their final Truck Series race with a one hour review of the season. After that, its the Set-Up pre-race show and then some racing. They finish the night with the popular Trackside show live after the race for a full hour.
Saturday continues to generate some fascinating NASCAR TV coverage. ESPN2 has added a one hour version of NASCAR Now at 9AM to preview the final Busch Series race and the entire season. This special show will be hosted by Erik Kuselias from the ESPN HD studios in Bristol, CT.
Due to college football's "Rivalry Week" on the ESPN Networks, SPEED then will carry the morning NEXTEL Cup practice and the Busch Series qualifying live. With a version of NASCAR Live before and after this on-track coverage, SPEED steps into four and a half hours of live coverage on the Saturday of Championship Week.
ESPN2 continues to live dangerously, scheduling the final NEXTEL Cup Happy Hour of the season only three hours after a live college football game. As we all know from this year's NASCAR TV problems, those games run at least three and a half hours in length. Look for Happy Hour to be joined in-progress, just like last week.
The NASCAR Countdown show begins at 4PM, and then the ESPN2 live coverage of the final Busch Series race follows at 4:30PM Eastern Time on Saturday.
Sunday will bring a one hour NASCAR Now at 10AM on ESPN2, and then the final NASCAR Countdown at 3PM will lead directly into the NEXTEL Cup race itself. A special NASCAR Now will then appear on ESPN2 at 10PM to wrap the weekend.
SPEED is actively attacking Sunday with a big line-up of live TV. Dave Despain will host a special edition of WindTunnel at 11:30AM from Homestead. This one hour show will lead into an expanded three hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay, SPEED's franchise pre-race show. Once again, the final hour of this program will directly overlap with ABC's Countdown. The network ends the night with what promises to be a very interesting version of Victory Lane scheduled for 8PM Live.
The issue on the table for the final night of the season is that ABC has the American Music Awards scheduled for three hours beginning at 8PM Eastern Time. The race itself actually gets underway at 3:45PM.
Race fans know that this facility has lights, and that precludes the fact that darkness will end the event. Should a slight weather delay or red flag period cause things to run past 8PM, it certainly will get interesting for ABC.
This is going to be a fascinating week of NASCAR TV, and we are going to ask you to comment on these programs here at The Daly Planet. NASCAR fans have been wonderful all season with their observations about this 2007 television "package." These seven days of history-making coverage should feature TV networks at their best after a long season of experience.
There will be stories added here each day that will allow you to compare ESPN and SPEED as they cover this final NASCAR race week. This should be a lot of fun.
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish not to be published. Thanks again for taking the time to stop-by and add your opinion.
The Tradin' Paint series on SPEED has been a success story for the network this season. Suggestions are flying that this dynamic show may return as a full one hour program in 2008.
The episode of Tradin' Paint at Phoenix was critical to sending this program into the final weekend at Homestead on a high note. This show features John Roberts hosting, with Kyle Petty as the regular "driver" representative on the panel. Every week, SPEED selects a different "media guest" to sit-in with Roberts and Petty.
This weekend SPEED stepped-back and made a very good selection. TV veteran Randy Pemberton has been working hard to re-build his media career after a hiatus, and he was given an opportunity by SPEED to work on various programs this season. That led to Pemberton's big break of getting a chance to anchor a channel on DirecTV's Hot Pass coverage. The reviews of his work have been fantastic.
Now, as the season winds-down, Permberton's veteran perspective was just the right touch for this program. Over the season, Petty has been very upset with the media guests many times who have ranged from AP Reporter Jenna Fryer to the always controversial Mike Mulhern of the Winston-Salem Journal. One constant on the show has been the steam coming out of Petty's ears when dealing with "the media."
One of Petty's chief concerns is the truthfulness and the validation of items that are being reported. Over-and-over again, reporters were put on the spot by Petty about their stories. In turn, the reporters then wound-up baiting Petty on various hot-button issues until he simply got so angry that all discussion ceased.
This time, Petty got to stare across the SPEED Stage at someone who is his age, from a racing family, and speaks in the same clear and concise terms that he does. The combination worked. Pemberton kept the discussion lively by simply making his own points and putting forward his own views. The debate was good because both Permberton and Petty were making their views clear without animosity.
Several topics were covered at lightning speed, and they ranged from the Championship race to new tires to the good old COT. It was very clear that these three men were a compliment to each other, including John Roberts who finally got to relax and listen, instead of refereeing a brawl.
After the failure of Pit Bulls to find a center for impartial debate, this season of Tradin' Paint has laid the groundwork for another attempt at a larger discussion.
John Roberts and Kyle Petty really clicked right out of the box this season, after SPEED replaced Michael Waltrip on the series. The addition of Pemberton brings another experienced NASCAR TV veteran who has views to state without an axe to grind.
Simply by keeping those three, and adding a rotating "non-TV" media member to the panel, it would be very easy to fill forty minutes with good NASCAR conversation and opinions. In many ways, it was the perceived Petty vs. the media situation that threw several of the shows off-track this season. Simply by adding Pemberton, and keeping the media member, it would allow more than just two voices to offer opinions.
The bonus for SPEED would be the ability to replay this hour on Monday night after Inside NEXTEL Cup , should that struggling program series return. It would allow SPEED to manufacture, at little cost, a quality hour that would finally give NASCAR fans the type of opininated discussion sorely lacking on TV this year.
Let's hope that SPEED puts together a dynamic Tradin' Paint episode for Homestead, and sends this TV series into the off-season with a good plan for an expanding future.
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As we get down to the end of the season, one question keeps popping-up in The Daly Planet email over-and-over again. What happened to the three Championship Banquets?
How did things get this way? The Cup gang parades to New York City, where absolutely no one cares about NASCAR and the sting of Staten Island overwhelmingly rejecting a new track is still fresh in the minds of NASCAR fans.
The Busch Series drives up the road from Homestead to the Portofino Hotel in Orlando to have a banquet among the Universal Orlando theme park tourists covered in sun block and toting handi-cams.
Finally, the poor Truck Series gets to swing-by the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida and gamble with the Seminole Indians while they hold their banquet in a big conference room next to the highway.
Think about that one. The best series by far this season has been the Trucks. Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner, Jack Sprague, Mike Bliss, Rick Crawford and tons of Cup drivers like Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick have made this season an absolute blast. Now, their reward is a non-televised banquet in a conference room at the infamous Anna Nicole Smith hotel.
Has anybody out there ever been to Las Vegas? I have. Has anybody been to a big conference or function in Las Vegas? I have. Does anybody know that Las Vegas has over one hundred and forty thousand hotel rooms? I do. Does anyone think that drivers and teams would like to jump on a plane, go to Las Vegas, and have a couple of days of banquets and functions for all three national touring series of NASCAR? I certainly do.
While Charlotte, NC is absolutely the right choice for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it should not even be in the running for the year-end banquets for all three series. There is only one choice of a city that can work to get prepared, handle the fun and chaos of both the NASCAR teams and the NASCAR fans, and then send them home happy. That choice is Las Vegas.
When TV viewers watch the CMA Awards, the Emmy Awards, and even the MTV Music Awards, they tune-in to see a variety of things happen. First, they like to see people out of their normal environment. Second, they like to see the fashion and styles of the day reflected on these high-profile individuals. Finally, they want to see how they interact with each other to get a better feeling about who these people really are.
Television and the Internet can absolutely be the driving forces behind a Las Vegas "NASCAR fan fest" that could easily become one of the hottest tourist weeks that city has ever seen. By allowing the NASCAR television partners to become part of this effort, the sport could finally salvage this part of the season which has become a complete mess.
The best part of putting all three banquets in Las Vegas at the same time would be to allow the drivers who have raced in more than one series to participate in the year-end functions for those series. Simply by being in the same place, at the same time, there would be a synergy for fans and sponsors that simply does not exist at the Hard Rock Hotel in Florida by the highway.
Las Vegas has outstanding TV, Radio, and Internet facilities for getting this multi-day experience out to the public and making them a part of it. Finally, there would be an "investment" in the fans from a sport with four dollar bottled water and six dollar hamburgers.
By making a commitment to Las Vegas right now for 2008, it would allow a professional team of planners to get busy. The TV networks, the other NASCAR media partners, the team sponsors, and the sanctioning body would finally have a group of professionals that could cap-off the season in style and on live national television.
The single issue standing in the way is NASCAR. This banquet has long been kept under control by NASCAR VP Jim Hunter and his staff in exactly the same way then run the Infield Media Center at the tracks. Everything is credentialed, planned, and the "media leash" is kept nice and tight.
Now that NASCAR veteran Paul Brooks has been appointed to head the new NASCAR Media Group, his department can take the three banquets and treat them like the wonderful opportunity for additional exposure for the sport that they always should have been. The resources that Las Vegas can bring to the table can just put that over the top.
By coordinating the TV networks, NASCAR Images, NASCAR Digital Entertainment and the many NASCAR sponsors, this Las Vegas project could grow into something that becomes just as much of a landmark on the NASCAR scene as the Daytona 500.
Imagine the musical acts and artists associated with NASCAR who would come to play this "gig." Imagine the hundreds of transporters and race cars stretched out at the Convention Center. Imagine the fun of being in a place where TV shows were everywhere and they wanted to you participate. Imagine having fun again with NASCAR and ending the season on a high note.
Right before the weary teams go on vacation, a coordinated opportunity to see everyone in the sport one last time before the break would be fantastic. In one place, over just a couple of days, all the end-of-season business would be done and the closing bell would sound officially on ten months of racing.
As a NASCAR fan who has been put-off by the high cost of hotel rooms, skyrocketing race ticket prices, and huge crowds of "party fans" at the tracks, I would welcome an opportunity to combine a Las Vegas vacation with the ability to attend fun and casual functions unique to the "NASCAR Week In Las Vegas."
The time is right now to make a change. The best place to announce this change would be Homestead, while all the NASCAR media is still assembled. Before we see the cold drivers parading once again in the snowy streets of NYC while confused commuters scramble for their subways, it would be nice to know this time in New York is going to be the last.
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