Thursday, January 17, 2008

ESPN Silent On NASCAR Changes For 2008

Last week, prior to my appearance on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, I asked ESPN if they could help me out with some information.

I knew that Dave and the fans would want to know the on-air personalities that were going to be involved in the network's 2008 NASCAR coverage. The response from ESPN was that they had nothing to announce.

Thursday, reporter David Exum of the Boston Herald tried the exact same thing with Julie Sobieski, ESPN's VP of Programming. In this interview, he got the exact same answer.

"Can you discuss any new changes in ESPN's NASCAR coverage for the 2008 season?" asked Exum.

"There really isn't anything we are prepared to announce right now," answered Sobieski.

Mr. Exum continued to ask several straightforward questions. He wanted to know if the network was happy with its 2007 efforts.

"How satisfied was ESPN with its return to broadcasting NASCAR races after a seven year hiatus?" he asked.

"It was a ramping-up year for us and we got a lot accomplished, but we've still got a lot more to get done over the next seven years," replied Sobieski.

Exum next zoomed-in on the fan complaints about the ESPN News Network and ESPN SportsCenter's lack of NASCAR coverage in 2007.

"How much of an impact do you think ESPN's SportsCenter had on NASCAR coverage overall?" asked Exum. The answer was fascinating.

"From an ESPN perspective, we had the races on-air, but as far as SportsCenter is concerned, they make their (own) journalistic decisions. We were happy to deliver the kind of coverage on the platforms that we have," said Sobieski.

Exum then asked about how the network involves the fans, and gets information. Many fans remember receiving an ESPN Marketing questionnaire a while back asking about the on-air announcers by name, and the quality of the overall TV coverage.

"Do you feel that ESPN listens to the NASCAR fans in terms of coverage concerns?" he asked.

"We certainly hope so and we hope fans feel that way," said Sobieski. "We pay a lot of attention to what fans have to say. We want to deliver the best experience to the fans that we possibly can. We listen to the fans reaction outside the walls of ESPN, but we also listen to fans reaction inside the walls of ESPN and making decisions along the way. We’ve learned a lot our first year back and we’ve listened a lot and you should notice some changes to make the experience better for the fans. We want to increase our green-flag coverage as much as we can because we at ESPN understand that NASCAR is a sport that doesn’t take breaks like other sports. There is no halftime or time outs. NASCAR is non-stop action. Our goal is always to deliver as much green-flag action as we can and that’s what we are really looking at in 2008."

Exum's brief interview was interesting for what it said, and also did not say. From our Daly Planet TV perspective, this was the perfect opportunity for Sobieski to reach out to the fans and the NASCAR community before the season. The one thing that clearly stands-out is that ESPN remains basically silent on most NASCAR issues.

No high-profile ESPN "talent" assigned to the races like Rusty Wallace, Jerry Punch, or Brad Daugherty have been talking to the media about the upcoming Nationwide Series. Tim Brewer has not been on ESPN News talking about the COT issues from Daytona testing. The "race team" has kept a very low profile.

Turning to the infield, the network has not announced who will be behind the anchor desk in the Infield Studio for the network's Daytona programming. That is a huge on-air role with a very high profile. ESPN has also not announced what roles Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty will fill for 2008. You may remember that both men worked in the Infield Studio and also in the announce booth last season.

Back in the studio, one of the most asked email questions from fans is who will be hosting the daily NASCAR Now programs on ESPN2? This lack of information is certainly interesting, given the fact that the first on-air date of this program is now only a little more than two weeks away. The series returns on Monday, February 4th at 6PM Eastern Time with a one hour show.

Normally, it would be a healthy thing for the NASCAR Now host to be featured on the website and made available to motor sports journalists for interviews. This would be a great time to do just that, with testing the only thing in-progress.

As the Charlotte Media Tour begins shortly for those same journalists, the only ESPN presence in the sport continues to be the "NASCAR Now Insiders" of Marty Smith, Terry Blount and David Newton. Nowhere on the Media Tour agenda does it list an ESPN media opportunity among the stops at race shops and other featured attractions.

So, we have the NASCAR on Fox gang back intact for 2008, and SPEED has confirmed that the Craftsman Truck crew, including Krista Voda, will be back for this season. SPEED also confirmed that the RaceDay, Trackside and Victory Lane gang will be back. The only issue we are waiting on with that group is the host of INC.

Hopefully, Ms. Sobieski's interview means that the ESPN media releases about the 2008 NASCAR season will begin soon. This is a new TV racing season, and everyone gets to start with a clean slate. That certainly holds true for ESPN.

We will keep you posted as the information starts to take shape, and hope you feel free to give us your feedback on Ms. Sobieski's interview and the other TV issues contained in this column. Just click on the COMMENTS button below to add your opinion.

Thanks again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


Anonymous said...
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Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 9:18PM,

If you have a chance, will you send me an email at Thanks.


Anonymous said...
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Tripp said...

This is the statement that leaves me wondering what ESPN has been smoking. "We listen to the fans reaction outside the walls of ESPN, but we also listen to fans reaction inside the walls of ESPN and making decisions along the way."

Exactly how many fans live inside the walls of ESPN? Even for the NASCAR fans that live in Bristol, CT, I doubt that many of them have an ESPN ID.

What exactly does this mean? Are the insiders filtering the outsider's opinions so that they can conform it to some previously established ESPN formula? Me thinks so, and it's a dangerous position.

If you own a market, your "insiders" can dictate opinions and it will work. Think Microsoft. But ESPN, who is the "big dog" sports network in the USA does not own the exclusive broadcast rights to NASCAR. As long as we have Fox setting the current gold standard for Cup broadcasts and Speed doing yeoman service with every Craftsman Truck race, there will always be another yardstick that viewers will measure the ESPN broadcasts by. Does that mean that Fox/Speed have found the best and only way to cover NASCAR? Absolutely not. But ESPN should hope to raise the bar in their portion of the season. That will throw down the gauntlet to Fox to do the same. A reality like that would be good for us fans.

Inspecting one's own navel (or any other orifice) expecting to find answers is never a good tactic. C'mon ESPN, listen to the fans outside the wall. It won't hurt.

Daly Planet Editor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie said...

The one thing that sticks out to me is this question and answer -
"How satisfied was ESPN with its return to broadcasting NASCAR races after a seven year hiatus?" he asked.

"It was a ramping-up year for us and we got a lot accomplished, but we've still got a lot more to get done over the next seven years," replied Sobieski.

I wish she would have said that they have a lot more to get done this year. It makes you think they are hoping to get it right by the seventh year.

But like you say JD, it is a new season and a clean slate for everyone. I am hoping for very good television coverage the whole season.

SophiaZ123 said...

Tripp!! You stole my thunder! LOL.

My first thought as well was "What are these folks SMOKING?" I also was unaware that ESPN had apartments within their corporate walls in which fans could live.

The answers sounded like some robotic generics that could've been lifted SIMPLY by reading the blogs written here by JD and by the blogs responses in my opinion.

I also think that whatever is in the water at ESPN is drunk by the NASCAR Powers that Be, i. e. France family. All is well..."it's all about the fans bologna".


Thanks for the detailed non answer JD.

TexasRaceLady said...

As I was reading the interview with Sobieski, I was impressed by the political double-speak being spouted as answers. A line from Shakespeare came to mind ---"full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Makes me wonder just what kind of non-coverage we're going to have to endure this year.


elena said...

It seems that the answers produced more questions. If we will notice changes, why keep them a secret?

"We’ve learned a lot our first year back and we’ve listened a lot and you should notice some changes to make the experience better for the fans."

I am curious what it is they want to do that will make our experience better, but they cannot tell us yet.

I did read in Media Week that Feb. 12-16 NN will originate from Daytona. MW also stated that TNT will do the Pepsi 400 on July7, commercial free!

Anonymous said...

JD, during the SPEED coverage of testing, I have noticed ESPN microphones during driver interviews. Who does ESPN have in Daytona to cover testing? Could that give us a clue as to who will be part of the ESPN crew?

Anonymous said...

It really is simple - or should be - for ESPN. Two very simple words would make fans VERY HAPPY: Bob Jenkins. Bring him back. He's not too old.

Tripp said...

texasracelady... I think you've found the core of ESPN. I wish I could say that I remember that Shakespeare line from high school, but I hate to read. I remember it from "LA Story", but it's no less true.

What ESPN said means nothing because it says nothing. I wish I knew who said, "the proof is in the pudding", because it will all show up in the second half of this season. ESPN simply has to face facts and raise the bar. If not, at the end of the current NASCAR contract I will simply have to send all my money to Fox so that they can buy the rights to the entire season.

Consider the gauntlet thrown.

SophiaZ123 said...


That is what is MIND BOGGLING and DEPRESSING. SEVEN years of this garbage?

France/NASCAR doesn't care? Why should we?


Only here might we read a Shakespeare quote in a column about NASCAR.


lohur said...

I expect ESPN to announce their NASCAR talent sometime next week (perhaps a Friday, for the same reasons politicians do) as both a press release and a write-up by USA Today's Michael Hiestand (Hiestand is known as an ESPN lap-dog). I don't expect any major changes at ESPN at all (I'm not an insider for any network, just my opinion). I think Kuselias will be back at NASCAR Now (ESPN seems to believe in him and has no spot on ESPNRadio for him right now).

When ESPN announces their NASCAR talent for the 2008 season, I would like to know if they plan on having their talent available for interviews. I doubt their press release will mention what changes are in store for NASCAR viewers this season. I'm sure the press release will laud ESPN for the 'countless hours' they spent last year covering NASCAR and how their 'committed' to being the 'premier destitination' for NASCAR content (or whatever sturm and drang they plan on passing off as good PR). The only way we'll truly find out if ESPN has changed is by tuning into ESPN's NASCAR programming (or if Mr. Daly continues to do this blog). And if that's the case, it'll be ESPN's way of saying, "Move along. Nothing to see here."

Billy Delyon said...

She says they listen to the fans......

If Crustys back, or Erik LeClueless returns...

They didn't listen...

I've been saying get Bob Jenkins back since last season.. After all, most folks thought Benny. Ned and he were the best booth crew around. I for one missed them badly when FOX first took over in '01. Last year I heard him in the booth at ESPN for some second tear Indy car racing league, what a waste. Come on ESPN, I think Bob J, Andy P, and DJ would be a incredible crew. As JD has suggested, get Dr. Jerry to either work the infield studio, or get him back on Pit lane where he shines.

I also know a great guy to handle NASCAR now, his name would be John Kernan... He should be the host, not wasted on ESPN (well not really wasted, he's just such a great NASCAR guy) as a NHRA pit reporter....

I seriously cringe at the thought of hearing Crusty announce a race, or Erik K host a NASCAR now show...

Why do I have the feeling I'll be cringing a lot this season watching ESPN's NASCAR coverage...

Seems I may be cringing in two weeks when NASCAR now debuts.

Anonymous said...

Keep the pressure on ESPN JD. Largely because of your efforts ESPN and other NASCAR TV partners are now held accountable by the fans. "Above Average" NASCAR TV coverage is no longer good enough!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey guys,

Marty Smith has been at testing with a camera crew filing reports for ESPN News, although I have not caught him on SC yet.

lohur: What has drawn so much attention to Ms. Sobieski's remarks is the fact that if nothing is radically changing except the focus on more green flag racing, what is the problem with confirming talent assignments?

Next week should be very interesting.


Callaway said...

The cold hard facts are that ESPN is a stick and ball network and will always be that. Racing other than a revenue stream for them to tap into is looked at with disdain by the on air commentators who seem more enamored with a gorilla slam dunk by some college basketball player than a guy "just riding around in a circle" their words not mine. I see a drop off of quality in general coverage as well all to eager to please their masters at ABC with on air promos for Desperate Housewives during a sporting event. I wouldn't look for any great improvement it is what it is just another bland TV network that in most cases are more prone to the dramatic than substance. Some healthy competition would do a great deal of good one way or another.

Ritchie said...

I frankly don't believe that the leaders of ESPN don't have an influence on what is put on Sportscenter. I have watched Sportscenter all of my life, and they always promote what ESPN is carrying.

I realize that ESPN wants to create the illusion that Sportscenter has integrity, however viewers have long given up on such lofty expectations. Sportscenter did nothing but mock NASCAR for the entire year. It was like watching the two different shows; if baseball was being discussed, they were as professional as CNN. However, when discussing NASCAR, it was like watching TMZ.

This is a NASCAR site, so I will stick to racing. However, they are having issues with other sports as well. There is simply something wrong with ESPN, and they are in denial.

David said...

Sometimes you say the most when you say nothing at all. ESPN told us more by not saying anything. They really don't care what anyone wants they are going to shove their version of what they feel we need down our throat. Those days are over, there are too many other things to watch.

I have seen Marty on ESPNEWS a couple of times. Once with a Tony Stewart Story and the other With a JR story.

Anonymous said...

I'm baffled as to why ABC/ESPN woudl spedn the massive bucks it took to win the NASCAR broadcast contract, then do everything they can to alienate the sport's audience.

They need to stop producing races for themselves and produce the races the viewers want to see. That means making changes. The current talent is making viewers unhappy--that can be ssen everywhere on the internet, not just on this board.

So a prudent business decision would be to do as the customers wish and replace the talent with people they want to watch.

However, it has been pointed out many times that ESPN's attitude is that they know best, and you should just deal with it.

Which means they will have to deal with the results of the philosophy: a shrinking audience, lower ratings, and thus the inability to charge advertisers the money the network would like. ABC could actual end up losing money no the seven-year contract.

Or...they could just fix the broadcast.

I know what my company would do.

Anonymous said...

The idea that ESPN can't/won't tell Sportscenter to include Nascar in its coverage is ludicrous. Whose nextwork is it, after all?

Sportscenter is ESPN. ESPN is Sportscenter. No proper Nascar coverage on Sportscenter means that ESPN doesn't care about Nascar -- there is no other interpretation possible.

If ESPN used the power of their major programing, like Sportscenter, to sell Nascar on their bid then I'd think Nascar would have an out for their contract since coverage on ESPN's most important, flagship program hasn't materialized.

Anonymous said...

I did see a report from Marty Smith eariler this week on SC. He interviewed Tony Stewart and showed him not only in his Cup car, but a few moments of him in his midget at the Chili Bowl. They mentioned his finished 8th and was last year's winner. Gotta say I was pretty surprised to see and hear that. Since SC rarely mentions the #1 motorsport in the US, having them show 10 seconds of midget racing is even more rare.

GoCards said...

I also saw Marty Smith on Sportscenter. He did a report on Jimmie Johnson. He was on there a few more times, but I don't remember the subjects.

Anonymous said...

Am an long time racing fan and one that is not pleased with the race coverage at ESPn, thanks for your insights. Pre Season Thunder on Speed channel is not covering the Nationwide series testing this week, neither is ESPn. Are we faced with no coverage again this year? Seems to me that NASCAR should step in and be an advocate for the fan who try to follow racing instead of leaving us out in the cold.

jersey_dan said...

i agree with this topic, and don't understand the reluctance of espn to share their plans for the upcoming season. i mean, in the same interview, this sobieski person says that ""There really isn't anything we are prepared to announce right now,", and then says that "you should notice some changes to make the experience better for the fans"....yet they can't/won't tell us what they are?!?!?

Not being familiar with large scale television productions like a nascar season, i don't know if it's odd that they haven't said anything about their 'race team', those that we'll see on raceday. Since espn doesn't cover any races until halfway through the season, perhaps they feel that they don't need to announce them as early as fox and speed? i also don't know enough about the timetable to know whether these things are already decided or not. JD, do you know? or could they still be making changes to that team and hence the delay?

in any event, given that interview, and espn's past treatment of nascar, i don't hold out much hope for any changes that those who frequent this blog would consider positive.

TexasRaceLady said...

BTW, if anyone is curious, the Shakespeare quote is from "Macbeth". :-)

TexasRaceLady said...

ROTFL --- I just realized that "Macbeth" is a tragedy.

What an appropriate comparison to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.

Sorry, JD, I just couldn't resist.

amy said...

Well, one advantage to sorry coverage, if there are any, is that we won't have to endure commercials for half the race. Last season, commercial minutes were down for every race, according to the race breakdown reports on Jayski. I suspect that with the economy going south and coverage so poor, we might actually get to watch at least three quarters of the race! yeah! See, the glass CAN be half full! lol

GinaV24 said...

Sounds to me like you folks have covered it all and very well indeed. ESPN's silence speaks volumes and that political doublespeak was just typical. Say what? ESPN is fooling itself if it thinks it has 7 years to fix it. By then, all the fans that used to watch will have found other ways to follow NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

Well, one advantage to sorry coverage, if there are any, is that we won't have to endure commercials for half the race.

You wish! The network will fill the time with promos. At least as annoying as piad commercials!

Anonymous said...

The comment from the lady at ESPN makes Sportscenter sound like a rogue element operating outside the lines of the parent company.She basically stated that they do their own thing. Sort of like they created the Frankenstein, and now they can't control him. Pretty weak answer. I'd like to know where I sign up for her job. All you need is a third grade education....
My guess as to why they are being so evasive, is that they are emabarrassed by their destruction of the broadcasts last year, that they are in damage control.
Yet they don't have the guts to admit it.
Again, where do I sign up for these job positions?

Anonymous said...

Here's my two cents. My thought on the 'inside the wall fans' at PSPN is that by this term, they mean boardmembers and major shareholders.

The fact that PSPN is not saying anything about their coverage for this season scares me. I think it's going to be more of the same crappy coverage with little to no change.

I'll definitely be watching all of the truck races this year on SPEED and will probably limit my Nationwide series races to just the ones that my #1 favorite driver, Bobby Labonte, is going to be in. The Cup races will be DVR'd.

stricklinfan82 said...

I still say ESPN isn't going to change a thing for 2008. They simply don't care what anyone else thinks about what they're doing.

The first major sign of whether things will change in '08 will come at the Nationwide race at Daytona in a few weeks.

Clearly this is a "big" event, so ESPN will almost certainly deem all their NASCAR talent "not good enough" to host this major event and bring in an outsider with no NASCAR knowledge to fill that role. So what "big name" talent with little or no NASCAR knowledge do you guys think ESPN will insult our intelligence with instead?

My guess is Brent Musburger.

Anonymous said...

So Brent Muschberger is a big talent, the only word for him is boring. Why doesn't Rusty, Suzy and Brad, for the sake of the fans, just offer their resignations, then the powers that be can put some NASCAR talented people to call the race.

Anonymous said...

I was pleased with NN last year. It freed up my DVR for Wheel of Fortune in my TV market.

Boyd said...

I didn't see the Chase last year and two of my drivers were in contention. I couldn't stand the coverage on TV. I found listening to Dave Moody on Sirius more informative and entertaining.
ESPN was in charge of Monday Night Football. Missed all those games too.
My feeling is that the inmates have control of the assylum, and the guards are tryting to keep it mum.
Hopefully there is someone that understands racing that can help them out. I know Rusty was a driver, but he definitely only knows the Miller Lite car and hates Gordon, not racing.
Maybe JD, you could become a consultant for them and shove them in the right direction.

Mike said...

Great. Sounds like another year of declining ratings.

I seriously hope they at least replace the NASCAR NOW host.

Andy Marquis said...

You have hit it dead on. I was watching the Bowl games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC and had the same complaints I had about NASCAR on ESPN. It makes me think the whole network needs change top to bottom.

They didn't plan for overtime or postgame coverage with any of these games and if another one was set to be on, it was thrown on to which is not avaliable to Comcast customers.

They covered the Mickey Mouse (Disney owns ESPN) stories every change they got. Their sideline reporters didn't seem to have a clue about the sport.

NFL Countdown = Same thing, Mickey Mouse stories, way overhyped rivalries, poor analysis, Suzy Kolber, etc.

FOX is not the best. I've never been a fan of FOX, or NBC. But they're a huge improvement over the coverage we have on ESPN , ESPN2 and ABC.

It's starting to sound to me like ESPN plans on making no changes. They have a great commentator in Allen Bestwick, Brad Daughetry does have potential and is awesome in the booth, Dale Jarrett is really good, Jerry Punch is a rockstar in the pits and Andy Petree would be great in the Dish Tech Center. I've completely given up hope on the others.

Rusty, Suzy, Mike Massarro, Jamie Little and Dave Burns (who was solid at NBC) bring nothing to the table. They need to bring Marty Smith in and John Kernan and Jack Arute as they are all great assets to ESPN. It's a shame that their IndyCar Series coverage is 100 times better than their NASCAR coverage.

I, for one, will be watching a lot of Washington Redskins football on FOX5 if they keep the Mickey Mouse graphics (Draft track) and the clueless announcers.

Anonymous said...

to sophiaZ123, I don't think you have anything to worry about, in seven years NASCAR will be a faint memory, unless some changes are made

Rich said...

Ho HUM ........the beat goes on. I'm waiting for the announcement from ESPN like everyone else.If they have signed the current broadcast team to long term contracts,then we have a problem. Hopefully they can move them around to different duties. IE. Bestwick to the booth.Punch to the pits. Rusty to do the infield care center interviews. I hope FOX does a stellar job this year and forces ESPN to step it up a bunch of notches.

Anonymous said...

in seven years NASCAR will be a faint memory, unless some changes are made
NASCAR was around long, long before TV ever showed it, and it will be around even if TV screws up its coverage.

Newracefan said...

After reading the Exum article yesterday my first thought was can I get an appartment at ESPN since there are obviously people "fans" living there, but I guess the armed guards at Sports Center might be a problem. Talk about a noninformative interview, why even give one, poor David he must have been very unhappy. I am very much afraid the reason Sobieski was unwilling to reveal anything is that she is planning no changes for this season or no one will accept the positions because of the overall disaster ESPN has become. I am less hopeful everyday than this year will be better.

Vince said...

ESPN's lack of comment about any changes for this coming year speak volumes to me. I do not think they are going to change much, if anything. I for one am going to vote on ESPN's coverage with my remote this year. My tv will not be on ESPN if there are no changes in the race coverage, on air "talent" and the host of NN. I urge those of you who are fed up with ESPN's coverage of our sport to do the same. Their arrogance amazes me.

Brian said...

I appreciate his time, but the following gave me quite a laugh:

"Do you feel that ESPN listens to the NASCAR fans in terms of coverage concerns?" he asked.

"We certainly hope so and we hope fans feel that way," said Sobieski.

Hahaha.. .sure you listen, keep telling yourself that.

Anonymous said...

Two more words: NASCAR NOW.

Andrew (TeamBlueOval) said...

I seriously hope they at least replace the NASCAR NOW host.

Which one? It seems like they had a different one every day...

The (Western) New Yorker said...

Mr. Daly, it seems to me as if ESPN is either:

1. Not changing anything, and trying to avoid the horrendous backlash from NASCAR fans thanks to folks like you who cut through their baloney to tell us who really is going on.


2. Is revamping mostly everything, and does not have it all finalized yet. As a NASCAR fan, I hope it is #2.

Anonymous said...

I saw Ken Schrader speak yesterday and someone asked him he will be on INC this year. His reply was that they haven't told him that he wasn't doing it.

Anonymous said...

JD, you mentioned SPEED hasn't announced the lineup for INC (or ISC). I heard a VP from SPEED on Moody's radio show last week, and he didn't exactly say they would be back. Instead, he mentioned that they were looking at several "alternatives" for Monday night.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Thanks for all the great comments. There will be a column this week about SPEED's plans for INC and the weekday NASCAR programming.

As we all know, it was about time for an INC upgrade, and it will be interesting to see what SPEED rolls-out and if it is joined on Monday night by any additional NASCAR programming.



delenn said...

I too believe there is nothing to announce because ESPN do not know what they are doing. They are probably trying to figure out how to save face for the fiasco they unleashed last year, or how they can convince us they are right and we are wrong.

ESPN have the same problem with MNF as they do with Nascar, but year on year they continue to do nothing. I suspect Nascar will be the same.

I hope I am wrong. I hope the consensus views from here come to happen, and that all the "talent" are those we want. Will it happen? No chance.

As for the Sportscenter stuff, that is just a joke. If I had spent millions on a property, Sportscenter would cover well it, or the editors would be finding new jobs. Pathetic answer I am afraid.