Tuesday, February 5, 2008

SPEED And ESPN Together For One Last Day

Fans this week have been witness to an interesting moment in NASCAR TV coverage. While SPEED is wrapping up weeks of pre-season daily shows, the NASCAR Now series on ESPN2 is just getting underway.

The result is a display of the very different styles of two of NASCAR's biggest TV partners. Wednesday will be the last easy day to see these styles, as Thursday kicks-off Media Day at Daytona, and both networks add lots of programming.

SPEED has set a relaxed and informal tone with their non-racing NASCAR programming for some time now. The network chose Steve Byrnes to host the final three pre-season shows, and viewers have become comfortable with his tone and humor.

Like many other non-sports networks on cable TV, there is an atmosphere set that encourages fun and allows for informality when the on-air hosts are casually attired. SPEED has worked hard to integrate that casual look into its NASCAR coverage.

ESPN, on the other hand, chooses carefully to select business attire as the norm for the on-air talent. Blazer and tie are usually required, and when the network tried to put the NASCAR announcers in bright red long-sleeve oxford shirts last season, there was not a good result.

Each choice of attire is very much related to the on-air philosophy of that network. The antics we see with Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer on RaceDay are not going to happen with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty on NASCAR Countdown.

Tuesday night, we saw the business suit of Ryan Burr at 6PM and then saw the SPEED logo shirt and khaki pants of Steve Byrnes at 7PM.

Burr's more formal attire set a fast-paced tone for very structured conversation and news reporting. It looks like ESPN. Slick, polished and scripted. The non-scripted moments actually stick-out like a sore thumb.

The downside to that approach is the lack of informal conversation and general "kidding around." Only Boris Said was slick enough to mock the host and goof-around last season on NASCAR Now. Everyone else was buttoned-up and looked ready for the weekly staff meeting.

SPEED, on the other hand, enjoys their casual attire and informal tone. That does come, however, with a price. The upside is all of the memorable moments like Michael Waltrip not wearing socks or the RaceDay guys dressed up in white wigs and black gowns to "hold court."

The downside is that sometimes the "goofing around" gets out of hand. Things got off-track somewhat on Trackside and certainly the entire "Rutledge and Ricki" act on RaceDay was sometimes just embarrassing. Luckily, that element will not return for this season.

So, as we continue to talk NASCAR TV it certainly is interesting to see two networks basically delivering almost the same content in two completely different styles. While this will come in a nice package of two shows on Wednesday, things completely change on Thursday.

ESPN News Network will launch a three hour live show from NASCAR Media Day with hosts in both the ESPN Studios and in the Daytona Media Center. SPEED will provide their own Media Day show later, and then continue on with even more NASCAR programming.

From that point on, viewers can basically just sit back and watch hundreds of hours of NASCAR programming delivered by ESPN and SPEED all the way through November. The NASCAR TV season is officially here.

As you scan through the program guides and continue to watch the "support programming" like RaceDay, This Week In NASCAR, NASCAR Now, Tradin' Paint and NASCAR Countdown, keep in mind the two very different TV network approaches to the same content.

With new faces in place for both SPEED and ESPN, we will be keeping an eye on what programs are going well, and which shows are in need of some repair. Rarely can one sport thrive in an environment where it is presented in two such distinct ways.

It should be interesting to see what manner of delivery to the NASCAR fans brings in the desired results for these two NASCAR TV partners.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. Thanks again for stopping by.


Lisa said...

This is off topic, but congrats on being named #1 on the NASCAR Sports Blog Index!

People ARE noticing!

Ritchie said...

I find it a little odd when I see someone from ESPN in the garage area with a suit and tie on. I know that ESPN used to do this, but I can't remember if they continued that practice last year or went to the firesuit in the garage for the entire weekend. However, I always thought that wearing those style of clothes, which are made with synthetic material, around of those chemicals in the garage area might be a little dangerous.

On the other hand, I think that wearing at the very least a sport jacket creates an image that you take the sport seriously. Think Ned Jarrett. He was easy to trust because he looked trustworthy. Sometimes with the SPEED guys look like they just walked out of the stands and started talking. Fun, but hard to respect.

Tom said...

You rightly point out the opposing "takes" that these networks have towards presentation. I have always liked Ryan Burr (probably because he wasn't Eric K), but i still find myself fast forwarding through everything unless it is one of the reporters like Newton or Smith. The interviews play like commercials at best (Newman) to somewhat embarrassing (Allison). I know it is early, and there has been little in terms of real news, but I cannot get past the idea that our old friends hype (Bowyer. On His Roof. Again.) and sensationalism (Can't remember the 500? How was it to win?) are back.

Inverness, FL

Anonymous said...

If ESPN does not have the antics like Kenny Wallace and Spencer, all I can say is , THANK GOODNESS!! That stuff is impossible to watch.Kenny's act makes me sick, I'm so tired of it.To me SPEED/ FOX has too many people trying to be comedians that have zero talent in that area.DW, MW, Kenny, etc. are not funny and Spencer's opinions make my head spin sometimes from their stupidity. If ESPN continues this way, I say YES!, YES! YES!

Anonymous said...

Nascar Now=Strike Two!

Anonymous said...

"I know that ESPN used to do this, but I can't remember if they continued that practice last year or went to the firesuit in the garage for the entire weekend."
February 6, 2008 7:31 AM

From what I remember, the ESPN pit reporters wore polo shirts and black pants on practice and qualifying days last season. However, I do remember seeing Marty Smith in a suit jacket in the garage at least at the beginning of the year when he was reporting, it may have changed later in the season.

There's a very nice interview with Ned Jarrett on nascar.com today (although the reporter kept trying to make him choose a new favorite driver after DJ retires, even after Mr. Jarrett declined to choose one.) He talks about how taking the Dale Carnegie speaking course was the thing that made him stand out in the garage and that it was worth the very expensive (at the time) $150 it cost him to enroll. Kind of goes back to the discussion in another topic about NASCAR drivers needing to be able to give good interviews, that's why Mr. Jarrett said he took the course.

He also talks about current broadcasts and the differences between now and then.

Shawnna said...

When I saw the Newman interview yesterday, I wondered if it wasn't one of those feeds where they HAD to talk about his promotion (Nextel circle?) in order to talk to him at all. Was that the case, JD? (See I have paid attention this year and learned something!)

Shawnna in OKC

Anonymous said...

I'll take SPEED and their relaxed, fun atmosphere over ESPN's uptight, stuffed shirt NASCAR 101 any day of the week.

GinaV24 said...

the contrast is very interesting when you can see the programs almost side by side this way. I have to admit that ESPN comes off very "stiff" and that I enjoy Speed's delivery much better. That said, there are times when Speed runs amok and drives me crazy with the stupid stuff. I am very relieved to hear that the rutledge & ricki act will go away! I would tune out whenever they were on since they just made me crazy and I agree that Kenny Wallace's shtick has gotten old. I'm waiting for the media tour shows to see if NN can step up or not, with Rusty and Nicole. Actually, the show I'm waiting for is when Allen Bestwick is host -- for that I will probably tune in regularly, but ESPN will need to be more impressive than they have been for the opening shows for me to become a daily viewer.

congrats, JD, on being the #1 Blog! Woo hoo

Newracefan said...

JD I never thought about it that way but I think that may be part of the reason I like Speed better. I deal with professionalism; suit/ties or skirts/pantyhose :) every day a work. I want my Nascar to be fun although no so much fun (sometimes Race Day does get carried away) that I do not learn anything. I'll keep giving Nascar Now a chance but I too can't wait for AB he's in the suit but he still seems to have fun.

elena said...

There sure are different styles of presenting programs. But then there are so many preferences in fans.

As far as the dress code, CBS, Fox, CBS, NBC, Golf, Tennis channels and ESPN all have similar dress codes. You are at work and not at a BBQ.

Now on Mike and Mike in the morning, the guys wear sweat shirts or sweaters or polo shirts, but only in their own program. When the participate in any of the other programs they always wear a suit as do all their guests.

The #1 rated pre game NFL show is on Fox. The whole team has a good time and have great chemistry and yet you'll never see Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, or Terry Bradshaw dressed in anything but suits while doing the show.

So what they do at SPEED they do not do at Fox or ESPN, etc. And that's okay. It's like the WWE, I don't get it, but it's silly to ignore that they are a multi-billion dollar enterprise and very popular. So, some will like you and some will not, you don't want to be a copy-cat. Just won't work. Actually, SPEED is the one that is operating outside the lines, not ESPN. If it works for them, great.

MariettaDawg said...

I'm as giddy as a little school girl! NASCAR is back!!!

Seriously folks, I hope we can take this small sign of contrition from Brain France as acknowledgement of the fans' desires and give him the chance to correct some of what has gone wrong. It has taken a long time for NASCAR to get into the trouble it is in, and it will take a while to get it back out.

As the season breaks out of its new wrapper this week, just take a moment to sit back and take in the spectacle which we have been granted the opportunity to enjoy. Grab your kids and watch some races or take them if you can. My son made it to his first race last fall and I have a Race Buddy for life now.

We are so incredibly fortunate to have this sport and the fellowship that goes along with it that I have to look upon those that say they have left the sport behind with suspicion. NASCAR is much like this nation, neither are perfect, but they are still heads and tails above anything else out there.

I'll sit back over the next week and take in the unfolding season, grab my kids (my daughter is getting into it as well) and say a prayer of thanks. You should too.

Boogity, boogity, boogity!!! Let's go racin' y'all!