Saturday, April 12, 2008
Fox Sports Caught In A No-Win Situation
NASCAR fans are certainly familiar with the logistical challenges that ESPN faced last season. The network struggled to present Saturday NASCAR practices, qualifying and races up against live college football games.
Saturday night, the Fox Sports executives found themselves in the same type of position. Major League Baseball on Fox was in a rain delay and threatened to run long into the scheduled NASCAR race from Phoenix. During the NASCAR pre-race show the tarp came off at Fenway, and Fox switched to the live baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the NY Yankees.
Give credit to the Fox TV crews at the NASCAR race and in Boston. Ultimately, it was made clear to both baseball and racing fans that the Fox executives had made a decision. Baseball would continue on the Fox Broadcast Network right up until the lap before the green flag in Phoenix.
Since baseball can go very long, it would then be switched to the FX cable network. In fact, viewers checking FX found that the game was already being simulcast. Things were explained well, and everyone knew that Fox was trying to make the best of a tough situation.
Unfortunately, live sports has a way of humbling even the best made plans. Literally, there was a full count in the ninth inning with two out as the NASCAR flagman told the forty-three cars there was one lap to green.
As we all know, the outcome was the worst scenario for both sports. The network switched over to NASCAR, but missed the start of the race. Fox's own Larry McReynolds was the celebrity who waved the green flag that was not seen. Viewers saw that on replay. For the first time in a long time, there was no "Boogity" on Fox.
Baseball fans who did not switch over to FX also got shortchanged. Moments after the switch to NASCAR, the long baseball game was over. Fox has missed the moment they came back on-the-air to capture. At least the FX coverage was solid and even contained a post-game segment.
As the race panned-out, it was clear that Fox had decided to reduce the "Digger" camera use. This tool was used effectively on replays and worked well as a bumper into commercial break under caution. The Director resisted "cutting" this camera into regular laps and focused on the racing action.
The race was a typical Phoenix TV scramble that several times forced the TV crew to use replays to sort-out the on-track action. Fox is very good as serving up the exact replays in a timely fashion and did so again in this event.
Triple video boxes and double video boxes worked well to show either live racing or replays. Fox has become good at this element, but the four video boxes during pit stops still costs the viewer a good perspective of the race off pit road. In this category, ESPN has it covered on their Nationwide Series coverage.
Fox has struggled to figure out how to approach the finish of the race. This Saturday in Phoenix, the network followed the regular format they have used for several seasons. The winner was shown, his pit crew was shown and the remainder of the field was ignored.
None of the stories that both the booth and pit road announcers were following were paid-off. Fox has determined that this is their format and it will continue. As winner Jimmie Johnson did his burnout and took his victory lap, it was clear that he was not about to run out of fuel. The "other" story of the race was going to be how the teams that stopped for fuel finished the race. None of them were seen.
After a tough start and a good race it was hard not to see the drivers who were up-front all-day finish. Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were two good examples. Their interviews after the race showed how hard they worked and how much of themselves they had left on the racetrack. The Sprint Cup Series has a weekend off and then moves on to Talladega as the NASCAR on Fox coverage continues.
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