Saturday, May 3, 2008
Baseball And NASCAR Clash Once Again
Once the two hour RaceDay program on SPEED ended, NASCAR fans turned the dial to Fox for the pre-race show from the Hollywood Hotel. Instead, what many of them found was Major League Baseball once again.
For me, it was the Mets vs. the Diamondbacks in the eighth inning with no outs. Fox had several baseball games it had presented to various areas of the country. Depending on the game that the local Fox station was broadcasting, you either got the NASCAR pre-race show or joined it in-progress.
In some areas of the nation, the live baseball game covered a significant portion of the pre-race show. Then, the transition between baseball and NASCAR was rough.
Here in the South Florida area, along with most fans who watched the Mets game, viewers saw many minutes of commercial breaks and then joined NASCAR host Chris Myers in mid-sentence. Eventually, Myers welcomed viewers from the Mets game and promptly threw to another commercial break. There was no recap of the earlier highlights or top stories that some fans had missed.
Luckily, a crisp and focused race telecast helped to ease the pain of once again having the potential for a long over-run because of baseball. Mike Joy and company showed-off the multiple Sports Emmys that NASCAR on Fox had recently won and then worked hard to prove they deserved the honor.
The TV crew cannot change the dynamic of the race, and it was clear from the start that Denny Hamlin was going to "stink up the show." The upside was a great looking race with outstanding natural sound from both the track and the individual in-car cameras. Tough to do on a short track.
Fans instantly noticed that Fox had responded to the multiple problems with the live race "ticker" by changing it completely. Now connected directly to the GPS information from the track, the moving graphics actually update live by switching positions as the cars do the same on the track.
At first the movement is distracting, but then the value becomes clear. The immediacy of the information, especially at a short track like Richmond, is fantastic. As the race progressed it was clear that Fox has made a very positive change in the coverage. Perhaps, they may share this with TNT for their summer tour.
The booth announcers and the pit reporters dug deep to make the middle portions of the telecast interesting despite the lack of action on the track. Their efforts were rewarded with a memorable finish. Once again, NASCAR had almost lucked into a good story for both the live TV coverage and the other NASCAR media with Busch vs. Earnhardt Jr.
The incident was well-covered during the broadcast, but disjointed immediately after the race. The Daly Planet's complaints about the singular Fox focus on the race winner were certainly evident once again. This time, the Director tried to show the field crossing the line, but missed the second place cars that included Kyle Busch.
There just has to be a better way to finish these races on TV. Since the announcers have always been on-top of the finishing action and the sound is sensational, the only issue once again is the video. This was a good effort, but things cannot just be "planned" in this sport. What is actually happening in the race needs to dictate the final lap coverage.
Fans like Clint Bowyer, but the focus of the finish and the post-race should have been Kyle Busch and Dale Junior. For Fox, striking the balance between the "planned" focus on the winner and the reality of the action has always been their Achilles Heel. The battle to the line for second had to be replayed for TV viewers.
Even running late, Fox hung-in and worked the pit reporters on the stories that needed to be told. Krista Voda showed her experience when she knew how to deal with a clearly disappointed and upset Junior after the race. NASCAR fans have vivid memories of ESPN's Mike Massaro pushing Junior to the brink of tears after he fell out of Chase contention last season. Voda did it just right.
Overall, this was the type of telecast that NASCAR fans enjoy. Despite the baseball issues and the glitch at the finish, the improvements in the ticker and the overall quality of the coverage made the evening a solid one for the sport. It should be interesting to see if Fox can continue to ride a nice wave of higher ratings into Darlington after this strong performance in Richmond.
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