Sunday, May 25, 2008

NASCAR May Benefit From ESPN Shake-Up


The morning hours during the week, especially Monday through Wednesday, have always been a problem for ESPN. Back in the early days, ESPN did a non-sports show called Nation's Business Today hosted by Consuelo Mack from Washington, DC.

That gave the network a morning break from sports and seemingly filled a void that has existed on ESPN since the network began back in 1979. For the past several years, ESPN has basically thrown-in the towel and re-aired the late night version of SportsCenter over-and-over again.

This left any breaking NASCAR news or updates to Mike and Mike in the Morning or First Take. Needless to say, both of these programs avoid NASCAR like Superman avoids Kryptonite. When Mike and Mike visited the Texas Motor Speedway last year, they had no NASCAR presence until the final twenty minutes of the multi-hour show.

While some digital cable viewers have ESPN News, the "big boys" in the line-up are ESPN and ESPN2. Now, there is a change on the horizon that may yield some positive results for NASCAR fans. Her name is Hannah Storm.

Pictured above with Joe Montana and last seen anchoring The Early Show on CBS, Storm is a sports veteran with a solid background in the industry. She spent ten years at NBC Sports in a wide variety of roles, and worked at CNN as well.

Storm's new challenge is to take the 9AM through Noon timeslot and reclaim it for ESPN as a live "wheel" of SportsCenter content. As the world has changed, the demand for the news portion of the ESPN TV empire to "refresh itself" has also increased.

Often times, ESPN.com is already reporting breaking news and in-progress stories as the 2:30AM SportsCenter replays yet once again on ESPN in the morning. Basically, sports information technology has prompted this move.

Here is the AP story about the change, which features several interesting points. Storm will be joined by a second anchor in the mornings, although the name of that person has not yet been announced. ESPN has said they will select the person from the existing staff. Hopefully, NASCAR fans will not lose Ryan Burr to this new show.

The upside is that Storm has a hard-nose for news and is known as a no-nonsense person when it comes to determining priorities for stories. This new three hour live window is no doubt an opportunity for ESPN's NASCAR personalities to contribute.

Currently, the gap that exists between SportsCenter and NASCAR is huge. Many of the anchors have no NASCAR knowledge, while others treat the sport as a curiosity. Who can forget Kenny Mayne calling Jeff Gordon "Gordo" and referring to Jimmy Johnson's car as the "per diem" car because $48 is the amount anchors get on the road for expenses. Think that would happen with Joe Torre or Kobe Bryant?

This season, ESPN has turned-around NASCAR Now with the addition of Nicole Manske and Allen Bestwick. ESPNEWS has stepped-up to the plate with live post-race coverage from the Infield Media Center after every Cup race. While it is clear there is no reaching stick-and-ball crazy shows like Mike and Mike or First Take, there is now a new glimmer of hope on the horizon for SportsCenter.

The new live morning version of SportsCenter starts in August, just in time to welcome Dale Jarrett with his review of the Brickyard 400. Hopefully, the new morning SportsCenter crew will open the door and finally allow NASCAR to become a viable part of the most-watched sports program in the world.

Update: The strong rumor is that ESPN.com will "spin-off" a stand-alone site called SportsCenter.com which will be aimed at fans for scores, blogs and interactive content. This would make sense with ESPN ultimately taking SportsCenter live from 6AM through 3PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday in August.

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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

The article says there are nine new hours of Sportscenter each day in total in three 3-hour blocks. As much as I've come to like Ryan Burr, if he's interested in that opportunity (sounds like five more anchors are needed) and he has a crack at it, I hope he gets it.

Three hours as a co-anchor on ESPN every day sure beats half an hour a few days a week on ESPN2 hosting NASCAR Now in the early evening, or a couple of hours a day on ESPNews. The viewership of ESPN is so much bigger than ESPN2 (almost three times as big) - even though ESPN tries to pretend they are "separate but equal" networks, they just aren't. It would make him more visible. Plus now Burr knows what NASCAR is about so he can help that cause while they program all those Sportscenter hours.

Hannah Storm is great; she did a great job with Olympics coverage before being booted for the "bigger" name of Katie Couric, who wasn't as good and didn't mix well with Bob Costas. And like Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, Hannah also did some play--by-play in the early days of the WNBA, before moving to the Early Show.

John - you may have also seen ESPN2 has picked up all early round coverage of the US Open tennis matches beginning in 2009. 10 hours of live coverage per day. That's more live events to try to cram on ESPN2 this summer alongside Nationwide races, Cup practices and happy hour, and College Football.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 11:06PM,

I am awaiting the tennis schedule, but believe that ESPN Classic is destined for more live programming in 2009.

In terms of ESPN and ESPN2, I think you might be thinking about either ESPN Classic or ESPNEWS. Several years ago, ESPN2 began to pick-up steam and is now only slightly smaller than ESPN.

In fact, the ESPN company tried for a while not to refer to it as ESPN2 but they could not figure out a way to do the TV listings.

One little rumor running around is that this nine live hours of SC on ESPN is going to spell the end of First Take. It should be interesting to see how it all sorts out.

JD

Kyle said...

JD,
How much do the individual show host control the content of the show at ESPN?

It would be great to see some NASCAR content someplace other then NN. Seems I get the "NO NASCAR" from PTI stuck in my head even during Sports Center.

Mike and Mike was a absolute travesty last year, and haven't watched the show since.

haus20 said...

AS JD has said in the past, ESPN simply needs to revamp their programming...Classic has no new programming and now you have two channels from the same Network competing for the same demographic in the same time slots...while in theory this may be a good idea in reality it ends up being ESPN News labeled as SportsCenter.

As has been reported and also stated by anon., ESPN has picked up more tennis. They alo have the PGA, NASCAR, the NBA, MLB and the NFL. They now have broadcast rights to every major sport except hockey. They have great potential to actually use all of their channels to provide "excellence in sports" for fans of all sports. Instead they continue to use poker and billards programming to fill open timeslots.


HMMMMM.

Daly Planet Editor said...

kyle,

That is an interesting question. No sports are in-progress, and last night's highlights are old.

What they choose to include and how they present the information is going to be key to making the whole concept work.

This is a big risk, because five years ago almost all of America was at work. Now, we have TV cards in our computers and many people have home-based businesses or simply work from home.

If this works, it will be a huge success for the company. Unfortunately, with ESPN Classic airing no original programming, ESPNU almost unknown, ESPN's Mobile Phone project tanking and ESPN Original Entertainment having been closed....things are not exactly going great guns in Bristol.

JD

glenc1 said...

very interesting. I've always liked Storm and I think she'll do well with this. They definitely needed to do some revamping. I am not home during the day, but I can't tell you how annoying it is when I'm on vacation or on weekends trying to find out news (sometimes about racing, sometimes other things) and have nothing but reruns of the Sportcenter I've already seen...grrrrrr...and the ticker takes 20 minutes to go through baseball scores (there's got to be a quicker way...) while I just wanted to see who won the F1 race cause I missed the end (they did an 'auto racing' update and never mentioned it...I finally gave up looked it up online.) They need to give up already on Classic and just use it for live programming (unless there is really nothing going on and they're welcome to show 20 year old boxing matches...)

I find the 'definition' of the 4 networks confusing. I turn to the 'News' for the news and find a 'program' on, like Around the Horn. And the Sportcenter/PTI thing (while occasionally amusing) isn't working for me when I think it ought to be 'news' time (5-7). My comments are all kind of rambling here, but in general, the networks could surely use some retooling to bring things more up to date for the viewers.

glenc1 said...

very interesting. I've always liked Storm and I think she'll do well with this. They definitely needed to do some revamping. I am not home during the day, but I can't tell you how annoying it is when I'm on vacation or on weekends trying to find out news (sometimes about racing, sometimes other things) and have nothing but reruns of the Sportcenter I've already seen...grrrrrr...and the ticker takes 20 minutes to go through baseball scores (there's got to be a quicker way...) while I just wanted to see who won the F1 race cause I missed the end (they did an 'auto racing' update and never mentioned it...I finally gave up looked it up online.) They need to give up already on Classic and just use it for live programming (unless there is really nothing going on and they're welcome to show 20 year old boxing matches...)

I find the 'definition' of the 4 networks confusing. I turn to the 'News' for the news and find a 'program' on, like Around the Horn. And the Sportcenter/PTI thing (while occasionally amusing) isn't working for me when I think it ought to be 'news' time (5-7). My comments are all kind of rambling here, but in general, the networks could surely use some retooling to bring things more up to date for the viewers.

ttc said...

JD: Excellent analysis.

My problem with Sportscenter is that is obviously aimed for a too young demographic (6-12 year olds?).

Hopefully Hannah Storm can make it into a more mature show although I note that Linda Cohn, in the same age bracket as Storm, acts like a clown similar to nearly all the male anchors.

Anonymous said...

"In terms of ESPN and ESPN2, I think you might be thinking about either ESPN Classic or ESPNEWS. Several years ago, ESPN2 began to pick-up steam and is now only slightly smaller than ESPN."


ESPN tries to claim that ESPN and ESPN2 are interchangeable, but they're not, even though they're carried in approximately the same amount of homes. ESPN still has much higher viewership, probably because it's on a higher channel on most cable systems than ESPN2.

From an ESPN press release April 2, 2008: Best First Quarter Ever for ESPN2 & ESPNEWS; ESPN Up 15%, Sets New Mark for March

-ESPN averaged 647,000 homes, up 15 percent from 2007 (565,000) to its second best all time (2006 672,000).

-ESPN2 averaged 263,000 homes, its best for first quarter ever and up four percent from first quarter of 2007 (253,000).

-For ESPNEWS, the first quarter brought the network's most-watched January, February and March, and subsequently its best first quarter ever, an average of 62,000 households. That represents an increase of 10 percent over 2007 (56,000).

Anonymous said...

Edit to above post: those figures are the average number of households watching those networks each day. Obviously they get higher ratings for certain events, but averaged out, that's how many people watch per day.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 3:16PM,

You are absolutely correct that ESPN carries the first-tier programming between the two networks. In my column, I referenced the fact that both ESPN and ESPN2 are now in over 80 million cable homes.

The big card on the table is ESPN Classic. With tennis coming along next season and live SportsCenter all day, it should be interesting to see where ESPN puts the overflow of live event programming.

As you may remember from the Richmond fiasco, NASCAR has now clearly said that scheduling a live race on ESPN Classic is not going to get it done for them. 2009 should be very interesting.

JD

Anonymous said...

I agree alot with what Glenc1 said. Especially the ticker. Why not just show the scores and call it good. It's not like you can't find out more by watching Sports Center, etc.

I hope we get more NASCAR coverage. I hope it will also cover all racing. I like to keep up with other racing series too.

On a funny side note. I read in the paper today that Brent Musberger was at the 40/40 Club here in Vegas. That's rapper JayZ's place.

Dot

Billy Delyon said...

JD, just a little FYI, Kenny Mayne has called Jeff Gordon 'Gordo' for years now.
Back in the late 90's they used to have Kenny Mayne host the bigger races (indy, daytona) and he's always called Jeff 'Gordo' in a joking way...


Loved the rest of you article, hope Hanna does bring in the NASCAR boys for sure!

am19psu said...

To follow up what Billy said, JD, yes, I do think Kenny Mayne would treat Joe Torre or Kobe Bryant that way. That's his schtick. If it were Josh Elliott doing it, I could see your point a lot more.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD- Ms. Storm's having been with what is loosely referred to as NBC Sports, I don't have much reason to be optimistic about improved NASCAR coverage in light of the debacle that was NBC's failed attempt at NASCAR coverage and the damage NBC did to NASCAR. However, Nicole M has turned out to be far, far better that my wildest dreams.

It would seem to me better to fix the utterly unwatchable First Take first. On the other hand, a more live SportsCenter might allow for the cancellation of First Take, a shuffling of some shows, and an opening for more coverage of NASCAR practice and qualifying.

l_long said...

I like Hannah and have missed her very much when CBS did their Morning Show shakeup.

I'll look forward to seeing what she does on ESPN.

Chus said...

This is what I think: Kenny Mayne