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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