Thursday, June 26, 2008

ESPN And The NFL Network: NASCAR Would Suffer

Lots of email has been arriving from veteran NASCAR fans who remember a little-known ESPN Network that played a big part in NASCAR TV last season.

News reports say that the ESPN Classic Network could be changing its identity sometime soon. NASCAR would suffer.

Here is one link to a story about this issue. This one talks about the same thing, and expands on the specifics.

While this issue is not primarily about NASCAR, it does have ramifications for the sport. Last season was the first for NASCAR on both ESPN and ABC in a very long time. While things went well in the beginning with the Busch Series races, it all changed when the college football season got underway.

The Saturday afternoon races were squeezed-in between two live college football games and that spelled trouble for NASCAR. When a race was delayed by rain, extended by a red flag or lots of cautions, things did not go well.

It was ESPN Classic that became the salvation of NASCAR programming when things went sour. Often, races bounced to ESPN Classic when the other two ESPN networks were tied-up with live events. From September to November, ESPN Classic was a vital part of ESPN's NASCAR coverage. It was clear that this season ESPN Classic was going to be a life-saver for the sport once again.

Having ESPN Classic switch-over to NFL content exclusively would cause a big change for NASCAR fans. Essentially, it would eliminate any "overflow" option for NASCAR programming except the online service called ESPN360. When ESPN and ESPN2 were busy and a rain-delayed race started, there would be nowhere to go.

Both sides could have a reason for making this move. The NFL Network is led by controversial former ESPN President Steve Bornstein, who is one tough cookie. His face-off with the cable TV companies since Bornstein arrived at the NFL Network has been the source of many news stories. Bornstein wanted the cable companies to pay a fee for the new network, despite having almost no live content and originally no NFL games.

Even after adding a slate of live NFL games, the network did not find that its public image got any better. In fact, the tide of public opinion turned against the NFL Network and its desire to increase the cost of cable TV to consumers. The cable TV companies made sure to tell their customers exactly that in a very public way.

For the NFL Network, getting access to ESPN Classic's millions of cable TV homes would finally get the distribution the NFL Network needs to survive. But, what is the benefit for a big and powerful media company like ESPN?

Hooking-up with the NFL bunch would allow ESPN to find a way out of the folly that is currently ESPN Classic. The company simply could not find a model that would allow this network to operate successfully. Fans who remember some of the programs created by the now defunct ESPN Original Entertainment for Classic know why things did not work.

Sports fans could not get a handle on what ESPN Classic wanted them to watch. Suggestions by TDP readers included re-airing programs instantly and having designated programming blocks themed by sport. As you might expect, many wanted an increased NASCAR presence other than the rare re-air of a race from the old ESPN days.

A while back, ESPN ended the budget for producing programs for ESPN Classic. The network would now operate by airing shows that ESPN already owned, which would not incur any additional costs. This was a relatively clear signal that ESPN was going to make a move with Classic sometime soon.

We will keep updating this story as it continues to develop. Clearly, the NFL wants more homes for their TV network and ESPN wants some original content for ESPN Classic without cost. In some ways, it certainly does make sense.

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Anonymous said...

OK, you provided a link to an Associated Press story which says:

"The NFL Network and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN are in talks about a partnership, a person familiar with the talks told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing."

Weren't you just now ragging on Newton and ESPN for doing the same thing? Didn't you just write:

"Newton's story has already gone viral all over the place. Blogs, other websites, forums and chat rooms are all talking about the fact that "ESPN said" Tony is shopping for sponsors and leaving Gibbs. My only question is, how fair is this to the people involved? If there is no comment from Gibbs, none from the Haas-CNC team, none from the sponsors and only sly suggestions from the media-savvy this a national news story for, NASCAR Now and the Internet world?"

ESPN and the NFL Network both declined comment in the story you posted, yet you're spreading the "virus" by writing about it and providing a link.


Don't get it. Sorry.

Kyle said...

Well we are all ready watching Ray Childress play pool instead of the advertised 1993 Daytona 500.

I love that they were showing some of the older races on Classic. But if you advertise it..... maybe actually show it.

P.S. Ray Childress the Huston Oilers player no relation to Richard.

Anonymous said...

This is really big news for ESPN, and possibly Nascar might suffer. However, remember the following:
NFLN shows College Football anyway. therefore ESPN may choose to shunt that to the new network rather than Nascar.
The other option may already have been tested this year: Speed.
Reach up there and pull those belts tight one more time. You might need to.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 2:12PM,

Perhaps you don't get our format. We post a topic, you comment on it and then we continue the conversation.

No matter whether you strongly agree or strongly disagree there is going to be no wrong or right on these issues. Its opinion-based around these parts.

The entire point is to get all the diffent views out on this topic and allow fans to air them in a safe environment.

It's OK to disagree completely with the topic. This topic is about the NFL Network and ESPN Classic. If you would like to return and comment on that, it would be great.

Every day of the week for the last sixteen months we have tried to offer an original post specifically to get comments from the fans.

Your view is your own, and will not sway my views or those of the other posters. If they agree with you, they will say so. If they disagree, they will also say so.

I hope you continue to return and post your views.


Anonymous said...

If ESPN can't roll over a delayed broadcast onto ESPNClassic, wouldn't they just instead use ESPN2 or ESNPNNEWS, both of which are carried by my cable provider.

I mean, if ESPN is under contract to broadcast a race and they are dumping it onto ESPN Classic (which by definition doesn't show live events) they are doing so only because they have a contract to fill and want the least disruption as possible. But if ESPN Classic isn't there, it isn't like ESPN doesn't have to honor their obligations to show the whole race. No, they'll just be forced to use one of their other outlets. Might make it a little harder for ESPN, but I don't see it affecting NASCAR. The races will still be shown or else ESPN will be in default.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why NASCAR doesn't get it's own 24/7 channel. The season starts in February and runs until November. There's enough "fillers" to use and I think NASCAR could come up with their own programming that fans would actually like.

Anonymous said...

John didnt you mention this a few weeks back and you said it would be good for NASCAR? Perhaps ar the time it was unclear what ESPN Classic would turn into. Im still not going to give my opinion on the subject until it is offically announced what happens to ESPN Classic.

Newracefan said...

Yes Nascar may suffer but I was going to suffer either way since I am among the many that does not get ESPN360 or ESPNClassic. I just wonder what NASCAR is saying if ESPN doesn't have room for the race, perhaps the poster who mentioned Speed is right (I wish)

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 3:58PM,

That is exactly the point. There are no other outlets. Both ESPN and ESPN2 will be in live college football games or perhaps another live event.

While the NASCAR TV contract mandates coverage, viewers found out last season that if the race does not start on time that coverage can be moved.

ESPN does not put long-form programming on ESPNEWS and ESPNU is for college sports only. That is why we raised this topic.


That, my friend, is the 64 thousand dollar question!


That is a great issue and I think we will be dealing with it soon.


Dot said...

I had taped what I thought was the 93 Daytona 500. I just buzzed through it and saw pool, darts and tennis.(Thanks Kyle). If ESPNC was scheduled to show a race and we're not seeing it, this does not bode well for NASCAR fans. Since NASCAR is the stepchild in sports compared to football we lose out.

Why can't somebody see that a NASCAR overflow channel would benefit them? I don't know anything about these things. Couldn't SPEED start another channel for this issue? Lord knows we wouldn't want them to preempt Pinks, etc. The TV partners really need to get together on this.

Lou said...

Good Morning JD,
Maybe you can help us out. In/on one of you columns last year I thought there was one on the subject of an ESPN3. Do not have time to go back and look. It just seems that there is a disconect here. Once fans leave the sport in attendance and watch on TV or other means, due to the rise in the cost of living(the cost of a race weekend). It may be on the backs of the corparate sponsors to support the sport. Having said that. I would think our NASCAR TV partners would see that. If I am in left field, please let me know. Thanks for a long week. Welcome Back......

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

There have been very recent changes at ESPN Classic. A WNBA game ran very long, and overran into an MLS Thursday Night game. The MLS game was not moved to Classic, only to espn360. The days of Classic being an overflow may be over.

Anonymous said...

JD- Since NASCAR is a big competitor for the NFL in the fall, would it be safe to assume that the NFL would insist that ESPN NOT allow an ESPN-NFL channel to be used for NASCAR overflow?

I understand that the NFL was demanding a relatively high price for cable carriage of the NFL channel. At the same time, since there are NBA, tennis, and golf channels I remain amazed that the NFL continued to refuse to do whatever it took to get an NFL channel on the major cable systems.