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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