Wednesday, June 25, 2008
NASCAR TV Partners About To Be Put To The Test
Each season about this time there seems to be several balls in-the-air when it comes to NASCAR and big news stories.
Even as the elation of Dale Earnhardt Junior finally winning mixes with the sadness of Richard Petty selling-out, there is a feeling that perhaps something else is about to happen.
It is not going to be at the track, it is not going to be about the COT and it is not going to involve driver changes or cheating. What it is going to involve is a group of people who rarely visit the NASCAR world. When they do, things seem to get turned upside-down in a hurry. The mainstream news media is about to invade NASCAR.
NASCAR has a traveling press corp that everyone knows all too well. Some of the writers have even bigger profiles because of their TV and radio appearances. On the whole, they are a well-behaved bunch who know the rules and play by them. None of that can be said for the mainstream media that Americans watch tear people apart each and every day.
The cable news networks have 24 hours-a-day to fill and they will be happy to exploit every issue to the maximum. Tabloid shows will use any means necessary to embarrass and expose every seedy detail of a story. Even local TV stations will be happy to play a video on-the-air if it is sensational enough.
In today's world, the tail truly wags the dog where news is concerned. The Internet is finishing the process of killing-off newspapers as we know them and is about to do the same to local TV news before setting its sights on the cable TV news networks.
Who among us does not turn to the Internet first for news and video? It lurks there with no time constraints and no censorship, just waiting to be viewed. Regardless of the category, everything that can be captured on video or written about in a sensational manner is at the fingertips of every computer user.
Since Mauricia Grant filed her civil lawsuit against NASCAR, we have seen the coverage reflected in the industry publications, Internet sites and TV programs. All of these NASCAR-related companies have been diplomatic in their tone and the TV networks have gone out of their way to speak in factual terms about this issue.
In just a short time, all that will change. The sound you hear is the wave that is forming just outside the NASCAR community and is about to hit the beach with a force that will change the sport forever. Just how much damage will be done and how long it takes the sport to recover is going to depend on one thing. That is the NASCAR TV partners.
While the reporters in the Infield Media Center are busy pounding on their laptops, it is SPEED, TNT and ESPN that now directly invade the homes of Americans on a regular basis where NASCAR is concerned. In this case, the focus is going to be on ESPN and SPEED.
While TNT has a couple of Sprint Cup races, that network's agenda is to promote their Turner-related products and TV shows and then go away. Since the network does not televise qualifying or practice, the impact of TNT is felt on race days only.
It is going to up to SPEED and ESPN to handle the Grant lawsuit and deal directly with NASCAR as it goes forward. Originally, the idea was for Brian France to make his recent comments and then close the news door. As most of us know, that philosophy is not going to work.
The public now has Internet access to Grant's voice on the phone talking about the issue (video link on right). There is also an interview with her lawyer that takes direct aim at the credibility of the sanctioning body in no uncertain terms. On Wednesday, it was Grant herself finally giving an exclusive interview to Sports Illustrated.
Can you see how this release of information is slowly ramping-up in the media? Nicole Manske on Wednesday's NASCAR Now said once again that Grant and her attorney had turned-down another interview request from ESPN. SPEED read the official statements involved from both parties, but does not offer a true NASCAR news program of any type.
When we next see Mauricia Grant, it may well be on 60 Minutes or Larry King Live or Dateline. She should be appearing on ESPN's Outside the Lines or sitting down with SPEED's Wendy Venturini on her Real Deal segment for RaceDay.
If the NASCAR TV partners work to put the reality of this story into perspective, the wave will hit the beach with much less force. This lawsuit is about the Nationwide Series alone. There is no connection to or allegations about the Cup or Truck Series officials. In the mainstream media, this lawsuit has been sold to the public as a blanket condemnation of the sport as a whole.
ESPN has prided itself on having top reporters like Ryan McGee, Marty Smith and David Newton who have handled tough stories about the sport before. McGee's interview of Aaron Fike threw the sport into a tempest and caused NASCAR to appoint a commission to consider a new drug testing policy.
Where is the Worldwide Leader in Sports where this lawsuit is concerned? How many times since NASCAR Now began have we seen a reporter who tells us that ESPN has exclusive breaking news? Wednesday, the Grant lawsuit was not even on the NASCAR front page at the ESPN website.
Sooner or later, Grant will be doing a television interview. Her single print and Internet interview was with Sports Illustrated, a company whose SI.com website is a CNN partner. If Grant and her attorney show-up on Larry King Live and offer the same racial and sexist allegations already seen in print, it will change the media focus and public perception of the sport forever.
Hopefully, both ESPN and SPEED are working hard behind the scenes to bring NASCAR fans more information than "no comment" or "she declined our invitation for an interview." There is no doubt that this single issue is about to put both of these TV networks in a situation they have not encountered in their recent NASCAR history.
Like it or not, all of us are about to watch it play-out over the next several months.
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