Sunday, August 10, 2008
TV Viewers Get The Post-Race Blues
There has been one subject that has been hotly debated by the fans since the new NASCAR TV contract began in 2007.
Over the years, NASCAR has tried bending to serve the needs of the television networks as the amount of money paid for NASCAR TV rights has risen. This season in particular, fans are being hit hard as the result of one of those concessions.
The start times of the NASCAR races have been pushed back for TV. The classic 1PM Eastern Time start is now a thing of the past. Fans reading NASCAR.com may tune-in at the time listed only to be met by an hour-long pre-race show and then another twenty minutes of pre-event coverage before the start of the actual race.
Normally, this type of issue does not affect the general sports fans because they can adjust their viewing habits or even commit to recording the event and watching it later. NASCAR's problem does not fit that pattern. The TV viewers watching the entire race are helpless when it comes to solving this one issue.
Fans are offered four hours of live pre-race programming on national TV for each Sprint Cup Series race. Shows like NASCAR Now, RaceDay and NASCAR Countdown repeat the same stories on different networks with different reporters three times before the green flag falls.
This extended pre-race programming is done for only one reason. The TV networks can schedule it. They know it will be on-the-air at a designated time. What none of the NASCAR TV partners can figure out is how to make sure that NASCAR fans who have watched the four hours of pre-race TV and then the four hours of racing get to hear from the athletes after the event.
It is the lack of guaranteed post-race coverage that is driving fans crazy. This is not NFL football, so just interviewing the "player of the game" will not work. NASCAR fans do not change their loyalty depending on where their favorite driver finished.
There is an entire story to tell that features teams that finished well outside of the top ten. There are issues between drivers, incidents during the race and questions asked during the live TV coverage that are still unresolved. The whole story is not being told once the race itself is over. There is no time.
Once again at Watkins Glen, the post-race was abbreviated because of the clock on the wall. ESPN has SportsCenter and they were going in that direction right away. The ESPN gang hustled through interviews with the winning crew chief, the second and third place finishers and then the winner. It was a good effort. Unfortunately, that was a drop-in-the-bucket where the story of the race was concerned.
Let's say it very clearly. NASCAR fans deserve a live dedicated post-race show on TV of one hour in length. It is the only way to tell-the-tale of what actually happened during the previous three or four hours of racing to each fan's favorite team.
NASCAR.com offers an online post-race show hosted from the Atlanta, GA studios of Turner Broadcasting. While there is some limited content from the track, this is primarily an interactive show where viewer comments are read and opinions are voiced.
SPEED offers Victory Lane, which is a tape-delayed one hour show that usually airs at 8PM. While the network hosts the winning driver, crew chief and owner on the show, it is only reporter Bob Dillner who chases down additional interviews.
Right now, this show is the closest thing to a live post-race program that fans get. When the Cup Series races on Saturday, Victory Lane is held and only airs on Sunday night. Same problem as before, a guaranteed timeslot on the TV schedule.
ESPN2 offers a Sunday night NASCAR Now at 10PM, but it only airs during the seventeen Cup races on the ESPN networks. While SPEED's Victory Lane is the most timely, the Sunday night hour of NASCAR Now is the most polished. Unfortunately, neither is live.
The biggest issue in dealing with this subject is that the Sprint Cup Series is cut into three pieces where TV is concerned. Fox, TNT and ESPN all originate their own broadcasts on their own networks and have their own clear-cut agendas.
When the race is over, fans begin the process of looking at Internet websites to try and figure-out what really happened to their driver and his team. They use radio reports and posts made to other websites to gather information. Television is long gone and Victory Lane is hours away from air time.
This problem has been aggravated by the fact that today's TV coverage focuses on the leaders of the race. Because all three Sprint Cup TV networks have a continual ticker updating the field during the race, it has taken away the former mandate of the TV play-by-play announcer to do it manually.
Watching older NASCAR races on ESPN Classic or FoxSportsNet brings a very different style of broadcast. Those announcers tell the whole story and treat the 35th place car just like the leader. My, how times have changed.
Next week the Sprint Cup Series moves to Michigan. NASCAR.com lists the start time on ESPN as 1PM. Actually, there will be a one hour pre-race show and then fifteen more minutes of pre-event coverage. The race should begin around 2:15PM ET. Once again, ESPN has SportsCenter scheduled for 5:30PM.
As the NASCAR season hits crunch time and the final races tick away before The Chase, fans may once again be seeing baseball highlights and the continuing Brett Farve saga instead of learning what happened to their driver in the Cup race at MIS.
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