Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Watkins Glen Coverage Did Not Click With Viewers

It was a beautiful day at Watkins Glen and the High Definition pictures from ESPN were spectacular. At the head of the field sat Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. At the tail of the field sat a hungry Aussie and a bunch of road course specialists. The recipe for good NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing was perfect.

When the green flag fell, the stories began to unfold and they were fantastic. Former champion Jeff Gordon struggling again, Earnhardt looking like a winner and Marcos Ambrose coming through the field like a snowplow. Unfortunately, that was not enough for the American public to tune-in.

In the first year of the new TV contract, ESPN managed a 4.1 rating for the Watkins Glen race in 2007. Now, even with Dale Jarrett added to the team and Allen Bestwick handling the infield studio, the 2008 effort did not come close. This year's event garnered a 3.6 rating which translates to a decline of over 12 percent.

When information like this becomes available, it starts a discussion on several topics. Some are TV-related and others are not. It would seem that the current ESPN team is having trouble generating the level of excitement and interest that NASCAR fans are looking for.

As ESPN TV viewers are aware, the network has an buttoned-up image and network guidelines that often result in an on-air look that resembles a courtroom or a meeting of the board. Nowhere is that contrast better illustrated than when RaceDay on SPEED transitions to NASCAR Countdown on ESPN.

The open-collared short-sleeve shirts of the RaceDay panelists and the casual pit road style of Wendy Venturini give way to the expensive suits-and-ties of the ESPN gang. While ratings for the ESPN races have been flat or in decline, RaceDay has seen double-digit growth in 2008.

While it may not help the ESPN ratings to have Brad Daugherty do Kenny Wallace's "booty dance" in commercial breaks, the fact remains that perhaps ESPN's current TV approach is just a little too "buttoned-up" for this sport.

What many fans have done is migrate to other available technologies to consume the Sprint Cup events. While that might be fancy talk, what it basically means is that ESPN must understand that NASCAR fans now have alternatives available to watch the races. Jerry Punch and company are not the only game in town.

DirecTV's Hot Pass, streaming, Sprint Raceview, and even listening to the MRN or PRN radio broadcast allows fans to ignore everything ESPN is offering and still enjoy race coverage. How many fans watch the ESPN pictures, mute the TV and listen to the radio call of the race?

The picture above is ESPN's original NASCAR team of Bob Jenkins (left) and the late Larry Nuber (right). The person with them was serving as both the Stage Manager and Spotter. What Jenkins is doing might be very basic, but makes a valid point. He is watching the racetrack like a hawk. To see the picture full-size, just click on it.

This concept has been lost on ESPN since they re-entered the sport. Just like SportsCenter's baseball highlights now consist of only homeruns and not the story of the game, the NASCAR coverage mostly consists of the watching the leaders and replaying the accidents. The stories are not being told.

ESPN actually moves the three announcers to the Infield Pit Studio for televised practice sessions. Punch and company can only call the action from the TV screens in this high-tech trailer. In TV terminology, they are working "blind."

For the next three races, SPEED steps-in and takes-over coverage of practice and qualifying for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. All ESPN does is produce the pre-race shows and the races themselves. This break might provide a good opportunity for the NASCAR on ESPN gang to discuss the coverage philosophy before the TV telecasts switch to ABC for the final ten races.

There are so many positive elements and so many experienced personalities in the ESPN group that it is entirely possible good things can result with just a little more freedom for the on-air team and a little loosening of the corporate ties.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.


rb218 said...

How much do you feel the Olympics played a part in the ratings decline? I would consider myself a pretty avid fan, but I spent most of my Sunday with my TV on the Olympics and every so often clicking over to the race.

Sophia said...

I am not surpised about ESPN's ratings but I AM SURPRISED Race Day's ratings about seen double digit growth since going to TWO hours! LOL. I love the gang on that show but 2 hrs is too much for this gal. and I don't even do the other pre-race unless I miss Raceday which I sometimes do now since it is on so far ahead of the actual race.

JD, I think what Pemberton said on TP is a huge issue. How many real fans love guys that run mid to back pack. folks love to give them snarky names but let's face it, there can NOT be 43 winners everyweek but most all drivers have FANS.

If we never know they exist, and we have grown weary of the top drivers, only the most rabid fans STAY tuned in...that would be me and most here but I have been known to put in a tape and do other things...last week I got MRN on the radio a little big (signal was in and out) and was on the computer in a different room or in and out watering flowers on a VERY NICE MILD summer day.

I enjoyed the Watkins Glen race and the scenery was beautiful on the camera shots...but, I don't know the real problem.

I do know the ESPN booth does not contain the chemistry of FOX (though I hate their gimmicks/bad camera work/and gyp of the end of the race, one car, flagman, crew, etc)

Even bigger shock was ESPN does not have the fun of the TNT crew either who I TRULY enjoyed this year (much as I STILL can't believe those words!)

TNT truly listened to the fans.

ESPN pretended to but obviously have not.

Just take a gander at their qualifying show (NOTE: Take dramamine first due to excess, screen clutter and tiny car on tv screen) We rarely see the cars nor could we match the track due to excessive tight camera shot.

Also, the guys on SUNDAY seem so out of touch with the track, it's like they are reading the newspaper while watching the race.

Where as on TNT, I thought Wally and Kyle P were having a party with excitement that could NOT have been faked (though I am suspicious of what was served at the cocktail table with Weber and Wally before the race! :) ) just kidding....

But after dreading TNT before their 6 quick races blew by, and then seeing ESPN full time the rest of the season and what they have done so far, I can ASSURE you on the tracks I am not that interested in, a tape will be going into the VCR.

The bottom TICKER does NOT help the viewing pleasure either.

I like Andy and Dale ok but there is still not that spark that I feel on other tv partners shows. And Punch...well, what else can we say about him but he does NOT BELONG in the booth. :( Give him a job to show his gift and not let him fade into the sunset due to TPTB at ESPN being beligerent, and forcing him into a position that does not suit him.

Anonymous said...

IMO the ratings drop has much more to do with the fact that the Olympics were also on at the same time during last Sunday (and for the next two Sundays, I believe). NBC has been getting huge Olympic ratings, much higher than they expected, and it was easy for me and my family to switch over and watch from a terrible Watkins Glen broadcast and a long red flag.

I expect the same thing to happen at Michigan, which is usually a fuel-strategy race anyway, causing viewers to lose interest. Saturday night at Bristol on August 23 will probably do OK, but also airs against several gold medal finals on NBC. And COT Bristol racing is not what it used to be pre-COT, so that could hurt ratings. I think the poor COT racing itself turns people off as much as poor coverage.

You also have to remember that more than 40 percent of NASCAR's viewing audience is women - and NBC is specifically targeting women in their 30s and 40s for their Olympics coverage. (They watch more of the Olympics than any other group.)

ESPN is going to continue to see the ratings drop even after the Olympics are over. (Also IMO) With the NFL and college football coming back, NASCAR is going to lose viewers. The bad coverage by ESPN doesn't help (I don't care what they wear or how they act, but they aren't giving good info and coverage) - but it's going to happen anyway. It happened last year, too.

If you look at ratings, FOX always has the best NASCAR ratings - quite possibly because they have little competition from other sports. In the summer, TNT loses viewers who are on vacation and/or spend the weekends outdoors, and in the late summer and fall, ESPN (and NBC back when they had the Chase) loses viewers to football, baseball playoffs and also people spending time outdoors.

Just a fact of NASCAR life. I don't think what the ESPN folks are wearing or their corporate attitude compared to SPEED makes a bit of difference, since all the other popular ESPN sports have the same coat and tie attitude and attire. ESPN ratings overall have been up every quarter so far in 2008, even with their buttoned up look; we'll see if NASCAR coverage brings them down any.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Bear in mind that there will always be top-of-the-line sports on the other broadcast and cable networks on Sunday afternoons.

Whether it is the Olympics or NFL Football, live event telecasts have to stand on their own and be accountable for the results.

Even back in the 1980's, ESPN had announcers stationed around the Watkins Glen track. This year, with ten announcers assigned to the race, the Infield Pit Center was right on pit road and no one was covering the race outside of the front-stretch.

Imaginative thinking and the reality of declining ratings need to combine with the result being change. How that change shows-up on our TV screens is yet to be seen.

Thanks for raising the Olympic issue.


stricklinfan82 said...

The decline in the ratings for NASCAR on ESPN doesn't surprise me one bit.

How can you expect viewers to tune in when....

- ... Friday and Saturday practice and qualifying sessions are slapped down by ESPN as being completely worthless?

Instead of allowing fans to follow their drivers through the trials and tribulations of multiple practice sessions and qualifying, ESPN covers up the screen and uses the limited airtime during the handful of sessions they do air to rehearse the full-screen video packages and stats they will re-air during the race broadcasts on Saturday and Sunday. When ESPN itself lowers its pants and relieves itself all over NASCAR on the days that should be building up the anticipation for the race on Sunday, how can they expect fans to have any excitement for the race that is about to happen?

- ... when Saturday's broadcasts are a complete disaster?

One only needs to look at the in-race comments for the Watkins Glen Nationwide race. How many people watching that pathetic dress rehearsal for Sunday's race commented that they would be turning to MRN, Trackpass, or Hotpass for the race coverage on Sunday? Sunday's coverage wasn't quite as bad as Saturday's, but most people weren't around to see it. If that extremely poor coverage on Saturday only happened because the ESPN crew "mailed it in" on Saturday that doesn't speak very highly about ESPN's dedication to the sport. Again, if ESPN shows in plain sight that NASCAR "doesn't matter" during Friday and Saturday's preliminary sessions and during Saturday's preliminary race, why should NASCAR fans expect anything to change on Sunday?

-... ESPN has much of their on-air talent in the wrong place?

ESPN has a hall-of-fame play-by-play announcer and a hall-of-fame pit reporter / interviewer on their on-air crew. Unfortunately the play-by-play announcer is in the pit studio and the pit reporter / interview is in the play-by-play booth. How presumably smart decision makers can make such poor personnel decisions is beyond me. The New York Jets didn't bring in Brett Favre and make him the starting running back. They let him play his natural position and lead the team as its quarterback, even though he doesn't have the "tenure" of others on that team... which is exactly what ESPN should have done with Allen Bestwick at the start of 2007.

- ... ESPN constantly tries to fit 10 pounds of "stuff" in a 5 pound bag?

This network quite simply has too many broadcast commitments and makes very bad decisions to try to squeeze them all in. For NASCAR fans these terrible decisions by the network schedule makers result in tape-delays at 1 AM, joined-in-progress broadcasts, TV blackouts of practice and qualifying sessions, and race broadcasts bounced back and forth onto as many as 3-4 different networks and in some cases broadcasts only being available on some web site that almost none of us have access to. How are NASCAR fans supposed to watch when we can't find our sport on our TV's? Remember last year's Nationwide debacle at Michigan? Apparently ESPN doesn't because they again scheduled only 2 hours for a live tennis match before this Nationwide race.

NASCAR, get off of this network now. NASCAR flourished when they distanced themselves from ESPN in 2001 and they're slowly falling back into obscurity being on this network that treats it like beach volleyball and World's Strongest Man. Boy I miss the days of a full season of only Fox, FX, NBC, and TNT where we could depend on the race being on live and uninterrupted on one network, even if the race didn't end until 3 AM. There must be a buyout somewhere NASCAR, USE IT!

IRL fans, I continue to envy you now that your sport will be a network that will actually care about it.

Anonymous said...

Even back in the 1980's, ESPN had announcers stationed around the Watkins Glen track. This year, with ten announcers assigned to the race, the Infield Pit Center was right on pit road and no one was covering the race outside of the front-stretch.

You mean, so they could, like actually SEE the track, isntead of looking at TV monitors?

What a great idea! Then they could TELL us what's happening instead of waiting until it shows up no their TV (and ours) before they know about it.

Plus, it would give the talent something to do besides sit in isolated booths and toss to each other.

Sophia said...


Don't envy this IRL. Nobody in my immediate counties get versus.

Love your description of how ESPEEN treats NASCAR.

Also I agree that the COT problems ADD to the lack of viewership. Somehow, I forgot to mention that...glad somebody else did.

Course, it's ALL ABOUT safety now they keep telling us...but we still don't have SAFER BARRIERS all over the track. yes I am thrilled with the safety advances but you can't stifle the racing.

And how many drivers need to bring up the COT WING as a blind spot ADDING to crashes that might be avoided?? Hard to see hands inside cars as they wave as well.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you, sir. SPEED's coverage is so much better than ESPN's partly because they are very casual. One problem with ESPN that I have always had is that Dr. Jerry Punch being the ringleader of the announcers. He is one of the absolute nicest, purest human beings on Earth...but when it comes to calling a race he just comes off as awkward. He doesn't blend the action on the track very well with the ongoing season like the FOX guys do. It always seems like his best job in the booth is transitioning in and out of commercials. In my opinion, he was much better in the pits. It's a shame Mike Joy can't call all of the races, huh?
I must also admit that Rusty Wallace is killing me with that fake smile and appearance when he is on the camera. This goes back to your point about ESPN being a "buttoned up" type of network. With ESPN so strict on their appearance, Rusty can't even be himself. It's like watching Carl Edwards in a post race interview, WE KNOW IT'S FAKE!

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

Anon 4:53PM,

Please return and re-post your opinion about the issue being discussed. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the ESPN coverage, or lack of, has anything to do with ratings. You can't just take the ratings from one race and make an opinion on it. you have to look at the season as a whole. Ratings for the Nationwide Series on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 are up from last season. Ratings for the Brickyard 400 were up and Pocono were the same. This is one of the few times thiis season ratings have been down. The reason the glens ratings were down is due to a combination of things. The olympics are back and most americans are watching that. This was a road-course race, which some fans don't look forward too. There was also a 40 minute red flag period were many viewers may have tuned away and not come back because they found something more intersting.

Its odd that the media loves to report when TV ratings are on the decline, but no one gives a hoot if ratings are up. Its that "Negative" band-wagon people love to jump on.

Anonymous said...

For fairness IMO you'd have to add the Hot/TrackPass/RaceBuddy audiences to ESPN's and I'd think that the ratings would be about the same as always. If I had those services at home I would not write ESPN's channel in the Nielsen book, even though their picture is a third of HotPass's picture. The anger of NASCAR fans over ESPN's 2001-2006 dissing of the sport (not ESPN's fault) or NASCAR/TV's muzzling of sponsor names also may factor in whether or not a real viewer is putting those call-letters in the book ("I don't want to give them any credit").

But let's say the ratings are down. My theories are lingering hatred of the COT and Toyota and Kyle Busch's dominance. Imagine what ratings would be if Junior had 7 Cup wins to this point.

Networks aren't getting enough revenue to continue producing live events. ESPN used to produce 8 baseball games a week; now it's 3. They don't send their stick/ball reporters on site as often as they used to.

A natural result has to be a reduction in the hardware taken to the NASCAR tracks. That's why you don't have iso's on Ambrose or battles for 14th on-screen.

Anonymous said...

This site needs an "AMEN" button! I so agree strfan!

Anonymous said...

I have been a Loyal reader and Believer in this site, but i just have to disagree on the opinion that ratings are down because of coverage. There is an article in the USA Today that says all programming that goes against the Olympics is down 20-30%. It reallyt seems this article is written by someone who wants ESPN to fail.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 5:03PM,

The ratings this season that have risen have done so in very small numbers, single digit.

The incident that caused the red flag is the same type of challenge that any live TV program can face.

Trying to somehow blame the Olympics or a road course is ridiculous. ESPN knew exactly what they were going against in this event and if they wanted to make an extra effort because of the Olympic coverage then they would have done so...they did not.

Anon 6:08PM,

Perhaps we could expand on that thought by asking why ESPN did not put the Infield Pit Studio on the backstretch? Why they did not move Rusty and Brad to postions on the course when the pre-race was over?

My point is, the network totally knew that the Olympics was on and chose to stand-pat with their standard NASCAR coverage. The results of that have to be evaluated in that light.

If any business knows in advance they will have competition, it is up to them to make changes and compete. I just don't think that happened.


Vince said...

Count me as one of the viewers who watch the race with the tv muted and listen to MRN/PRN on the radio. Both the ESPN coverage and the Fox coverage just grates on my nerves. I'm tired of the endless yapping in the booth. I'm tired of Jerry Punch talking about one thing while the camera is showing us something completely different. TNT WAS a pleasant surprise this year. And RaceBuddy was great.

I've found I enjoy the races much more if I listen to them on MRN/PRN and just mute the tv.

I don't bother with ESPN's practice coverage anymore either. Because they don't show it. All I see are endless interviews and very little of the practice itself. Same for qualifying. We get mostly interviews. When I turn on qualifying I want to watch qualifying full screen. ESPN has a little window in the upper left hand corner of the screen showing the car on the track and the rest of the screen is filled up with useless graphics. ESPN has too many toys and gimmics. As does Fox. I'm tired of all the screen cluttering graphics and crawlers on the bottom of the screen telling me about sports that I don't give a hoot about.

What ever happened to just showing us what is going on, on the track and talking about what were seeing. How many times during the Indy broadcast did I have to hear about kissing the damn bricks and seeing endless past winners do just that. ESPN is so full of hype and their own agenda that it's sickening.

I'm old enough to remember when Bob Jenkins and Larry Nuber first started broadcasting the races on ESPN. They were open wheel guys who didn't know much about stock car racing and the first year or two they were not very good. But Jenkins became a great PxP guy and Nuber was eventually replaced with Ned Jarrett. Then Benny joined the broadcast and we all got spoiled. I listen to the races on the radio now, because it reminds me of the call we used to get from Bob, Ned and Benny. A bunch of guys who know what they are talking about and are fans who actually enjoy the sport and the racing. With no hidden agendas. What we have now from both ESPN and Fox is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Could a part of the problem with viewership be with the excessive focus on the 'chase to the chase', virtually ignoring the majority of the field? Kyle Busch is already 500 points ahead of 6th place...a stat we seldom see, since TV tends to show how many points 'out of 12th place' various drivers are. 'Resetting the points' is such a travesty , that it may be the closer we get to the crapshoot, and the more it is emphasized, the less interest fans have in watching? We all know that by the time we get through Richmond, coverage will be limited to only those in the top 12, even worse than it is now. Add the problems that the COT seems to be presenting, and racing is less than compelling. You can only shovel through the pile of manure looking for a pony for so long before you conclude you're never going to find one.

Anonymous said...

The Olympics would accout for all of the decline.

That simple.

The last time a Watkins Glen race aired against the Olympics was 2004. It earned a 3.6 rating on TNT.

Can't realistically compare it to 2003 (5.6) OR 2005 (5.2) because those were NBC races.

But in 2006, The Glen rebounded to a 4.6 on TNT.

So I think you barked up the wrong tree JD.

Daly Planet Editor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daly Planet Editor said...

Have you been reading the comments?

Trying to base this race on that data does not stand a chance of measuring up. This new TV contract changed everything.

This is the feature presentation and my point is that it did not work for most fans. We all flip, but we pick a primary program and NASCAR is usually it.

Even if we gave ESPN back their 12% the program still struggled and the network struggled on Saturday as well. However you would like to frame it, some changes are in order before MIS.

A four hour fuel mileage race should make for quite a challenge for Punch and company.


Anonymous said...

Weird logic JD. Saying the broadcast struggled is your area of expertise, I suppose. Discounting essentially exact ratings against the Olympics on two equally available cable networks would seem to blow holes in the argument the Olympics had no effect. It isn't some top-flight sports event the race was up against. It is THE sports event. And if I'm not mistaken, it is ESPN's first ratings loss of the season, no?

Anonymous said...

I believe the one concept that applies to ESPN the best is The Peter Principle: "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." With few exceptions, such as Bestwick, Jarrett, and Petree, one would be in a quandary to select many others associated with ESPN's motor racing broadcasts-on or offscreen that do not fit this description. The best and most obvious example is Dr. Jerry Punch. The man has stood head and shoulders above his peers in his former job description for over two decades and some Einstein at ESPN decided he needed a promotion. This has been to his detriment and ours. We are on the second broadcast season now, cringing over every show, wishing somehow this decision would be undone. Deafness is screaming loud in Bristol, CT and no one there seems to show any concern. This example certainly underlines a statement I made on here recently about the phrase that keeps coming to mind. Total Disdain. Each and every broadcast of a motor contest by the clowns at ESPN reeks of total disdain for the motorsports crowd. There appears to be no end in sight.

Anonymous said...

JD I totally repect your opinion, but Im going to have to disagree. The ESPN presentation was not the reason ratings were down.

I strongly believe the olympics had something to do with the ratings decline. Fans had no idea that the presentation wasnt going to be up to par. So why would ratings be down for the race if fans had no prior knowledge? I don't think I have met a sports fan who refuses to watch their FAVORITE sport if the TV broadcast is bad. They will find other ways to deeal with it. But one of them I dont think includes turning off the TV. I think a few minority may do that, but not majority.

I will just re-state what I said above in more simple terms. A 12% loss in ratings for one telecast has little to do with coverage, domination, or any of that. It has to do with the olympics plain and simple. The olympics comes only every couple of years and it is a worldwide event. Ratings not just for NASCAR, but for other sports shown last weekend were down as a hole.

As for the Kyle Busch domination having an effect onn things. I dont really buy that side either. Last year Jimmie Johnson annd Jeff Gordon had an even BIGGER dominatiion. This season we are actually seeing new winners. I don't buy people turning off the TV because "kyle busch will win today." If so. I really question them being a fan, since you never know what can happend in a race.

Anonymous said...

"I strongly believe the olympics had something to do with the ratings decline. Fans had no idea that the presentation wasnt going to be up to par. So why would ratings be down for the race if fans had no prior knowledge? I don't think I have met a sports fan who refuses to watch their FAVORITE sport if the TV broadcast is bad. They will find other ways to deeal with it. But one of them I dont think includes turning off the TV. "

I agree with this. Most people I know hate the ESPN approach to Monday Night Football, but they still watch -it's football - and the ratings have not suffered.

I think a lot of people probably made a decision to watch the Olympics and not watch Watkins Glen beforehand, not during the race because they didn't like what they saw. As Dale Jr once said, with baseball and NASCAR, you can skip the middle of the season and tune in towards the end and catch up. So an event like the Olympics made Watkins Glen fine to miss.

"Ratings for the Nationwide Series on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 are up from last season. Ratings for the Brickyard 400 were up and Pocono were the same. This is one of the few times thiis season ratings have been down."

ESPN Nationwide ratings are only up (slightly) compared to last year's horrific drop in Busch Series ratings on ESPN. It's a slight reversal of a ratings decline that's been going on for three years in Busch and Cup. NASCAR ratings are nowhere near what they were in 2003 to 2005. The only series really growing in ratings percentages is Trucks and it has a very small audience to begin with.

GinaV24 said...

Well, I'm one of the people who watch with the TV muted and the radio and my computer on. Since I don't have a Nielson box, they don't count my nose in the ratings anyway, but ESPN just doesn't get it done for me as far as providing me with the best race coverage. I get tired of Fox's gimmicks and DW's incessant talking about himself, Mikey and whoever else is his flavor of the week. TNT did the best job this year and I was surprised as heck cuz I hated their coverage last year. Plus, I think that the cinderblock of today, boring races, an overemphasis on the "chase" and Kyle Busch winning so much is contributing to people turning off. TV should cover the RACE -- the whole field, not just the chosen few, otherwise, if you're not a fan of those specific drivers, there's no reason to watch. If I have to follow my driver by the ticker at the top of the screen, then I'll use another method to follow the race and as you said, JD, there are lots of ways to do that these days.

majorshouse said...

I was able for once to listen to MRN and flip back and forth to the television coverage by ESPN. I had really forgotten what the level of excitement on MRN was all about and they were covering all of the cars and not the chosen few like usual on tv. I watched an old Watkins Glen race from 1988 last week with Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarret and Benny Parsons, now that was really good tv and the current crew, especially Jerry Punch could take some real lessons from them and now wonder as boring as the race coverage is on ESPN that their numbers are sliding. I never thought I would say that I enjoyed TNT's coverage better than any of the others this year. It was very obvious to me that they really listened to what the fans wanted and then they delivered the goods.

Anonymous said...

ITA with the Olys comments, including anon 7:44. It's an every 4 years event, fairly rare in sports even with 'big' events. While it sounds like ESPN maybe didn't 'step it up' for the broadcast (haven't seen this race yet on TV), no one could know that in advance. If coverage had been first rate for all these months it might have made a *slight* difference. I think one can make too much of the numbers. I'm an *avid* race fan, but I would have been watching the Olys too if I wasn't at the race. I'm guessing Michigan will be hit too.

Not seeing why you'd put the Infield studio on the backstretch. The most action (if that's how you gauge it) happens in turn 1, the chicane at times (unless that's what you mean by backstretch, which is long), and turn 11 (contrary to popular belief, lots of wrecks happen there.) Something to think about though. It's just an iffy thing, sometimes lots of stuff goes on, some years not.

Charlie said...

I like one thing that sophia said in partictular. She said " there can NOT be 43 winners every week but most all driver have FANS. I think another why to say this is - there can not be 43 winners every week but most all drivers have fans that wished there driver would win.
That is the main reason I watch, to see how well my driver will do. ESPN or any network that does a race have to show the drivers to the fans.

Sophia said...

nice to see others shocked at how well they liked TNT 's coverage this year!!

I must admit I am SHOCKED to keep reading how HIGH the ratings for for the Olympics! I read as high as 60 PER CENT of the country was watching. How the hello do they determine that? I still don't get this whole Nielsen numbers game (knew somebody that worked for them years ago and they explained how even they could splay the numbers but my brain forgets..and that was the paper diary days...we did that at my parents house when I was about 12...decades ago!)

I get tired of coming across so much swimming and gymnastics. At the Y today thankfully the tv's are muted with cc but I see they now have MEN's sychronize diving. Who knew?

ALso I know many do NOT like NASCAR's road courses, Would be interesting to see how a Daytona or Dega race would hold up to the O games.

I was never a fan of the crashfest at Bristol and know many folks hate that place now so who knows what those ratings would be like on their own.

But from what I am reading, if one can believe what they read, the Olympics are quite the behemoth!!


Sophia said...


we were posting at the same time. Yes, you worded for me better than I did myself regarding the 43 drivers. We always want to see how they will do.

Sadly, imho, I think the LACK of focus on the 'bottom thirty plus cars' is ADDING to the sponsor issue though nobody admits least years ago all cars were on the screen with the sponsor names. Now, with the zoom zoom cam or horrible overly tight car shots on LOWES, HOME DEPOT, DUPONT, M&M cars...lather, rinse, repeat...the sponsor names get little exposure.

bevo said...

As ESPN TV viewers are aware, the network has an buttoned-up image and network guidelines that often result in an on-air look that resembles a courtroom or a meeting of the board

Remember when they launched ESPN2 and the big difference was the announcers wore golf shirts instead of suits? :)

Anonymous said...

Bestwick,Jarrett and Petree do an excellent job.If I never heard or saw Punch,Rusty and Brad again,it would be a blessing. Many Nascar fans do not enjoy the road races which may affect viewer ratings. Many road races have mind-numbing long caution flags with little passing. Sunday's 45 minute Red Flag didn't help.500 miles at Pocono the week before was just insane. I was ready to pack it in at the half way point. Only the Sports Bars must enjoy these marathons. I've long favored some kind of format similar to the Shootout at Lowes in May. I couldn't believe that as the field approached the green flag at the start of the Glen race, they tossed to some distant camera that actually panned back to show the stands above the pits! I don't recall the network last year ,but for a critical restart, they panned to just the grandstands as the green dropped. You could hear the cars take off but couldn't see them.ESPN needs people in the control booth that understand Nascar. That could be a stretch for a network that featured Brent Mussberger and Suzy Kolber. What were they thinking???? We used to spend the Weekend at the Glen race going back to the second one (1987?). The race now starts about an hour later so there is often little time to interview anyone other than the top 2-3 guys after the race.ESPN may be better this year, but they have a LONG way to go!

Ritchie said...

Mr. Daly,

Although I agree with some of your comments on what ESPN could do better, I have to lump my opinion in with those who agree a drop in ratings for this race had to have been affected by the Olympics.

It's simple economics. The Olympic's broadcast is a scarce product. It only comes once every four years, so if given a choice a customer will choose the scarce product if it is the same price as the standard product (NASCAR race).

This doesn't mean that I disagree with the fact that ESPN needs to step up its game and cater to racing fans instead of catering to the corporation. However, lets not ignore the Olympics just to make an argument work better.

chase said...

Strickinfan and others hit the nail on the head. It is horrifying to know just how ESPN does its coverage of races. I have railed against Punch who sounds like a tired and bored announcer before - it resonates to the viewers who seek other means by which to 'hear' a race being called. Despite Petree and DJ being the 'saving grace', Bestwick should be called to the booth immediately. ESPN has to rid themselves of their interminable pre-race show and tack an hour on after the race dedicated to post-race issues. The 'idea' of another network using 'spotters' around the track and having their announcers actually WATCH the race as its happening and not on monitors is certainly a novel idea for ESPN to ponder - those of us who have gone to races in 'real time' know there is so much more going on at any given track than what you see and hear on TV. NASCAR probably isn't going to do anything to muddy their financial waters but they should do. I also feel the COTs contribute to the lagging viewership in a big way. NASCAR has alot to fix and fix it they must if they want to continue to be top of the gravy chain. Wasn't there some mention quite a while ago of Bruton Smith wanting to start a similar series? Perhaps he would pay attention to the fans both at the tracks and who watch via TV - it just might work! Thanks JD for your column -- great food for thought!

Vicky D said...

And we notice watching the truck races, Phil Parsons always manages to tell the viewers the sponsor on the number such and such truck I think the cup broadcasters should review those races for ideas on improving viewership . I think the last 2 weeks have been boring race maybe at Bristol the ratings will grow. I'm curious about the numbers for the Nationwide races at Montreal & the Glen to see if they have gone down too.

Anonymous said...

I think the greatly improved safety of the COT has had an impact on the drop in interest of NA$CAR. Whenever the COT is mentioned, much is made about the increased safety. People don't want the drivers to get hurt but they want them to perform with the knowledge that they might be seriously injured.

There is little interest in a high wire act or trapeze act unless it is done without a net. People watch a magician escape from being tied up under water only because of the danger. People watched the attempt to jump over the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle only because of the possiblility of disaster.

People want their heros to be brave and risk takers. It is hard to warm up to a sport that is risk free. NA$CAR pushing the safety of the COT has given much of the public the impression that racing is much less risky than it really is.

Anonymous said...

ken said...
I think the greatly improved safety of the COT has had an impact on the drop in interest of NA$CAR.

i disagree with you on this, ken. i don't think it's the safety aspect of the cot that has led to a drop in interest. speaking for myself, i don't watch "waiting for the big one" to happen. i watch for the racing, the competition, not the wrecks. your comment, intentionally or not, echoes what many detractors say about the sport: people only watch it for the crashes. i STRONGLY disagree with that sentiment.

but to me, the cot IS the root of the problem in terms of viewership. fans now have come to see that this brick of a car simply doesn't produce good racing and there is a perception that the safety features could have been incorporated into last year's model fairly easily and we'd be watching exciting racing this year. but nascar wanted to do 2 things simultaneously: increase safety and "level the playing field" well, the field is so freaking level, it's billiard table flat and watching drivers attempt to race is painful.

add to that the once every 4 years olympics moment plus a road course race ( i don't know if the majority of nascar fans appreciate road course racing!) and you have lower ratings.

i think there was very little espn was looking to do to go head to head with the olympics. there were many changes they could have put into place prior to the n'wide race coverage but by the end of saturday, we knew they were in way over their heads and so some of us had to make a conscious decision to tune in on sunday.

the broadcasts for that weekend, both saturday and sunday, were just so abysmal that all i can hope for is that a return to an oval course might make a difference. but i think the problem runs far deeper than just the kind of track this past weekend . . .

GinaV24 said...

Oh, Red -- that is a great comment and so true! "level the playing field" well, the field is so freaking level, it's billiard table flat and watching drivers attempt to race is painful."

You seriously hit it, right on the head. I want to see side by side and passes for the lead ON the track, along with a fight for the finish of the race.

Sophia said...

WOW..when I mentioned the COT I meant how hard it is to pass, impossible to steer for many, and the lack of finding that tiny sweet spot for the cc and drivers.

I don't think the lack of danger is an issue is it? Many were grateful to see more and more use of the SAFER barriers and hans devices. I think the COT is just too boxy for good racing and the wing is an issue for BLIND spots as were older style race cars I have read about.

THe level of the playing field has spelled IROC for many.

Personally, I am HAPPY to see drivers walk away from horrible looking crashes. I can't IMAGINE watching years ago when folks got killed or badly injured after the big one or slamming into the wall.

Count me as one who enjoys watching in the modern era but the COT does have many problems that need to be addessed for GOOD Racing.

Still, no excuse for tv guys to IGNORE the fact there are 43 cars on the track. I think the ticker, though not updated sometimes, makes announcers lazy in filling us in with details as well. The ticker just tells another small part of the picture..but does not tell us WHY folks are so many laps down, or are out, or back in....

I am looking forward to MIS but will miss RBuddy and the pretty camera work...I think that is where the gorgeous sunsets were captured!!


Anonymous said...

I think some have misunderstood what I was trying to say regarding the COT and the safety issue. Most people don't watch races for "the big one" but for the thrill of racing and the danger. People do all sorts of things for the thrill of it (the chance of getting caught). When there is the perception that there is no danger, there is no thrill in it for many people. People are more interested in watching a sport where there is potential for injury and they root for their favorite to be successful and not be injured. The favorite sport is football and it has tremendous potential for injury whereas less popular sports are relatively safe (basketball, tennis, golf, etc).

Anonymous said...

The ratings are down , but so are ticket sales . And i'm afraid i know what that means . Could it be that people are simply losing interest in NASCAR ?
If that is the underlying reason , the blame can be spread evenly over a number of factors . But one of the most obvious is the poor quality of tv coverage . Week after week people complain about ALL of the networks , the on air personalities , the camera work ( or lack thereof ) , the pre and post race coverage , the blatent bias toward certain drivers ,teams , and sponsors , and the constant increase in commercials . The mention of Bob Jenkins , a race analyst that can do it correctly , brings up an interesting point . Why isn't he used on NASCAR broadcasts ? But his mention also brings up a theme we see all of the time on this site . NASCAR coverage in the past was far superior to what we have now . As i and others have said many times before , this can be laid at the feet of the producers and directors of these awfull shows . They are responsible for hiring the on airs . They are responsible for the in car cameras that never get used . They dictate who gets interviewed and when .
The point is , if people are simply losing interest , you could hardly blame them . It has almost become a chore to sit through a NASCAR race on any of the networks . And thats sad . The fix , instead of moving people around from the booth to the studio to the pits and back again ( deck chairs on the Titanic ) bring in brand new producers and directors , give them tapes of the 1980s ESPN broadcasts of NASCAR , and then let them start fresh . Really top quality , entertaining , informative broadcasts of NASCAR could very possibly revive interest in the sport .

Anonymous said...

A good percentage of Canada was once again kept in the dark due to the ESPN Canadian affiliate TSN broadcasting on one of their secondary cable outlets. Add in a couple of million fans here, what happens to the ratings then? This is really starting to frost me.

Anonymous said...

It isn't some top-flight sports event the race was up against. It is THE sports event.

Not exactly.

I know quite a few sports reporters who don't like to do Olympics stories because the games are not "real sports." This is a common sentiment.

Newracefan said...

The Olympics probably played some part, but the good chance you would not see your driver during the race is another. I am a fan of several drivers/teams, thankfully one is the 48 so I know I will see them but I can go an entire race without one mention of my others. If you have to check the internet to see how your team is doing why waste the 4+ hours, listen to the radio and do something else.

Anonymous said...

Watkins Glen was fine for me because my driver is Ambrose and he got a lot of coverage. During Indy, I would have no idea where he was during the race if not for the computer, so I understand the frustration if your driver is not one of the "chosen few" that gets covered. I agree that has the Chase gets closer the mention of other drivers only gets less.

If I'm a sponsor and my car gets little to no face time running 15-43 then I would think long and hard about my sponsor dollars.

I think the Nascar audience has peaked as some of the newer fans drift off to other things. Making most of the races a lot shorter would help.

Sophia said...


"Amen" and "dittos" to your post.