Tuesday, September 2, 2008

ESPN Event Coverage May Be Shifting


It is time once again for Monday Night Football to begin. As most fans know, ESPN has been in-charge of this franchise and last season the coverage bore a striking resemblance to ESPN's first year of NASCAR telecasts.

NFL fans were furious over the fact that the game on the field was sometimes nothing more than a distraction. There was an entirely different agenda going-on in the broadcast booth.

It featured ABC celebrity interviews, long-winded discussions on various NFL topics and lots of fancy graphics and features. What is did not feature was the football being played on the field.

Click here for a summary of what just one guest did on-the-air during a game. Jimmy Kimmel wound-up being banned from ESPN as a result of this effort.

Over in NASCAR land, this (click here) column spoke to the insanity of the ESPN coverage. On that day, the pre-race TV show for the Busch Series race at Talladega never even mentioned the race. The entire program was focused on the next day's Sprint Cup Series event and the top Cup drivers.

Unfortunately, there was one little problem with that approach. ESPN was not televising the Sprint Cup race. The network wanted to be associated with the big stars and the big series, so that is exactly what they did.

Once ESPN's Sprint Cup coverage got underway, this column (click here) spoke to the disaster that was Pocono in 2007. The "shut up and drive" weekend featured X Games athletes being interviewed, the infield studio on-camera discussing issues and pre-recorded features being played back. All of these things were done while 43 drivers were racing under the green flag in the background.

Just like Monday Night Football, NASCAR racing had been relegated to background noise for ESPN's network-wide agenda of conversation. Also, just like NASCAR in 2007, the fan reaction to ESPN's event coverage had been a tad less than favorable. The network was roundly ridiculed in the media and across the Internet.

With the coverage of the Sprint Cup recently underway and the MNF franchise just about to begin, reporter Jim Carlisle (click here) caught-up with some ESPN executives and heard a very new tune. It was a melody that might be music to the ears of some NASCAR fans once The Chase begins.

"I think we may have been trying to over deliver for all audiences and casual fans," said Senior Coordinating Producer Jay Rothman. "You could call us the old ABC on steroids, but the truth of the matter is we are a sports network and people tune into ESPN for a sporting event."

"One of the things we heard was you're trying too hard. Well, we're going to pull back. We may not put 20 pounds in a 5-pound bag; we'll give you 5 pounds in a 5-pound bag. But guilty as charged: I think we were trying to service too many and found we were doing too much."

ESPN Senior VP Jed Drake was directly involved in putting together the 2007 NASCAR coverage and the Monday Night Football package. Drake is the Executive Producer who is responsible for how events produced in the field by ESPN look on-the-air.

"The feedback that we got was that they love our coverage, they want us to focus on football and that when we do that, we do it really well." With The Chase about to begin, things for NASCAR fans may be looking up if Drake changes the word "football" to "racing" in that sentence and then delivers the goods.

Earlier this season, Drake took ESPN Senior NASCAR Producer Neil Goldberg to a track in the Midwest. They decided to fix a big problem that had been a thorn in the side of ABC for several seasons. It is a little race called the Indy 500.

Stripping the hype, the glitz and keeping Brent Musburger on a very short leash, Drake and Goldberg put on one of the best Indy 500 telecasts in recent memory. Click here to read a TDP column about the event coverage.

What this proved is that when the pressure is on for big events, ESPN can re-focus on the action and leave the hype to the endless talking heads of studio programs from First Take to SportsCenter. People tune-in to event coverage to watch the athletes, not the announcers.

“We've become more aligned with what they (fans) want versus what we think they want,” said Rothman to the San Diego (click here) Tribune. He added ESPN learned more of its audience was avid fans, not casual fans. "And we may have been not aligned in that area over the last couple years,” Rothman said. He admitted ESPN was trying to serve too many masters.

“But the truth of the matter is, we are a sports network and people tune in to ESPN for a sporting event," said Rothman. "There are many other entertainment options out there."

While Rothman is not involved in NASCAR coverage, both Drake and Goldberg play key roles in the entire NASCAR on ESPN TV package. Richmond will be the highest-profile Sprint Cup race of the ESPN production team's season. It will also be the first Cup race in prime-time on the ABC Television Network.

If this new ESPN focus on directly covering the action can make its way to the ABC portion of the Sprint Cup Series package, it will make the same dramatic difference that the commitment to football rather than conversation will make for the MNF franchise.

The "Rock and Roll 400" will take to the air on ABC at 7PM ET on Saturday night. The challenge will be to cover the entire field, to show the best racing on the track and limit the interruptions under green flag racing. This TV crew did an outstanding job on the short track at Bristol, so Richmond may be just what the doctor ordered to start the broadcast network coverage and kick-off The Chase in style.

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40 comments:

majorshouse said...

I will believe it when I see it. If they will focus on football, then they need to shor up their coverage with college football as well. I guess that only time will tell and will be interested to see Saturday night if they ahve really shifted their focus to really racing and not all of the fluff that we normally hear not only from the NASCAR announcing crew, but college and professional football coverage as well.

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

The race could be airing on Sunday if the weather forecast holds true. Looks iffy now because of Hanna but that can change of course. Boy would they be in trouble then. NFL opening Sunday! Yikes!

Anonymous said...

Color me skeptical. All I hear are generalities. 20-pounds in a 5-pound bag was not my problem with the broadcast (whatever that means). And just saying "Well, now we know what the fans want, we didn't before" doesn't cut it, either.

For me, I want to hear specifics. I fear I'm not hearing specifics because the person making the generalities doesn't really know what they are, doesn't really understand what they are, and only knows that he better pay some lip service to the fact that things will be better.

I'll believe it when I see it.

stricklinfan82 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stricklinfan82 said...

Well how nice of ESPN to listen to its football fans. I watch the NFL regularly as well and am thrilled that they're dumping the "junk" during Monday Night Football. Unfortunately this just adds another blatant slap in the face to NASCAR fans that have been making the same pleas for 2 years now and haven't seen one bit of change. We NASCAR fans will clearly never be afforded the same respect since ESPN just views us as "brainless sheep."

2008 practice sessions have still been covered up by full-screen video packages and stat displays. Just like 2007.

2008 qualifying sessions have still been covered up by video packages, stat displays, full-screen face shots of studio guests, and other nonsense like full-screen Tech Center pieces and interviews. Just like 2007.

2008 race coverage has still been marred by pre-race storylines, Sportscenter Updates during green flag racing, full-screen race recaps, full-screen Tech Center pieces, and a nonstop barrage of pre-taped driver comments and video packages during green flag racing. Just like 2007.

The fall of 2008 has also seen the full-time reintroduction of Draft Tracks to cover up green flag racing. ESPN continues to patronize the race fans by interrupting green flag racing to explain and illustrate the most basic term of our sport to us - "drafting". We are still the only fan base deemed too stupid to understand the basic rules and terms associated with our sport, in ESPN's mind. Just like 2007.

JD, all of the "ignoring the event" and "trying too hard" issues with ESPN you brought up here haven't changed from 2007 to 2008 in NASCAR land. It's nice that they're fixing their football coverage, but in my opinion it's completely naive to believe that a similar major overhaul will all of a sudden be done to their 2008 NASCAR coverage at this point in the season. We're nearly 7 months into ESPN's NASCAR season, and 6 races into their Cup schedule. If nothing changed in ESPN's approach before their return to NASCAR at Daytona in February or before their return to Cup at Indy in July, there's absolutely no reason to believe anything will suddenly change now. "Mid-season change" does not exist to ESPN, I'm afraid we're stuck with what we have.

ESPN's proven they have no problem giving pink slips and re-assignments to on-air personnel. What they haven't shown is the ability to show a glimmer of respect to the NASCAR fans that just want to watch our sport on TV and be treated with the same respect as other sports fans. Distractions from the on-track action and patronization by the production truck continue to be the trademarks of ESPN's NASCAR coverage.

Anonymous said...

heck, I saw that Kimmel interview...had no idea he'd been banned afterwards, lol. At the time I kinda said 'ouch...' but it was funny. The trouble is, they invite comedians who are used to doing their schtick all the time (it's hard to turn these guys off...) and then people get offended if they do what they normally do....just like Drew Carey on Raceday. I thought he was funny, myself. If they want squeaky clean they shouldn't have sent Wendy to interview him. On the other hand, I heard some actor on Sunday or Monday night football last season that was ridiculously irrelevent and they just went on and on with him *while* the game was going on. Anyways, I know I digress. ESPN/ABC has had highs & lows this season. I guess I like to think positive that change can happen and things will improve. I think even a casual fan will be more interested if they gear the broadcast toward serious fans. They'll figure it out. And you don't need irrelevent fluff (actor B promoting his new ABC show) to keep people interested; there are enough stories in the sport itself that have never been touched to keep a fan interested. ABC sort of perfected that with their 'up close and personal' during the Olys years ago, you'd think they'd remember how.

Lisa Hogan said...

Well said, Strick.
I agree.

alex said...

It would be nice to see a different Monday Night Football, that's for sure. The first assumption that the ESPN Nascar crew needs to make is that we have seen a race before, and understand basic race strategy. There are so many areas that could stand a little improvement, maybe they could show us something and start that on Saturday.

Once again, I'll believe it when I see it.

Just out of curiosity, is there a similar blog or website to this one that covers other sports, such as football or baseball? I'd be curious to read what some other general sports fans think of TV these days.

Daly Planet Editor said...

alex,

You can try deadspin.com or awfulannouncing.com that run stories on TV sports coverage.

The links to the right on the awfulannouncing website will provide you a good list of other sites.

One of those is TheBigLead.com that also is interesting.

JD

alex said...

JD,

Thanks for the links. And speaking of ESPN shifting, they never should have shifted MNF off of ABC. They had a good thing going with John Madden and Al Michaels until they went to NBC on Sunday nights. But I digress..

darbar said...

ESPN tries to pablum feed the fans, without realizing that we gave up needing pablum many years ago. Like they say, you can't be all things to all people, and ESPN hasn't heard of that yet. I can just see them in the production meetings saying things like "if we bring on young, hip personalities, have really loud head-banging music and have clueless individuals who look good but don't know the sport they're talking about, maybe we'll bring in a demographic we don't have yet". Wrong !!!

Dump the dead wood who double as announcers or play-by-play men. Stop showing you're cool by all the "neat" graphics and computer generated mumbo jumbo. We all know you have some pretty cool software, but now it's time to put it away. Find pit reporters that are hired because they're smart and know the sport, and not because they're cute, hot, blond and skinny. And finally, let the sport speak for itself. Believe me, you'll attract more fans if you just let what happens on the field or track do the talking instead of all the human talking heads.

Bill H said...

Haven't read it anywhere yet, but there has to be some contigency plans. Looking at the forcast, Hurrican Hanna is going to be sitting all over Virginia starting Friday through Sunday. What are the backup plans? Race on Monday? If so, what are they up against on Espn2 vs Classic?

Or, will Nascar just give us 1/2 a race and call it quits sometime over the weekend?

Bill H

haus20 said...

It is a nice thought. I am not going to get my hopes up though.

Once again this year, it is beginning to get monotanous pointing out the same problems and same shortcomings week after week.

Maybe ESPN will listen this year.

glenc1 said...

It's getting a bit ahead of the forecast, but if they have to delay to Monday, it will probably be the usual 11am type start time. I just checked, it's Sportscenter or First Take on ESPN2, so probably not an issue...Sunday would actually be worse. I think we can forget ABC, typically the locals are loathe to give up their time during the day, and the network even less likely to give up soaps.

Anyways...if they've *really* done focus groups and the like and realize they need to start treating fans like intelligent adults--I think we'd all say 'bring it on.' But we're pretty cynical by this point...

Anonymous said...

I sure hope NASCAR and ESPN have taken a look at Hanna's projected path and are already doing their alternate planning for this weekend. Hanna may be just a tropical storm and not a hurricane if and when it goes through Richmond - but the Charlotte area got hit with the "remnants" of tropical storm Fay and had more than 10 inches of rain in two and a half days in some areas.

If the Richmond area is lucky and gets a dry Sunday afternoon, ESPN or ESPN2 could carry the race because it looks like events are taped until live baseball that evening on ESPN.

But ABC can't show the race Sunday, because it has live events in both the afternoon (WNBA, IRL) and the evening (a telethon - for cancer, I think.)

I agree if the race is on Monday, they'll just show it on ESPN2. It won't be on ABC; as glenc1 said, they've got their soaps, plus many ABC affiliates carry the talk shows like Oprah, which are premiering their new seasons on Monday.

AMS fan said...

I enjoy ESPN football coverage so much I've watched about 8 minutes since it went there.
If ESPN did not have NASCAR and NHRA I would have no need for the channels.

Dot said...

Regarding the comment about "trying to over deliver for all audiences and casual fans", isn't that what Emperor Brian wanted? Wasn't he trying to woo the casual fan? Didn't work did it? Just pi**ed off the rabid ones. Nice for Mr. Rothman to admit this, though.

Back when I started watching, it was for the racing. I then learned more about it because I wanted to. Now, there are actual shows that teach you about the ins and outs of racing, car set ups, parts and pieces, etc.

Maybe there's hope for us after all.

Newracefan said...

I'm not holding my breath

Vince said...

Does this mean we'll never hear Rusty say the word "aero" again?! Wooo-hooo!

bevo said...

I still wonder where this urban legend of the "casual fan" came from. And why would any network or sport want them? They're not going to patronize sponsors or advertisers if they're "casual".

Anonymous said...

"But guilty as charged: I think we were trying to service too many and found we were doing too much."

There's your problem: ESPN thinks it is doing something good by throwing all this non-event related crap into their broadcasts.

Anonymous said...

I'll also say I'll believe it when I see it. ESPN's 'family' of networks is about as disfunctional as can be. The only sport they really seem to cover any more that seems like they still get it is college basketball. They show the game and you rarely see the talking heads. They call the action and let it play out on the screen.

How freakin' hard is it?

I don't watch Sports Center, I don't watch any of the talking head shows. ESPN fills up about 4 channels at my home and if there wasn't racing or college basketball I'd probably just block them so when I was surfing they wouldn't even be there.

Anonymous said...

I find almost all of ESPN's programming getting more tedious not just Nascar. Since the buyout by ABC they seem to want to over hype after event prime time programing such as Desperate Housewives, like anyone buys Jerry Punch or Paul Paige being caught up with that soap opera. They almost always stress the hot disclosure, the seeder side of the story the better which leaves a trail right back to ABC News. If they want to comment on hard news they should turn in job apps to their ABC News overseers and get back to what they were and are suppose to be sports. I find myself watching less and less ESPN as time goes on down at least 75% of time viewed.

GinaV24 said...

I'll believe it when I see it. I gave TNT a 2nd chance and was pleasantly surprised. I've run out of patience with ESPN's coverage of racing and I no longer bother with MNF. I watch football on Sunday's and flip back to NASCAR because the coverage doesn't make it worth watching an entire race. Let's see, Disney owns all this stuff right -- so Mickey is obviously running the show.

Anonymous said...

“But the truth of the matter is, we are a sports network and people tune in to ESPN for a sporting event," said Rothman. "There are many other entertainment options out there."

Are you telling me that if I don't like what ESPN is putting out, I should watch something else?? Well, Mr. Rothman, I think I will. Re-runs of Opra are starting to look good to this old-school red-neck race fan (make that EX race fan).

red said...

i'm not holding my breath but i am willing to be surprised. i guess that's the best that can be said at this point.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to fix ESPN's NASCAR coverage. Just read this blog (and others), where the race fans have been telling you how to do it.

The #1 priority should be to show the racing, but that is the thing ESPN has had the hardest time doing. We don't want or need all the assorted gimmicks and program tie-ins, nor do we want talent that talks about everything BUT what's happening on the track, as if the action doesn't matter.

Put someone who appreciates rcaing in charge of the broadcasts, instead of someone who finds racing boring and think it needs to be "dressed up" and that would fix the problems.

Anonymous said...

One of the very first "quick fixes" should be the removal of Jerry Punch from the broadcast booth.We all love the guy,but he is very weak in that capacity.

Jayhawk said...

I totally ditched MNF when ESPN took it over. I will not even consider giving them another chance. I watch absolutely nothing on ESPN. I guess I will have to watch one MNF when the Chargers play, but I will do it with the sound off and listen on the radio. I do not believe for one minute that ESPN is going to change their ways, unless they change the self-absorbed, low IQ, "personalities" who are botching the job.

Sophia said...

I do not get ANY of the ESPN coverage OR their talking heads.

The guys on SPORTSCENTER come off as high school punks who made fun of everybody else around them in order to make themselves "feel cool." Not realizing they are offensive with their boorish behavior.

I have watched less ESPN this year and race coverage than ever. I got into NASCAR in a serious way in 2004.

But with all the car modifications, bad coverage, bad racing, bad commentators with no follow through, too many commercials, graphics HEAVY stuff on screen (NOBODY has brought up the UBIQUITOUS ESPN TICKER yapping non-stop on the bottom)

Frankly, I think the NASCAR race ticker takes up too much room.

Add Fox gimmicks, in car cams, bumper cames, tight shots, one car finishing the race...lather rinse repeat.

Then TNT shocked ALL OF US with GOOD coverage and FREE RACE BUDDY *but the audio was lousy)

And ESPN is just NOT WATCHABLE. Period. I refuse to watch the E 60 shows about Logano. Enough.

It's bad enough hearing Ed Hinton went to work for ESPN (the only sound bite I will try to catch)

The racing is ruined, the coverage does NOT TELL THE STORY (unless it's the chase)

They have further killed the sport with too many fines and NOW they changed the shootout rules where winning a pole now means nothing. Zip. Zero, NADA.

If I dated a guy that annoyed me this much, we would've broken up long ago.

ESPN is just NOT WORTH the aggravation.

You can read more about the "actual race" by reading the comments here while the race is in progress.

WHY? Because folks here are multi-tasking 8 different sources I do not have the energy to do. Or the desire.

Watching NASCAR go down the proverbial toilet while the POWERS THAT BE thinks all is well and they are gonna listen to the fans, is like working or being married to a pathological liar. They keep saying stuff so often, THEY BELIEVE it.

Never mind what the reality is around them.

Well, guess what. Fans have run out of patience.

Sure we get more than 20 minutes a week on WW of Sports in this day and age. Don't we deserve better?
According to the rising costs of getting and maintaing satellite to work or not work, or the costs of cable: YES, we deserve better.

P.S. Step ONE TO IMPROVE ESPN (we are talking fiction, correct? :) ) My story would be

A. Switch Punch and Bestwick

B. Dump the bottom ESPN ticker DURING ALL RACES

c. STOP videos OVER GREEN FLAG racing.

D. Let us know what is happening in the BACK of the back and follow up wrecks/engine problems.

The end

chase said...

JD: Strick said it great - as did darbar and I will believe it when I see it if ESPN will really make changes. Could we all be looking at Bestwick, Petree and DJ in the booth? Could we be looking at no more Rusty or Daughtery? Could we be looking at REAL pit reporters who know the sport and know what kind of probing questions to ask? Could we be looking at a network that just might take responsibility for their failings which are legion? Could we be looking at heaven? I will continue to watch ESPN and hope the changes are made before the start of the Chase - then and only then will we get the coverage we deserve - as long as they make the changes necessary and are serious about making it better for the fans then and only then will ESPN save itself - if they don't and continue on their wayward way, not only have they lost me but numerous others who will resort to the other means at their disposal to get the coverage they deserve. Am glad their football coverage will be fixed but please make sure they fix their racing coverage - now is the time to clean house and clean it in a hurry! Thanks JD as always!

Anonymous said...

I sure hope with all the discussion on the cup race and Hanna, as to which station it will be on. I hope they dicide early and keep it on that station. Recently I thought I was taping a Nationwide race on ESPN 2 and it was switched to Classic, which I don't get and I was on vacation, so I missed the raced.

Anonymous said...

Want to see what Nascar is up to? Want to read what the France family is trying to get done with regards to the Kansas Speedway? Go to Jayski's and read the article by Autoextremist. It's an eye opener and will have effects on the sport as a whole. I wonder why ESPN isn't covering this issue? Nascar people getting into the casino business? Does that jive with auto racing?

Rockin Rich said...

Re — Anon @7:56 PM today:

JD, I know this is off topic for the article, but I think it can be stretched some. I think it falls under the heading; Things You will Not See Discussed On NASCAR TV, (ESPN anyway). In my opinion, this subject is one of the true 800lb. gorillas in the room that all the TV "partners" are ignoring.

I had seen an item, (Monday I think before De Lorenzo's Fumes piece was published and linked by Jay), about Boerger, (wonder how that's pronounced; booger would be appropriate don't you think?), offering a sure Cup date, along with other sugar plums), if Kansas Entertainment LLC, (=I$C), is awarded the casino contract. This, to me, sure looks like a predatory monopolistic practice.

How much longer can it be ignored that NASCAR and ISC are in an incestuous, (in the business sense), relationship that is absolutely stifling all competition, present and future?

There really needs to be a documentary series, done by professional, ethical journalists about the predatory practices of ISC/NASCAR.

You may delete this, but maybe it will be up long enough to be seen, and generate some discussion.

Karen said...

Rockin Rich said...

Re — Anon @7:56 PM today:

JD, I know this is off topic for the article, but I think it can be stretched some . I think it falls under the heading; Things You will Not See Discussed On NASCAR TV, (ESPN anyway). In my opinion, this subject is one of the true 800lb. gorillas in the room that all the TV "partners" are ignoring.

Thanks for bringing this article to our attention. I know Anon brought it up, but your comments are spot on.

Jo said...

I don't believe a word of the "we're changing to suit avid fans" not with racing or college football. Not yet.
The mixed bag of coverage we NASCAR fans have endured at the hands of the "worldwide leader of sports" 1 race is great - next night garbage.
Cover the race on the track. Simple- yet espn CANNOT or WILL NOT do it.

I'll believe it when it happens a couple weeks in a row, until then I'll have ALL the alternate info sites fired up and ready to go at the start of any foolishness from espn.

bevo said...

Anybody that believes anything De Lorenzo writes about NASCAR just needs to look through his archives about how one of the big three is pulling out of the series. He's had "inside information" that it's the case for years now. During that time not only didn't it happen but Toyota came on board.

As far as Kansas goes it's nothing new. Dover has a casino.

NASCAR has plenty of issues but anyone who uses anything De Lorenzo writes isn't going to help their cause.

Rockin Rich said...

Okay, I'm back on topic —

JD, is it possible that a lot of this issue of not calling the action that is actually happening on the track could be due to the fact that all of the booth guys are watching the action on TV screens instead of looking out the window at the track? That is the way they operate isn't it; watching screens, not the track?

It seems to me that this would be a pretty basic, and far superior, technique to use for the purpose of being a race commentator.

Am I missing something here? Why in the world would this practice be used when it creates the likelihood that what is occurring on the track will be missed?

Do you have any observations about this?

Karen said...

Just saw on USA that this is their last year with the US Open tennis as coverage as moving to ESPN next year.

Where, where, where will they put it?