Thursday, September 11, 2008
Time For ESPN To Make A Change
We have watched the struggles of NASCAR teams who seemingly had outstanding personnel assigned to every position.
Even with an all-star line-up, sometimes things just do not turn out as expected. Crew chiefs, drivers and crew members have all been changed to try and sort things out for the good of the team. The bottom line is performance.
Over the past seventeen months, the NASCAR on ESPN team has been working hard to get the best possible TV coverage on-the-air for the fans. At the end of last year, the network executives made some changes that they felt would fine-tune the 2008 season.
TV viewers welcomed Allen Bestwick to the Infield Pit Studio as the new host. Bestwick quickly organized Brad Daugherty and took charge of the pre-race show. Fans also watched Rusty Wallace come into his own after being moved to the infield.
Finally free to express his opinion without the burden of race analysis, Wallace has been offering observations and commentary that have been consistently interesting.
Stepping into the high-profile role as Lead Race Analyst has been Dale Jarrett. He instantly set a new tone for the race telecasts and one key to his success has been the emergence of Andy Petree as an observant and experienced partner to Jarrett in the broadcast booth.
This season, ESPN's Director has committed to showing the field finish the race. The network has consistently made great pictures and sound. The graphics are evolving and even the pit reporters have been working hard to present as much information as possible.
Unfortunately, there is one change that ESPN did not make in the off-season that needs immediate attention. It is a topic that has been discussed across NASCAR message boards, Internet sites and blogs like this one for quite some time.
While change is usually easy to discuss, this subject is not easy at all. When it involves someone that is well-known and has a long history in television, change is just simply hard to make. Perhaps, the ESPN executives know that all too well right now.
The bottom line is, it is time to replace Jerry Punch as the play-by-play announcer for ESPN's NASCAR coverage. There is no way around it. We have tried to side-step the issue, to delay it and even to deny it. After Richmond, there is no way to avoid it any longer.
Before the Sprint Cup Series gets to Loudon and begins The Chase, Punch should step aside for the good of the sport.
Fans waited until Sunday afternoon for the rain-delayed Sprint Cup Series race from Richmond. This event had so many storylines and interesting angles that the coverage was bound to be exciting and entertaining. It was neither.
Hard-working pit reporters, vocal infield announcers and well-meaning analysts in the booth simply cannot make-up for a play-by-play announcer who is unable to lead a major live sports telecast.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. sliding into Kyle Busch elicited nothing from Punch. Once again, it was Petree and Jarrett who provided the commentary for this incident as it happened. Punch never followed-up and seemed to be at a loss for what to do.
Fans who remember the commentary of the Fox crew during the original incident between these two drivers understand the contrast between the high-energy excitement of the moment on Fox and the drowsy monotone that Punch cannot change unless he is reading a promo or leading the network to commercial.
Later coverage of three-wide racing toward the front of the field elicited what NASCAR on ESPN viewers have come to know all too well. That would be silence. Silence when a multi-car accident sent cars spinning all over the track. Silence when cameras showed big clumps of cars racing hard under green.
Punch uses car numbers, names of the drivers and catch phrases over-and-over again during the entire telecast. Rather than add original commentary, Punch simply updates what he sees on the scoring monitor or is told to say by the Producer.
It is important to remember that Punch played a big part in the early ESPN history of NASCAR. Unfortunately, it is very clear that the many years he was away from the sport have taken their toll. His college football sideline reporter TV skill-set is not working where NASCAR play-by-play is concerned.
How this problem is solved is up to ESPN. Marty Reid, Allen Bestwick, Bob Jenkins and other ESPN names have been tossed around by fans for months now. What fans want is simply the excitement that comes with a veteran announcer painting a picture for the TV viewers that includes intensity and excitement.
While many thought that ESPN would wait until the season was over to make a change, this appears to no longer be a viable option. There are ten reasons why.
Punch is simply lost in his current role and may actually express relief if he is removed from it. If Punch and Bestwick swap roles or if someone else comes in to take-over, ESPN would be better off making the change this week.
ESPN has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in NASCAR and the entire focus of this investment is the next ten races. "The Chase" will be seen on the ABC Television Network live and puts the entire TV production team under a microscope and on the biggest sports TV stage possible.
ESPN has so many positive pieces in place to take the sport through the next ten races and end the season on a high note. Without a change in the play-by-play position, there will continue to be a need for Jarrett and Petree to describe the live action and for the infield studio to provide the updates on positions and standings. The rest of the team is forced to fill the void that Punch creates.
The Daly Planet has discussed this on-air situation many times before with readers, but without advocating change prior to the end of the season. Please add your opinion about this topic to this post.
Do you feel ESPN should stick with Punch in his current role, make a change right now, or simply wait and discuss any potential changes during the off-season?
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