Sunday, November 2, 2008

Just How Big Is The Cup Drivers vs. ESPN Feud?


Anyone remember Tony Stewart? The former Sprint Cup Series champion, new team owner and 2008 Chaser has been a personality noticeably absent from the NASCAR on ABC coverage for some time now.

Stewart does not suffer fools easily and this season the ABC pit reporters have often eagerly stepped-up to that role. Comprised of a mix of veterans and relative newcomers, the four pit reporters covering The Chase for the Championship are in some of the most high-profile sports TV positions in the nation.

Their job is a tough one. It mixes dealing with the the wide variety of personalities in the NASCAR garage with the reality of often being told what to ask by the race Producer or Pit Producer. The combination of serving two masters has resulted in some less than memorable ESPN/ABC TV moments this season.

What makes this job even more thankless is the choices made by the TV production teams of NASCAR Now and the Nationwide Series races. Often this season, by the time Sunday rolled around, one team or driver was already upset at ESPN over a specific issue and the Cup Series pit reporter was going to get an earful.

That was the case earlier this year when ESPN finally discovered team radios. All of a sudden, conversations in the heat of the moment were being replayed hundreds of times all over the ESPN Networks. It was as if ESPN was a child with a new toy. Then, just as quickly as this fad arrived, it was gone.

Left in the lurch were victims like Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. Team radio comments by them or about them were public media fodder for weeks because the NASCAR Now production team chose to promote them out-of-context and make them into stories.

Waltrip made his feelings known on This Week in NASCAR on SPEED while Junior and Stewart responded publicly with Stewart speaking directly to the credibility of the ESPN personalities in the NASCAR garage. This echoed the sentiment Stewart expressed in 2007 when he openly clashed with ESPN reporters David Amber, Bob Holtzman and Wendy Nix.

In terms of the three Sprint Cup TV partners, ESPN has been having the biggest struggle with driver relations. Both Fox and TNT once again navigated through their portions of the schedule without this kind of incident. By the time ESPN came to the Cup Series in late July, both NASCAR Now and the Nationwide Series TV coverage had been underway for six months.

Many of the Sprint Cup drivers had already been dealing with personalities like Marty Smith and Angelique Chengelis since February. These professional reporters operate in sharp contrast to the ESPN pit reporters. Smith and Chengelis have the advantage of working in a journalistic context and editing stories before airing.

Unfortunately, the pit reporters are often stuck standing face-to-face with someone and being pushed to satisfy the agenda of the team in the ESPN/ABC production truck. This was the case in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.

After Kyle Busch dominated the on-track action from the start, ESPN pit reporter Mike Massaro spoke to Joe Gibbs live with only fourteen laps to go and the race under green. Massaro exchanged compliments about Busch, but then hammered Gibbs by reminding him of the harsh penalties his Nationwide Series teams had received earlier in the season.

Massaro's interview was poorly-timed, it was tasteless and it interrupted the action on the track at a critical time in the race. In other words, it was another example of the way ESPN has chosen to treat this sport since 2007.

No one knows why targets like Gibbs, Earnhardt and Stewart are chosen. No one really understands why an off-hand insult about Michael Waltrip should be national news for days. These choices are mystifying.

As the season winds down, it will be very interesting to see if Stewart or Earnhardt Jr. appear on the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show on ABC. Both of these drivers are regulars on SPEED and seem to be having fun with the other members of the media.

Veteran fans know that messages are sometimes delivered in the two races before the finale in Homestead when everyone has to be on their best behavior. Earnhardt Jr. spoke out Friday about some internal NASCAR problems and Stewart recently said on SPEED's Trackside show that he is not going to change his media style now that he is an owner.

What pit reporter gets assigned to Stewart on Sunday and who gets Earnhardt may go a long way toward determining if fans get to see or hear from either one before or after the Texas event. Chances of a Stewart sighting are not very good.

The bottom line is, there is a tinderbox of emotion that has been building up for fourteen races where the ESPN broadcast team is concerned and it may just be the high-speed chaos and intensity of Texas Motor Speedway that lights that fire.

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38 comments:

Karen said...

Thank goodness, you changed Tony's picture from the mugshot you had the last couple of times.

Daly Planet Editor said...

karen,

He loves that pic! The rugged look is in. :)

JD

Karen said...

This one is even better.

Daly Planet Editor said...

I live to serve...

Dot said...

I think Jr is too polite to tell the ESPN reporters to go pound sand. Tony on the other hand...

As I mentioned earlier during the NW race comments, Tony was very nice during his interview w/SPEED (don't remember who the reporter was). He was even smiling.

If ESPN wants a story from Tony, they're going to have to have Allen, Marty or even DJ do it. At least they would show him some respect.

@ JD 12:08, yes you do, and we are glad.

Daly Planet Editor said...

dot,

If they try to pin Junior down on his comments or question his crew chief or something like that...it could get interesting.

If you remember before the last race, he barely answered their questions.

I think it might be fascinating if Stewart wins the race.

JD

Richard in N.C. said...

JD, I'd be willing to bet that Shannon gets the assignment of chasing Dale, Jr. down for a comment, if he's not in the top 3 that go to the media center.

Ken-Michigan said...

I've paid closer attention this season to the overall production of NASCAR TV than ever before.

And now that I am watching so closely, I am totally amazed at the ESPN / ABC effort put forth. Awful is about as polite as I can put it. I cannot believe that the executives in Bristol, CT allow this for as long as they have.

The pictures are the only positive about their broadcasts.

The Joe Gibbs interview with Massaro was a head shaker. If they waited til 14 laps to go to interview him ( under green flag by the way).... couldn't the producer just wait for that interview to happen IN victory lane ??

Bestwick is still far and away the only element holding this ESPN ship afloat. He's all CLASS ! And deep down I bet he is furious with the way the ESPN season has gone.

During todays Nationwide race, ESPN ended a commercial break with a :30 produced promo for the Sunday Texas race..... following that promo they came back LIVE to the race with Punch READING a promo liner for the Sunday Texas race.... that shouldnt be happening. Plain and simple the ESPN truck doesnt pay attention the way "I presumed" they should.

At the network level, I expect better and as I've said before, the ESPN NASCAR productions are LAZY !!

Nothing they can do in the final 3 races can turn around this awful 2008 ESPN effort.

Gymmie said...

@dot--that was Wendy who spoke to Smoke earlier :).

Dot said...

Thanks Gymmie. I should've remembered that. Too bad ESPN doesn't have a pit/garage reporter like Wendy. Maybe she can give the dwins a seminar in the off season.

@ JD, that's what I mean about Jr. He just won't lay into them the way Tony does. Maybe because the season is almost over, he will. He was pretty outspoken about NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

Aside from interviewing him in Victory Lane, Tony Stewart has been completely absent from the ESPN/ABC coverage - at least in terms of interviews. And I'm not just talking about pre and post race, where you could argue some of his finishes don't warrant coverage.

No, even early-to-midweek NASCAR Now, when they routinely go through the field running interviews in the garage/trailer area that didn't make it onto ABC or were conducted later -- no Tony. None.

Now, Tony may not like ESPN. He may not be the most accessible, especially after some of his heartbreaking or bad luck finishes. But, I'm sorry... it is my opinion that if ESPN came up to Tony with a reasonable question, he would answer it. But now they don't even seem to be trying. I see no effort on the part of ESPN to even attempt to interview Stewart. And that is simply negligent if your goal is coverage of the sport.

If I am wrong and it is Tony that is refusing any ESPN interviews, than please correct me... but it seems to me more like ESPN has chosen to give up on even trying. They can't get him after a race, fine. But they can't get him by Wednesday, even for one question? Bull.

I also wonder how Tony will be covered next year. While a lot reporters seems to get him and respect him, I think there are a few who hope that the Haas team stays firmly below 30th place so they don't have to mention him. My fear as a Stewart fan is that the adjustment period to his new team will put him at the back of the pack and suddenely he'll be getting the kind of coverage Bill Elliott gets (that is to say: NONE). And not just on ESPN but all networks.

Gymmie said...

I like the new picture too...but I also like the rugged look :). That picture reminds me of his QVC appearances! He has so much fun! I still don't think Dan ever hooked him up with that pizza maker *giggle*

YW dot :)

@anon 1:59--it definitely seems that way. Last year with that controversial "bad word" during Kansas practice seemed to seal the love/hate relationship. It's still so odd that they were there all that time filming Smoke & Robby and even the booth was wondering what they were chatting about still there was *no* audio. Then as soon as Smoke walks by there's audio? He's snapped at Yumyum and a few others when he's been in his moods but they've learned how to approach him. It seemed when they knew he'd be pissed, NBC/TNT would send Yumyum over and a few have been tape delayed so they could bleep out the words ahead of time. But Fox seems to send which ever reporter was covering him. ESPN only seems to if they "have" to. I also wonder how they'll cover him next year...it'll be very very interesting indeed.

Anonymous said...

They ask to many questions, and need to know when to shut up. If this is producers in their ear, they need new ones. They just want let the drivers walk away. When they have a wreck, if its his fault he feels bad enough, they just won't let it go. If they have to work this way to get a paycheck, I think I would be looking for another job.
bryanh

SallyB said...

I'll be interested to see if either of the networks in their pre race coverage mention the comments Junior made about Nascar, saying that money is now the driving force behind everything. It was a polite slam on a lot of levels...let's see if anyone mentions it.

ri88girl said...

Did anyone else notice last night that when Burns went to talk to Clint Boyer he fist said Clint wanted to waite a minute to cool down. I thought that was interesting on two levels. First, it indicates that the non smurf contingent of the pit reporters have developed some rapour with the drivers. Second, it seems to me it was the truck that went to Burns too soon and forced him to cover for Boyer wich seems like the truck was trying to start something.

The pit reporters and booth crew are the most visible and so get the heat for the sh*t coverage, but I really think this all eminates form the truck. Which is why I for one am going to start aming my ire at them and not the Smurfs who have improved and I think will continue to do so. Wendy and Krista have so many things working in their favor that it skews our perception of them. Objectively, Jamie has improved by miles. Shannon is weaker, but if she had GOOD help she would be fine.

I wonder if the problems with how ESPN has chosen to cover the driver has effected the booth crews ablility to mine the garage for information; which in turn effects the quality of the broadcast. At one point yesterday, Andy was reduced to saying 'there goes the nine car of kasey kahne' I was afraid he'd started drinking Doc's water!

stratcat said...

ESPN needs to stick to their little ball games and get out of real sports!

Rockin Rich said...

Responding to a combination of previous comments, (Ken-Mich. & Ri88Girl):

The LAZY label certainly seems to apply to the "smurf contingent" of pit reporters. It has been commented on many times that they don't know, or understand the basics of the cars and racing. They have been at this all year long now, (ten months anyway). I think this, (IMO), shows a pronounced lack of respect for the sport in general. I think it is a root reason that they are treated the way they are on pit road.

I can get past the image of these pretty, perky little women asking all these "he-men" drivers about their racing experiences, or situations. Wendy and Krista are also "pretty and perky", but they are treated with respect by the drivers. Why? Because they have earned it! They have put in the hours needed to learn and understand the sport. It shows with every encounter they have with the drivers.

I expect that a similar analysis could be made about the "voices in the ears" that are prompting the pit reporters. They don't seem to know, or understand the sport they are televising. Nor do they seem to care. Maybe it's just a paycheck?

Sad!

Anonymous said...

I didn't have an issue with the *content* of Massaro's interview; just the timing. Their team cheated and he had the right to bring that up in talking about the season since losing people could have had a major impact on the team and they overcame it. But the choice (presumably by the producer) to do this late in the race was pointless. Why not wait til after?

I have the feeling the pit reporters are being asked to do things they may *know* are poorly timed or whatever, but they have to do it anyways. And pit reporting is a very specialized thing--as JD pointed out, print journalists have time to put together stories and edit. These folks MUST be good at ad-libbing, and clearly, Shannon is not. I have *some* hope for Jamie (if she gets rid of the 'feeling' questions) but Shannon is hopeless. I think with better direction the rest would improve and surely, they could find some better people.

It should be noted that Wendy is married to Tony's engine tuner--not saying that's *why* he's usually nice to her, because she is tons more professional than the rest and has proven herself, but I think maybe it helps keep Tony calm. But I have to agree that the drivers and owners must watch TV, and must see and hear the completely ridiculous moments that go on. For their sponsors sake, they must continue to endure it (except, notably, in Tony's case since he's leaving.) But they (and we) certainly deserve better.

jojaye said...

Like others here Thanks for changing Tony's picture. And for all your hard work here.

I will now admit I read comments before posting -I usually don't.

I agree with most of the other comments. Last year at this time I was hoping some posters were wrong it was espn year 1 & this year would be better. Its not, if any thing its worse.

Tim Brewer still has not done a Mea Culpa for his rekindle of the feud by throwing Tony & newcomer Joey under the bus with his lying assumption about cheating. And why would he? espn is always right, just ask espn. Tony & espn had a run in last season & Tony was pilloried on several espn shows, and now comes the news freeze.

Why espn continues to antagonize the drivers, & bite the hand that feeds it is beyond me.

I, like Ken & others, continue to be amazed at the lack of respect & prep that the suits in Bristol allow from the production truck. Yup the video is good,when its not a 1 car shot, when its not covered in graphics, or commercials or promos. The whole thing as a produced event is a mess.

As far as Jr, well he's growing up in front of our eyes again. From racer to businessman. And he isn't happy with the way the business is treated. And he said something, and I hope he and other racers say a lot more.

I wonder how long espn would let a sideline reporter or a producer stay on the job if it was football, and they showed this kind of contempt for the sport & refused to learn?

Kyle said...

Well. They are heading into their third year of 8 in 2009. After their contract is over, they may get 'kicked out' again.

Matt said...

To determine if this is the pit reporter's doing or the producer's fault, I think all you have to do is look at the Montreal NW race from last year. Marty Smith was on pit road interviewing Robby after he was penalized, and you could just see how he was being forced to ask pressing questions.. even when you thought enough was enough, here comes another question; not something you'd expect from Marty.

Sure the pit reporters can do their job by being respectful of the drivers, but ultimately I think it's all up to the producer.

Clearly a change is needed. It's too bad we can't get more of TNT's producer.

Newracefan said...

The off the mark questions have made me crazy for some time now, every time I think ESPN has gotten past it here comes another one. I was somewhat aware that Tony was no where to be seen on ESPN (I too like this picture better)I knew it wasn't him because Speed didn't seem to have any problem talking to him. He has always had great interviews with Wendy and I'm sure that's because he knows her on a personal level and she has never abused that privilege, respect goes a long way. ESPN can't afford to PO drivers, there are other outlets for them to be seen and heard so ESPN needs them more than they need ESPN (this may not apply to the back markers but it sure applies to the front runners and their friends)

Rockin Rich said...

Well, let's start another thought:

Have you-all, (yeah, I live in a "you-all" state), noticed that "what does it mean", and "what's it like" have, for the most part, replaced "how does it feel"?

I normally don't get distracted to the point of noticing this stuff like some of the more observant posters here. But, the constant repetition of these phrases is really starting to intrude into my consciousness.

Another example of a lack of preparation? Or a laziness in relying on worn out, easy to remember questions?

Man, where is the pit road talent, and presence that Dr. Punch used to display?

Ken-Michigan said...

Interviews from the pit / garage area could be greatly improved by just making the interviews shorter.

It all started in Daytona that I noticed this. ESPN shows seemed to do attempt to make an "in depth" interview out of something that should have been a one or two question interview.

Now that we have made it this far into the season, ESPN pit reporters are still doing the lenghthy interviews and its way too much.

Many many times when I think the interview is over, they continue with another and another question. This should have been adjusted long ago by the production team.

Get in & get out..... and move on !! Get back to the cars on the track.

ri88girl said...

Rich,

The lack of...everything(!) on pit road was one of the reasons I felt so stongly at the beginning of the season that Punch would really serve both the network and the fans much better by going down there and schooling them on how its done. I get the impression that to do so would be a 'step down' (if you say so) and would never appeal to him in the same way KP would not go to Trucks. I guess I don't get this philosophy cuz I'm a girl. It seems stupid to me to not do something you'd be so good at just because it's marginally less prestigious.

Anonymous said...

I still disagree with saying the ESPN pit reporters are too harsh. Im sick of seeing the people at SPEED being all buddy buddy with the drivers. A good example of this would be Matt Yocum. I can never take him seriously when he interviews Tony Stewart. Everyone knows how good of friends they are. I think sometimes some of the reporters at SPEED cross the line because they are best friends with drivers. I believe that if your a reporter you should take job seriously and not become best buds with the drivers. I think it seriously interfers with work. there can never be a serious interview.

David said...

Lets be realistic here. When drivers and TV broadcast partners are at odds, you have a serious issue. I can remember back to the Vegas Nationwide race when Tony made Jamie Little look like a college med student halfway through their training. He rattled her and she didn't even have any idea.

A fact of life is Tony Stewart, Dale Jr and some of these other "personalities" make this sport go 'round. That being said, don't shove them down our throat every chance you get (hint hint ESPN).

Its a respect thing as well, drivers have picked up on ESPN's "script" style and do not care for it. On the other hand SPEED and FOX are alot of people that are very friendly with the drivers and it comes across. Stewart and Yocum are a prime example of that.

Hopefully this turns around though.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 11:58AM,

You are not bothered by Rusty Wallace (owner), Brad Daugherty (owner) and Ray Evernham (owner) telling ESPN viewers about NASCAR?

JD

3bud said...

Well the most exposure the Truck Series got from ESPN was a made up bunch of BS on Ron Hornaday. The way they treat drivers, teams, team owners as with Joe Gibbs yesterday,and the sport all around is ridiculous considering what they have invested. The producers I would think are the real culprit in the pit reporters insanely ridiculous questioning and badgering of drivers and crews. But if a "reporter" can go out and make up a story for the sake of making up a story and report that as news there is no credibility. No one wants to speak to someone who is willing to take what you say and make it into something else. Marty, Dale, Andy,and yes Dr. Jerry Punch have been around and I believe have the respect of and for the sport as does Allen,Rusty and a few others.But the refection of ESPN as a whole on the sport is basically that of disrespect.From their news shows to the sports programs,NASCAR NOW the exception they show how they really feel about NASCAR.Hype Hype and more Hype.As for the other programs I avoid them now because of their attitude to the sport so maybe things have changed somewhat. Bottom line ESPN is there are more and more options to follow NASCAR,I would think it be in their best interest to maybe listen to what the fans really want and not try to force what you think we want.

Sophia said...

yea that whole Hornaday story did it for me..I barely catch a glimpse of the Mon NN anymore...I'd rather catch TWIN.

Jr admitted on WT to Robin Miller NASCAR will never shorten the season or the races due to all the tv contracts, etc. How sad that has dictated NASCAR to the point of alienating it's base...but I hear the same thing from friends that watch other sports.

I have been wearing my tony stewart jacket a lot lately...I only got it a year ago as a birthday present from a friend...how sad this COOL HOME DEPOT jacket will signify 'toast' next year..but it still says tonystewart on the back....I wish him well but he's in for a struggle with the new team. Will still be a fan...just wished he could've waited a couple of years since I never owned a NASCAR jacket before.

I have never been so "NOT SAD" to see a racing season end...in fact, I will be glad when it's over.

Never said that a few years ago.

Thanks ESPee U.

Anonymous said...

I was also shocked by the timing of Massaro's interview with Joe Gibbs. Absolutely mindless. Then,after the race,Busch gets out and was just ready to deliver his "bow" and they put the points standing on the screen! Like him or not,can you imagine doing that just as Carl Edwards is ready to do a backflip? The pit reporters are awful,but the clowns in the truck should all be fired.

Ziggy said...

Should we be shocked that ESPN had JR & Tony Jr as their "in race" reporters ???

Is this a "deal they could not refuse" ?

Daly Planet Editor said...

zig,

Cha-ching! Recognize that sound?

JD

Anonymous said...

I like Jr, but he like many athletes, speak without thinking thru every thing they say. We are all around peple all the time who yearn for the "good ole days", but never want to give up what the new days have given them.

Part of the money that Jr and all drivers/owners make, comes from tv contracts and track revenue. Jr will make some $40-50 million this year. Why then did JR Motorsports have to lay off employees this week? I mean, this is horrible, just the month before Chirstmas.

If you read about Jr and his sister, they do everything they can to maximize his brand and its worth. He has a team of 40 employees who search and identify commercial endorsements for him. That's all they do. They are very good, it is said that he will pass Jeff Gordon as the highest earning driver next year.

Has Jr even thought how many people would be out of work if NASCAR reduces the season by 11 races? Sure, he's willing to take a 2 or 3 million dollar cut, but what about the poor guy who only makes $30,000 per year?

DJ on ESPN said that it's not the racing 36 times that burns you out, it's all the other stuff you have to do: personal apprearances, sponsor duties,etc., and of course with Jr, he has several personal services contracts outside of NASCAR.

Jr could decide on his own to drive only 26 times. Of course he would lose his ride with HMS, his contracts with AMP, etc. But if he wanted to, he could lead the charge. I just don't know how many drivers would follow him.

NASCAR if a good thing. If he would read up on the growth, he would see how many more people earn a living in NASCAR in just the last 10 years. It has brought jobs and prosperity to a lot.

Jr, take a deep breath and call your sister.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 10:34AM,

I am going to leave your post up, but I am not sure what it has to do with the ESPN problems with some of the Cup drivers.

As you know, all of the multi-car teams have product marketing departments and usually share opportunities to market types of products with driver endorsements.

The difference between NASCAR and leagues like the NFL and NBA is that to play in those leagues you must give up the rights to your own name just to get on the field.

No individual sponsorships are allowed and no signage of any type can be displayed even during post-game press conferences.

I don't know if you are upset with Jr. for his marketing or just mad at the NASCAR system. Our post was about the tough times that ESPN has been having with the Cup guys this season.

Anyway, thanks for the comment.

JD

Anonymous said...

from anon 10:34

JD, sorry I did not refer my comments to a previous comment. A couple of people had mentioned Jr comment on a news conference. Then you made the comment at 12:17 about a reporter pinning Jr on one of his comments.

I should have said that it is true, no one asked Jr to explain further how his opinion that the NFL does things better would benefit the NASCAR community.

Thanks JD, for your comment.

Anonymous said...

re: JD 11:47

NFL athletes may have their own endorsements without signage. Probaly the most famous is Payton Manning and his many endorsements from credit cards to Oreos, to cable tv, etc. Another is Brett Favre who is usally playing football with a big 4 on his t-shirt to adversite for Levi's

Daly Planet Editor said...

The NFL and NBA players off the field can gain income from personal endorsements. Some are done in concert with the league and have an NFL or NBA logo.

The ones you mentioned are strictly product endorsement and do not have any type of payment made to the athlete when a product is sold.

This is the biggest complaint of the athletes in these leagues and has often resulted in legal battles over nicknames (Ocho Cinco) and others like "King James."

It is a murky world that is all about cash.

JD