Saturday, December 6, 2008

Digger Makes It All The Way To The "New York Times"


Richard Sandomir is a veteran writer and handles the sports media beat for the New York Times. Click here to read his story about our friend Digger and the plans Fox Sports has to grow the Digger franchise.

Here are some brief excerpts:

Digger’s evolution took a grand leap after Fox’s NASCAR season as Chairman David Hill developed the gopher’s back story, as if this were a commonplace task for TV sports executives. Digger was one of the “woodland folk,” as Hill wrote, initially terrified by the sudden creation of NASCAR tracks, but who, with the badgers, prairie dogs, rabbits and beavers, came to love the spectacle.

Hill’s Life of Digger is now expanding beyond cameo spots in the corner of the Fox screen to six two-minute episodes during Fox’s prerace program in the 2009 season. Digger lives comfortably beneath the Talladega Superspeedway in an apartment filled with NASCAR mementoes and a widescreen TV.

Digger’s life is rounded out with, among others, a girlfriend, Annie, (named for Hill’s daughter) and an archenemy, Lumpy Wheels, a badger security officer (inspired by Humpy Wheeler, the former president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, with a personality like Barney Fife’s).


The revelation that Hill is going to feature Digger as a stand-alone animated character during the NASCAR on Fox pre-race shows is perhaps the most interesting piece of information in that excerpt.

On one hand, it is easy to understand that Hill is trying to create something to appeal to the youngsters who watch the races. On the other hand, Digger has become the most invasive sports television presence in recent memory as the Fox Director uses him endlessly.

The insertion of Digger under yellow or once on a restart is bearable. Unfortunately, as fans can attest from the 2008 NASCAR on Fox season, Digger became the story and took attention away from the flow of the race and the action on the track. As we documented this season, Digger often got more airtime than teams running in the top ten.

If Hill can work to establish how and when Digger is used in the coverage the results can perhaps be tipped in the positive manner that he intended. If he lets the Fox Director use Digger without restrictions, the results with the adult NASCAR fans are going to continue to be negative. One thing is for sure, we will all be seeing quite a bit more of Digger in 2009. That is, if fans choose to tune-in.

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48 comments:

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

How about this for a conspiracy?

Digger is a weapon to drive up the number of HotPass subscribers :)

Jojaye said...

So this is the guy to blame for Digger! Hah, figures its the same one who had the glowing "acid trails" on the dang hockey pucks!
Revenue stream - means we are not going to see this used sparingly this year, & after we all screamed bloody murder over to much graphics on BSPN. How dense are some peoples kids anyway?

tom in dayton said...

Mr. Daly:
Heck of an interesting article!

This expanded use of Digger will be fine if FOX only uses it in the prerace show and does not carry it over to the actual race itself.

Although, it is frightening to think of going into Target or Toys-r-us in a year's time and being surrounded by racks full of Digger items...

(When I first read this column, I instantly thought of how thrilled Sophia will be next February...)

(Also slightly off-topic, but when I went to the NYT website, I did a search for NASCAR within their website for the previous seven days and returned 16 hits, only one of which was concerned with events in NYC for the Sprint Cup awards week - a stark reminder of why this banquet needs to be elsewhere in the future...)
Thanks again!

Dot said...

This Hill guy needs a life. A back story for Digger? Good grief.

The biggest problem with Digger is he was always out of sync. Here's an idea, let's make him more exciting and add Draft Tracker to him. Wasn't there talk of FOX and BSPN sharing?

My wish is that he goes the way of the flaming hockey puck. New name Roadkill.

Dot said...

Good one Bevo.

Sophia said...

Ugh

Tom in Dayton, thanks for the thoughts. Thrilled I will be - - NOT.

Another sad attempt at how TPTB at NASCAR are clueless to what fans love and detest.

No doubt, along with more DIGGER NASCAR JUNK covering up the race, he can be featured in the "only one car is finishing the race on Fox." And naming characters after his kids? Super tacky and beneath even Fox's standards....sigh.

I can hardly wait.

When does TNT come on board again??

:-) Hope Mike Wells is still with those shows.

If this were April 1st, I would've sworn this was a joke.

Anonymous said...

I guess that's why mogul Rupert Murdoch has faith in Mr. Hill. I had a friend that worked for Fox. They do environmental studies on EVERYTHING. They also have focus groups. Dollars to donuts, Fox has made a bundle on digger and wants to make more. Witn all the little kids at the track, we'll be seeing the rodents everywhere. I still laugh at the fact that every network turned down doing American Idol, and Murdoch's daughter pitched it to her dad. Now we have all these look-alikes all over tv.

TexasRaceLady said...

As long as Digger keeps to the pre-race I have no trouble with him. It's when he becomes the center of attention during the race, that I get totally POed.

And my ears are already ringing with the voice of DW promoting Digger shirts and mugs and stuffed toys.

*sigh*

red said...

"Chairman David Hill developed the gopher’s back story . . ." backstory? BACKstory? as if we could really care about a cartoon rodent who is nothing more than a ground cam? what's next: creating a "backstory" for in-car cams? or lipstick cams? or lightpoles? or caution lights? or flag towers?

the man has too much time (and money) on his hands.

well, yet another reason to avoid pre-race shows like the plague.

(and a groundhog is nothing but a rat with a thyroid problem.)

bevo said...

Thanks Dot.

Actually red a groundhog is just a rat with a great publicist :)

Vicky D said...

That's all we need to hear more of - Digger items on DW's website. I don't mind it too much but DW & Fox show and talk about him constantly during the races.

Anonymous said...

Its almost like someone couldn't stand the fact that nascar was the only pro sport without mascots. It could be worse, my beloved Minnesota Wild trotted out "Nordy" a mascot so foul the team wont even disclose his species. They will only say he is a hybrid of several minnesota woodland creatures. He has even inspired a hate page nordysucks.com
All this to say: it could be worse.

Adam T. Martin said...

This is why I only plan on watching select races in the upcoming seasons.

I demand less screen junk and more coverage on the track please.

How can an animated gopher be popular? Seriously, I started watching when I was 5 and I didn't need silly animated characters to hold my attention for a sport.

What has the world gone to?

Anonymous said...

I am surprised this blog has not mentioned that Honda pulled out of F1 this Friday. I realize this is a NASCAR blog, but do you closed wheelies understand what this means? It is kinda like Chevy and Ford pulling out of NASCAR to leave only Dodge. It is that big. Nary a peep?

The Western New Yorker said...

You know something, David Hill has come up with some completely crazy ideas (the "glowing puck" coming to mind of course), but Digger the Gopher could be the most genius idea he's ever conceived.

I like the concept of the two-minute vignettes. As a matter of fact, if they are made by the same company that puts together the Ice Age films for 20th Century Fox, there may be a great marketing opportunity for families.

In addition, Digger should become the mascot of the coverage appearing in all commercials and on-air materials. He could become the NASCAR version of Cletus the Robot on the NFL coverage.

peedee said...

Everyone in the Fox booth act like 5 year olds when it comes to this piece of crap. It really takes away from the racing. It is another promotion for DW's website, and he goes fool over it. They (Fox)will let you beleave they invented the ground cam.

SallyB said...

Hmmmm. If we ever had any doubt that the Powers-That-Be at S|Fox still think the actual racing on the track isn't enough for the fans to watch, this is it. I guess Fox had to find some way to prop up their ratings, with so many fans bailing on the new IROC series now called Nascar. Maybe, if they decided to give the money to some charity at the end of the year, this wouldn't stick in my craw so much. I'm already dreading hearing Larry Mac, DW and Hammond going on and on with this during the races. Guess I'm not looking forward to Daytona very much now. Just one more reason to find other things to do on Sunday afternoons.

Anonymous said...

I don't get this.

Does Fox have plans for such a character on its MLB coverage?

No? Why not?

Anonymous said...

Many of the comments reflect why there are such few trailblazers in any industry. Sure when you go outside of the lines, you get some bombs, but sometimes you hit the lotto.

The beuty of America is that you can risk your money to try something and no one has to buy it. I was one of the ones that thought it was an annoying dumb thing when Fox introduced it. But learning how Fox conducts business, their connections to the creative industry (animations), and the high energy people in their company, I would not bet against them. I plan on getting Diggers for my 4 pre-school aged grandchildren.

granny b said...

sure am glad I have sirrius.

Anonymous said...

West Coast Diane said:

HotPass here I come.

I'm sorry. What does a cartoon character have to do with auto racing with grown men/women.

We don't need gimmicks. Maybe if the race coverage (and racing) were great we wouldn't care about it. I guess they think little kids enamored with a stuffed animal will watch 4 hours of boring racing and become the future fans.

I was so looking forward to the start of the new season and no BSPN (thks Sophia).

Glad we will be at Daytona to watch race live and listen to driver scanners and MRN.

Newracefan said...

Oh GOOD LORD was the first thing that came to mind. Then I thought about it a little bit. It could be fun for kids who havejust started watching racing with their parents but..... it needs to stay in the prerace show or possibly when we are 4-5 replays deep of something spectacular (I hate to use the word wreck but we all know that or a great save are what I mean) and the entire DWstore.com connection or sale by FOX should NEVER be mentioned during a race and not more than ONCE during a prerace show.

majorshouse said...

Like we need more gimmicks during a race. Have they not figured out by watching the truck series and the Formula One series on Speed that less is more?iU

bevo said...

anonymous@2:50am-

Check back on the comments from the Thursday post for the Honda news. The other news was Audi pulling out of the American Le Mans series that have have dominated and have admitted increased their sales in the US.

Sophia said...

majorshouse

No! They have not figured out less is more.

The more clutter and the more PROMOTION, the less we want to watch and we will listen online or go out in our cars for a distant MRN station to come in.

Methinks David Hill wants this, indeed, to be the next Disney animated feature, like Spongebob square pants.

How sad that THIS is what TPTB at NASCAR allow to fill what should be about the race.

Last year Digger annoyed us during the race.

Fox did NOT invent the ground cam.

Sigh. . . .

GinaV24 said...

Oh boy, I just CAN'T wait for more digger and with a backstory no less! Egads. Guess I'd better make sure my trackpass membership is renewed along with my Sirius radio since that way at least I can follow the RACE. What a thought that the RACE might be the primary reason the fans tune in, not for some dumb animated thing. Zazoo pitts! I don't watch a lot of the Fox station animated tv crap and I sure don't want it inflicted on me during races.

MI Mike said...

Gag me! Not more of this cartoon crap! I wished Hill D.W. and the rest of these shameless clowns selling junk would just go and sign up for the "Mickey Mouse Club". I find it hard to believe that 250,000 kids ages two to eleven yrs old sit down to watch a NASCAR race. As stated by Hill, this is just another sham to make more money. As though this is the next generation of NASCAR fans.

Let me see most blogs I read about NASCAR racing the past few years have race fans bored to death, going fishing or painting their house rather than sitting thru a nother boring race. So Hill would have you believe kids love racing and 250,000 of them are already fans. Of course without Digger they would still be watching Sponge Bob Square pants.

I can say this if the powers to be go thru this Digger nonsense again I'll be painting my house or better yet on Lake Mi catching Salmon.

Is it any wonder racing is going down hill, its no one thing but add all the complaints up and this what we end up with.

"DOWN WITH DIGGER"

The Western New Yorker said...

Anon 8:26am,

FOX already tried doing such a character for their MLB coverage:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scooter_(talking_baseball)

Therefore, playing the disrespected NASCAR fan card does not work in this case.

Anonymous said...

Digger NASCAR goods lets you get something for the young fans>
Not keen on a BUD, Miller, Jack or Jim Beam hat or shirt.
I remember getting my nephew Cartoon Network gear at the tracks.

Sophia said...

western NY

Thanks for the link. I had no clue about the baseball deal but had heard of the stupid hockey puck.

So David Hill thought the talking baseball great as well???

even though many fans HATED it...i can see more of us are going to be catching the races in highlights in 2009.

NOT a good thing for tv ratings.

Just when I thought my apathy from the past season was gone, I read of this cartoon stuff mucking things up.

Anonymous said...

Therefore, playing the disrespected NASCAR fan card does not work in this case.

Okay, how about the "It didn't work for baseball, but maybe NASCAR fans are dumb enough to go for it" crad?

Tracy said...

May I say this gave me a tummy ache? A woodland creature who has come to love Nascar?

Oh my stars. Idiocy incarnate.

Kyle said...

Its weird how much money Fox is and is trying to make on an idea that was introduced by ESPN years ago. They took the same angle, gave it a name and a logo.

The Western New Yorker said...

Anon 7:57pm,

I should have also added to my argument, if I didn't before, that this plan for Digger seems very similar to what Cletus the Fox Robot is doing for NFL coverage. I believe within the first year of the character being introduced, Fox was making Cletus action figures for the holiday season.

In addition, the Digger plan must be working, or else they wouldn't have gone ahead with this idea.

SallyB said...

So, Digger is 'a woodland creature that has come to love Nascar', eh? Wonder how many of his fellow critters have warned him to stay away from Pocono, where several of his 'relatives' have met rather, er, messy ends by on track encounters with race cars? Sorta like a bird being a fan at Daytona?

Anonymous said...

Folks
This Digger thing has NOTHING to do with SERVING THE FAN or Growing the audience. Its all about ego for one David Hill, and come hell or high water, he'll jam it down our throats, because he and DW will probably make some buck$ from it thru some back-office deal.
I submit as proof that garnering a tv "audience" of 4 to 10 year olds is of NO VALUE to NASCAR advertisers. NONE. ZERO. Cartoon and Nick at Nite want them, and they're the only ones who do. So, save us the "beneficial bullcrap" FOX.
Interesting that Hill name s"digger" after Rupert Murdoch and Digger's girlfriend character after his own daughter. Heck, why don't we just change the name of the series to HILLCAR and be done with it? Teams could run for the EGO Cup!
And kudos to Sandomir for the interview. Once again he proves that non-media saavy egocentrics will make complete fools of themselves for the sake of seeing their name in print. Sandomir has hammered ESPN on issues that he sees right thru, and now he's done it to FOX. Outstanding!!!
The only regret is that Sandomir didn't ask Hill why there isn't a little animated pole cat popping up from home plate on his precious MLB telecasts?? Sacrosanct or just FOX hypocrasy?

Anonymous said...

david hill is a smart guy you dont get that job by accident. he must have research that we havent seen (for example, that hockey pucks shot at high speed are hard to follow for casual fans).

how can you call the hockey puck stupid if you havent seen it? why criticize something you've never seen?

he would not be making such a big deal out of digger if digger wasnt a hit. digger cam is something everyone can understand. it shows speed and the ground shaking.

as for the 4-10 year-old market... i bought matchbox cars when was growing up. and hot wheels. yes they dont advertise on the broadcasts, but playing hot wheel and my lemans slot cars (i had the figure 8track) was my way into racing, since my family were not racing fans. ed hill is helping build the future of nascar and you folks cant see it

Anonymous said...

The toy market in the US is worth billions of dollars. Even with this awful economy, I see what folks are spending on toys. Mr. Hill is a smart guy and will cash in.

Photojosh said...

Really? Who thinks of this crap? Very depressing. I'm sick of fox's stupid animated junk. Though to be fair, they don't just single out NASCAR for this. Every sport on fox has pointless annoying animations.

Perhaps next we can see how Touchdown Robot works at an auto plant on the weekends to make ends meet in the slow economy.

Anonymous said...

david hill is a smart guy you dont get that job by accident.

Yeah, just like the CEOs at Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual and Citicorp...

Having a job with a title is absolutely NO guarantee that you won't make really bad decisions.

how can you call the hockey puck stupid if you havent seen it? why criticize something you've never seen?

I've seen it.

It's stupid.

Just like what they're trying to do with NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

but playing hot wheel and my lemans slot cars (i had the figure 8track) was my way into racing, since my family were not racing fans. ed hill is helping build the future of nascar and you folks cant see it

Really? Did you play with a stuffed gopher toy?

No. You played with toy cars, which are related to the sport.

Those cars are still available.

Promoting this toy/character is no more than a way to make money--it has nothing to do with bringing kids into stock car racing, because it has nothing to do with stcok car racing.

stricklinfan82 said...

More emphasis from Fox on the bells and whistles that detract from the race broadcasts? Major disappointment indeed.

JD, I was hoping to see a link to an article where someone from Fox would brag about positive changes they would be making to their coverage for the benefit of the race fans. Fewer gimmicks and the removal of the "Fox exclusive" of turning the cameras away from the track the second the winner trips the finish line on the last lap, perhaps.

An impending "back to basics" approach would have certainly been music to my ears. But after Brian France's continued initiative to alienate the veteran race fans and ESPN's initiative to cater their NASCAR coverage away from race fans and completely towards stick-and-ball fans, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that Fox is next in line to join the "distance ourselves from the race fans that are the backbone of this sport" initiative.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like this site has a lot of unhappy Fox haters. Well, Fox just keep getting bigger audiences, keep winning Emmys, and have flocks of faithful fans. DW and Jeff are the only 2 NASCAR-related tv personalities that have ever been nominated for Emmys.

When nascar.com did a survey on favorite rookies, they included Digger. He came in 1st ahead of Sam Hornish and Regan. Can't remember, but I think Digger got something close to 60% of the vote.

I love NASCAR on Fox and hope they don't even consider some of the changes that have been suggested here.

Anonymous said...

To anon @ 4:53
DW and Jeff are the only 2 NASCAR-related tv personalities that have ever been nominated for Emmys.
Um, check your facts Sparky
Benny Parsons ring a bell? Ken Squier?
Nascar.com "favorite rookies" survey? Ever occur to you that Digger being nominated is a fan indictment of current "talent" thats on the air??

As for Mr. Hill getting his job on "talent credentials", his only credential is a long history as a fellow Aussie to Rupert Murdoch. Thats it.

You actally think Digger adds to a race telecast?? REALLY?? You must love Nick at Nite. Jeez

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like this site has a lot of unhappy Fox haters.

Who taught kids that you're "hater" if you don't like how something is being done?

No one said they "hate" Fox.

They said this silly cartoon, unrelated to racing, is a distraction that should be eliminated.

By the way, like the other Anon said, learn your history before you try to come here and tell people what's up.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me you are joking on this one. It's one thing to create a quirky cartoon to emphasize the ground level camera, but when said cartoon is publicized and pushed to the point of overshadowing the event that is supposedly being covered, it has gone way too far.

Then again, we are talking about the network who has their own line of souvenirs for the "Hollywood Hotel" and "Boogedy - Boogedy - Boogedy". Stewardess - air sickness bag please!

I know most will not remember this, but I really miss the days of Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons. That was back when I made a point of watching the race. Thanks to the current "talent" (as well as admittedly the product on the track), I now enjoy more time outside on the weekend.

Hey,come to think of it - thanks guys - keep on "diggin!".

KoHoSo said...

To repeat what I said at about the half-way point of the 2008 season...

Digger should be taken out behind the Hollywood Hotel and killed with a shovel. >:-)

To anybody from Fox looking at these comments, know this...anytime I see Digger popping up on my screen, I am going to hit the mute or fast-forward button on my remote control until he goes back into the unwanted hole he crawled out of. When I watch a race, I want to see a race. If I want to watch cartoons, I'll switch over to Boomerang. >:-(