Friday, June 27, 2008

ABC's West Coast TV Mess: NASCAR vs. Kid's Shows

It is always interesting when the ESPN gang produces a NASCAR race and sends it out to the fans through the ABC Television Network.

In theory, the broader reach of over-the-air broadcast TV gives greater exposure to events like the Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon from Loudon, NH. In reality, maybe not so much.

Now in the second year of the current NASCAR TV contract, the apparent disconnect between the ESPN-produced NASCAR events and the ABC local TV stations could not be greater. Where NASCAR is concerned, this situation is poised to throw a wrench into what is shaping-up as a critical season for the sport.

One good case in point is the situation with ABC's West Coast affiliates. TDP readers have already alerted us that the ABC stations in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR will be pre-empting the first thirty minutes of the Saturday Nationwide Series telecast.

This continues a long history of ignoring ABC "must carry" sports events by KOMO-tv in Seattle. This was the story about the Talladega race earlier this season that was joined-in-progress. KOMO-tv decided not to move thirty minutes of children's programming to carry the ABC Sports telecast of NASCAR.

Other ABC stations from San Diego to Sacramento and from Los Angeles to San Francisco have no problem adjusting their TV line-ups to catch the NASCAR telecasts that begin at 11:30AM Pacific Time. Why then, would other ABC stations in the same time zone be unable to do exactly the same thing?

The Nationwide Series is struggling, and ESPN has a big investment in this series in a very direct way. The company has many years left on its NASCAR TV contract and the promotion of the Nationwide Series by ESPN is one big reason they landed the final seventeen Sprint Cup races.

Last year, the wheels fell-off the ABC train when the Sprint Cup portion of the season rolled around. This is one TDP story about the mess caused by just a single night race. Many ABC affiliates decided their own local station agenda was bigger than that of either NASCAR or the ABC Television Network. Know what has changed since then? Nothing.

Last season we suggested that all three parties, NASCAR, ESPN and ABC sit down and review these issues. This sport is very different because of the problems associated with rain, red flags and numerous cautions. Veteran fans know a race running an hour longer than scheduled is not uncommon. In the broadcast TV world, an hour is an eternity.

While the problems on Saturday may be limited to some West Coast stations, ESPN is only a couple of weeks away from beginning their coverage of the Sprint Cup Series. Ultimately, the final ten races on ABC will be key to whether NASCAR ends another season on a high or low note where this new TV contract is concerned.

The ultimate reminder for the ESPN and ABC team of just how bad it got last season is this blurb from a TDP column after the final race in Homestead:

Sometimes, the poor ESPN guys just cannot buy a break as they try to navigate their way through the twisted world of the ABC local stations. On this Sunday, KABC in Los Angeles the number two TV market in the country somehow forgot to show the first thirty minutes of the live NASCAR Countdown pre-race show.

Can you believe it? Even with thousands of angry calls pouring into the KABC switchboard, the fans could not convince the Master Control Operator at the station that he probably should switch to the live final NEXTEL Cup race instead of running the children's show the station was airing.

Someone at ESPN is in charge of "clearing" these ABC stations for the NASCAR races. Someone at NASCAR is in charge of making sure that ABC carries the NASCAR events as scheduled in the TV contract. Somehow, it just does not seem all that hard to do correctly.

It is the NASCAR fan who is directly affected by these ABC local station problems. Last season, many fans reported to TDP about their efforts to call and email the stations involved only to be met by a wall of silence.

When we tried to pursue the matter, ESPN told us it was an ABC issue. ABC told us it was a local station issue. Several local stations happily told us they were independent businesses and would continue to do exactly as they pleased.

On Saturday afternoon, the cycle will being again.

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