Monday, July 27, 2009
Sprint Cup Series Continues To Baffle ESPN
The build-up to the Sprint Cup Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was outstanding. It began with an exciting Camping World Truck Series race and peaked with a tremendous Nationwide Series event. Then, the green flag waved at IMS and everything changed.
Rick Allen and the SPEED team had delivered a fun truck series race from nearby O'Reilly Raceway Park for the fans. That was no easy task as the trucks had lots of new faces and almost a third of the field did not finish the race. With only two pit reporters and three announcers in the booth, Allen and his team drove home the excitement of this series by concentrating on the racing action and chasing the stories.
ESPN walked into ORP on Saturday night, where Marty Reid led his team on one of the best NASCAR telecasts in recent memory. Reid set the excited tone from the start and had Randy LaJoie alongside contributing great comments. Rusty Wallace stepped-up and did a credible job amid those two high energy guys. Down on pit road Mike Massaro, Shannon Spake and Jack Arute hustled to cover the stories.
Reid is a versatile announcer with extensive play by play experience. His role was to describe what was happening on the track, lead the analysts into commenting on the action and get the pit reporters to work hard.
Sunday morning, ESPN offered one hour of NASCAR Now and then ninety minutes of NASCAR Countdown before the Brickyard race began. These shows contained outstanding interviews, emotional features and a live introduction of the drivers that really set the tone for the race.
The telecast then shifted to the broadcast booth for the actual race. The speedway is notorious for being a single-file track for the larger NASCAR cars. This is no surprise to the fans. Apparently, it was to ESPN.
Once the cars strung-out and the strategies began, the announcing team settled into a very familiar rhythm. Jerry Punch was calling his third NASCAR race at the Brickyard for ESPN. His style has been the subject of columns on TDP for one reason.
Punch is miscast in the play by play role and once the coverage began, that was driven home to NASCAR fans watching on TV very directly. The pattern is for Punch to return from commercial, briefly offer a reset of the track, the lap and the leaders. Then, the interview begins.
Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree spent the better part of this telecast answering questions asked of them by Punch. There was absolutely no play by play call of this race at any time. Regardless of the level of excitement or passing on the track fans deserve a competent announcer who can keep them excited for the telecast and updated on the stories of the race. ESPN could not deliver this all afternoon.
Once again, Jarrett and Petree jumped into the play by play role when things got to the point of complete embarrassment. Awkward silence is something not normally heard during a live race at the speedway. Thankfully, both Jarrett and Petree have become very familiar with helping out during these telecasts.
Over-producing is a term that is used when too many cooks are in the TV kitchen. ESPN missed the race into the first turn after talking about the start for hours. The much hyped bat-cam was useless and rarely used. Instead, ESPN concentrated on playing back all types of content while avoiding the actual racing.
Viewers saw endless drivers in pre-recorded comments talking about all kinds of subjects while the actual live racing was presented over their shoulder in a video box. The drivers were front and center while the racing was in the background. This was the theme of the coverage. The racing was nothing more than background noise.
Time and time again, recorded radio conversations were played back after Punch introduced the driver and the topic. Pit reporters acted like fans were getting inside information when most of the comments were beyond obvious. This format needs to be abandoned and fast. Nothing breaks the momentum of green flag racing like stopping to play back a radio conversation from laps earlier.
Cars that fell out of the race were mentioned and several drivers were interviewed in the garage. Unfortunately, following up on these stories proved to be impossible for the TV team. Fans emailed and sent comments again complaining that they had to turn to the radio broadcast and online scoring websites for information.
Speaking of the radio, once again there was an incredible difference in the amount of information and excitement provided by the radio team vs. the TV announcers. Energy provided by the radio broadcasters really drove home the point of how badly ESPN needs a change in the booth.
Punch hosted a fantastic Ultimate NASCAR TV series. He handled the rain delay programming from the infield on Saturday without missing a beat. Eventually, he may be honored in the NASCAR Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport in the 1980's. Unfortunately, no one has been able to muster up the common sense to sit down with Punch and end this fiasco.
There are sixteen races left in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. All of them are either on ESPN or ABC. Jerry Punch is assigned to them all.
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