Monday, July 19, 2010

ESPN Hopes Fourth Time Is The Charm

It has been a long three years for ESPN where the Sprint Cup Series is concerned. The network stepped into the sport back in 2007 with tons of hype and Brent Musburger at the helm. "You are looking live" did not ring a bell with NASCAR fans and Musburger shuffled off quietly.

This year at Indy, ESPN is hoping the fourth time is the charm. Motorsports veteran Marty Reid has been tapped to lead the network through the final seventeen races of the season, including The Chase for the Championship. Dr. Jerry Punch has returned to pit road after three seasons in the play-by-play role.

Reid will be joined down the stretch by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree in the TV booth. These two analysts work quite well together and Reid might be the right person to make them click when the pressure is on. This season, the pressure is on in more ways than one.

Last year at this time, ESPN began to hit fans over the head with the Jimmie Johnson stick. By the time the final Chase races rolled around, it was an adoration society complete with slow-motion replays of Johnson's pit stops and stats on each lug nut.

The fan backlash against Johnson was amazing and due in no small part to ESPN's decision to make the world revolve around his every move. At the same time, the network had a real problem. NASCAR was asking one TV telecast to cover three separate agendas.

Click here to read "TV's Rock and a Hard Place" from November of last year. Here is an excerpt:

First, NASCAR fans across the nation are sitting in front of the TV and waiting to see their favorite driver. It does not matter where he is running, how he is running or if he made the Chase. Fans of a certain driver want to see that driver on TV, period.

Secondly, the actual race is underway and the dynamic of the fastest car is being played-out at the front of the pack. There is a story unfolding about who can win the race and who hopes to challenge before the day is over. That has to be followed.

Finally, NASCAR created a playoff points system that demands that 12 cars be treated differently by ESPN for one simple reason. Those cars are now the only 12 that can possibly win the season championship. NASCAR has added a third storyline that trumps the first two and skews the final ten races for many fans.

In many ways, it's a no win. Our suggestion since 2007 has been to simply cover the races as usual and let the points get tallied up at the end. How else can ESPN hope to serve three very different masters?

Reid has shown himself to be independent of the "happy talk" that NASCAR encouraged this season. He has called out the start-and-park cars in each Nationwide Series race and often puts his analysts and pit reporters on the spot where controversial issues are concerned. This is exactly what the sport needs right now.

There is little doubt that ESPN was shaken-up after another tough Sprint Cup Series run last season. This year, fans are coming off a tech-friendly TNT that offered live online video for every race and had reporters Tweeting with fans during the races. ESPN has no online applications other than a scoreboard. Social media plans are still sketchy.

The final TNT race was so loaded with commercials it was almost impossible to watch. Reporter Jeff Gluck's experience of watching this race at home was chronicled in his now infamous "Writer Discovers Unwatchable TV Broadcast" column. Click here to read it.

The good news is that this ESPN crew has been working together on the Nationwide Series races since February. The telecasts have been looking and sounding good. Reid is a feisty leader and the rest of the team feeds off his energy. There is, however, another key element to ESPN turning things around. His name is Allen Bestwick.

This season, Bestwick will not have to deal with the unfortunate circumstance of Punch being in the booth. Bestwick's anchoring from the Infield Pit Studio will be part of an overall exciting telecast. That has never happened in three years.

Bestwick and Reid are going to be the best one-two punch ESPN has ever put on the Sprint Cup Series races. To his credit, Punch landed on his feet and has been working hard on pit road. It might be that the pieces of this puzzle are finally in the right places.

ESPN is in the NASCAR game until 2014. So far, it's been a mixed blessing of exposure for the sport tempered by some very different approaches to televising the actual racing. This season's economic woes and low television ratings promise to bring even more pressure to bear on this very expensive sports property.

Where are you on this issue? Optimistic that new blood will bring positive change or resigned to being hit over the head by the Chase for seventeen weeks?

To add your comments on this topic, just click the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


Jack from PA said...

I think the first few races (before the Chase starts) will be solid for the new A-team. Marty will call the races just like he has for most of the Nationwide races this season (and has done a pretty good job at it).

However, once the Chase starts, I'm afraid NASCAR and ESPN will both be beating us over the head,as JD says, with the Chase. Unfortunately, I feel that this issue is inevitable. I do feel that the team put together for this year is the best possible crew, with every member in their right place (the only exception may be AB). I am optimistic for the races before the Chase, but I fully expect the Chase propaganda to get the best of the team once the final ten races begin.

Orrymain said...

In truth, I often turn down the volume. I was so sick of Jimmie Johnson last year. Actually, I still am. I can't stand the driver, but that's another issue.

The TNT coverage was pretty good, and I loved watching the races online and not missing anything because of those commercials. ESPN can't match that.

I'm also tired of them not watching the race. They talk about someone coming out of nowhere when they've been steadily coming through the field (unless it's Kyle Busch or Tony Stewart, who they will always watch). They say Car A is passing Car B, when it's really the other way around. They don't really watch the whole race, and oftentimes, they aren't even listening to each other.

I'm tired of it. Dale Jarrett might be middle of the road, but he says the same stuff week after week.

They need new school analysts, not guys who only talk about how it was back in the day. It's a new world, and they need to figure that out and hire commentators accordingly.

77KJAX said...

I want to start by saying this is a re-post from a month or two ago that I sent in but never was posted (lost, like the proverbial sock in the dryer I guess)I think ESPN has a good booth TEAM in Reid, Jarrett & Andy .... BUT , I also think they have a MUCH BETTER TEAM of Bestwick, Craven & Evernham .... I Believe they would have better telecasts IF they used a different, seperate team on NNS & CUP to keep their announcers refreshed week in & week out. I think the Bestwick TEAM would do a better job on the CUP races because of Alan's CUP knowledge & experience....I also think Nicole is ready to take over the HOTEL duties with Rusty & Brad ... that leaves the folks to help out DOC on pitroad......

Anonymous said...

My emotions about bad camera work and pre-scripted reporting are so short that I will give espn only one shot. It better be good or I will be done for the year.

Sally said...

I think this announcing lineup has real possibilities, and having Allen Bestwick involved just makes it better. However, I don't hold out much hope that ESPN will drop the 'chase mania'. the media and Brian france still think that fans are only concerned with the top 12 drivers to the exclusion of all else, while fans have been, at best, tepid about it. If they can manage to cover the end of the season with ALL teams represented, it could go a long way to making things better.

Vicky D said...

JD, your columns just get better and better. This has been our point for a couple of years, all Nascar thinks about those last races are the chase drivers to the exclusion of the others. I really noticed it last year since my guy wasn't in it, and he and the rest of the field were like non-entities. I don't want to see JJ riding around and around and around by himself because he's leading the points. I just don't like it. And I also think putting Marty in the booth was a good choice although AB would have been fine too. 77 suggested having separate on-air team for NW and cup and I agree with that too (AB, RE & RC would be fantastic). I also think DJ says the same thing week in and week out and goes on lots of vacations so then they are back to shuffling the on air guys again. I do like Lindsay in the pre-race shows will she still be doing it or was that only for TNT I don't remember. I also agree with Jack from PA - once the Chase starts all bets are off and we'll see what Nascar wants us to see and better LIKE IT!

Ken said...

I don't judge the race coverage as much by the talking heads as I do about what I see on the screen. They need to dramatically improve the camera work and do a lot better job covering the race. When I am at the race, I don't hear the babbling and I am still able to follow and enjoy the race with the visuals. I would like to be able to do the same thing at home.

Zieke said...

I do know ESPN will be better than Fox,as they have been left in the dust. Commercials seem to multiply, it would be nice to see some "side by sides" instead of the full screens. Since TNT only has 6 races, it's hard to think they will change much as the expenses are too great. Race Buddy was a very nice touch.

Anonymous said...

I have confidence in the announcer lineup this year. JD, you're right, all the pieces have fallen into the right place.

What I am nervous about is the ESPN production truck and the dusting off of "the script". Tight shots and clueless camera angles can ruin a race, despite the broadcasters. Over the last 10 races, ESPN needs to let the Chase take care of itself and focus on the actual race.

Donna in FL said...

I just want to start by saying that NASCAR needs to initiate media contract renegotiation talks NOW. The way things are changing SO rapidly, by 2014 there may not be anything left to negotiate if some immediate needs & problems aren't addressed.

I immensely like & respect the guys slated to anchor the rest of the NASCAR season on TV. I'm putting it squarely on the ESPN producer & director to provide them with TV that fairly, comprehensively & competitively covers the race & all drivers in the field. It's not that hard. It has been successfully done before.

The Chase TV coverage is one of the reasons I hate the playoff format so much. Last I checked there were still 43 cars in the field running for points.

But maybe NASCAR really should consider eliminating the other 31 cars from the final 10 races. /sarcasm

James said...

Thank you for pointing out the Jeff Gluck article. Every race fan should read this and comment. It is right on the money and certainly states why the audience has had enough. How can NASCAR not be aware of this? If nothing is done to address this issue, the ratings will continue to drop and NASCAR fans are the most loyal people in sports. I am tired of tuning in a commercial and having a race break out. Why do we have an hour of pre race and ten minutes of post race coverage?

MRM4 said...

I think the calling of each race will be better with Reid in place. I still would have preferred Bestwick instead. It remains to be seen whether the camera work will be any better. And we know from the Nationwide telecasts they still pipe in fake crowd cheers at the start of each race.

JimOKC said...

Thank you for this article, you make some great points. I think Marty Reid is one of the best play-by-play announcers in the sport, especially for calling out the Start-and-Park'ers.

I think ESPN just needs to tweak a couple more things to have the best possible broadcast.

First, I hate to say it, but get rid of Brad and Rusty. They rarely have anything of value to add.

Second, get Tim Brewer out of the Tech Garage or get him some training in public speaking. He's great when he's being interviewed and doesn't have a time restriction, but he cannot compose a sentence when he's under the gun.

Thanks again for the great article.

Ziggy said...

Well, startin Sept 12th I'll be wearin my football helmet & keeping a fresh supply of AAA batteries next to me for the clicker. A baseball bat will be within arms reach just in case I want to hit myself over the head while watching NASCAR/ESPN. Thank God for the football helmet, Marty Reid & Alan Bestwick.

Please, N0 5 PEAT

Jim from Denver said...

First, NASCAR fans across the nation are sitting in front of the TV and waiting to see their favorite driver. It does not matter where he is running, how he is running or if he made the Chase. Fans of a certain driver want to see that driver on TV, period.
I am that guy and my driver is Matt Kenseth and I am tired of these telecasters treating him like he is a field filler.

Vince said...

Unless ESPN has new guys in the truck (directors and producers) nothing will change. Marty, DJ and Andy can't do anything about the bad camera shots.

If the same producers and directors are working the truck we will still have JJ all the time once the Chase starts. We will still have the misuse (abuse) of the in car, roof and bumper cams. I will be pleasantly surprised if anything from last year changes. With the exception of Marty doing PxP and the Doc in the pits of course.

GinaV24 said...

Hope springs eternal, I guess, but it sure is tempered with a lot of wait and see. I have enjoyed Marty doing the N'wide telecasts and DJ and Petree work well with him, with Allen in the infield and Dr. Punch doing the awesome pit reporting that he has always done, I'm hopeful.

I will say that ESPN doesn't have a lot of time to sell me on this. If ESPN and NASCAR start banging the CHASE drum or the Jimmie Johnson/Denny Hamlin, whoever drum too early and often, this race fan will be gone from watching TV. I hope very much that my driver will be a contender for the championship this year (even if he hasn't won yet), but even if he isn't, I still want to see the race covered - all of it, not just the part that NASCAR and ESPN's agenda requires.

I think that's all the race fans want, just cover the race.

bevo said...

I'm optimistic about the on-air personalities and the technical aspects of the coverage but not the choice of camera shots and "story lines". ESPN is incapable of covering a sporting event without framing it in a larger narrative.

With NASCAR they have been handed that narrative on a silver platter. The Chase has ruined weekly races in my opinion. No longer is an individual race a big event. All of the focus is on having "a good points day" and making the Chase. Of course a win would be nice but it's no longer the goal each week to prove that you are the best team/driver. This has led to a mindset in fans that the championship is the only thing that matters and unless you are now a huge Jimmie Johnson fan you tire of the constant drone of "points as of now".

Adding that single-mindedness to ESPN's culture of "The Story" you end up with viewers who are relieved when the season is over.

A deemphasis on the championship and a corresponding emphasis on each race as it's own drama would lead to a much better experience week to week in my opinion.

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Mister Earl said...

Perhaps I am watching a different
ESPN. Jabberr Jarrett does not do
a good job. He rambles and blabbers with Long winded comments
that are taking up time.
Handy Andy : marginal at best.
and then we are treated to Marty
Reed who is still trying to get into Announcer school.
How about this ? Give the tv viewer SOME SOUNDS without all of
blabbering ??? I know it is a
REVOLUTIONARY idea..but how could
this hurt ::
Every 10 laps or so and every time
there is A RE START...just let the
announcers stop talking...and let
us hear the engines ???????
How could that be bad ?????
Waiting ............

Vicky D said...

Bevo well said. We have been saying for years that even into 5 minutes of an ESPN race, we already know what the script is and it never deviates from it unless that guy is out of the race early then ESPN has to scramble for something else to talk about.

Anonymous said...

i'm sure someone has said this already but here's the deal...espn is treating racing like stick and ball sports..2 teams battle it out 1 team leaves a winner.focus on the glamour players in the glamour positions..kobe/tom/eli/payton/lebron etc..we all know that's not racing..all the hype/promos and the approach is can see by the broadcast teams they have had..that is the way they see it..anybody watch an espn classic race from the 90s???..that's the way it's supposed to be..i try not to cry too loud about this stuff..cuz i'm old enough to remember watching the REAL southern 500 on wide world of sports in march for 3 minutes in between figure skating and least it's not that bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I love the way Marty Reid calls out the start and park cars during a Nationwide Series race. Let's eee if he continuous this for the Cup races. I have to think the suits in NASCAR do not like this.

RJ_Number8 said...

I think ESPN has a great crew. Moving the individual pieces around has seemed fine with me thus far, but they DO have the components for an experienced broadcast. That's a plus!

I completely agree with the problem of the "2009 Jimmie-Johnson-ESPN-Nascar Show." No other drivers mattered, no other coverage on what teams were still doing to win races regardless of points. Those are still W's for a driver with earnings, poles, prizes and points. By the end of that ESPN run, I thought I would even know when Chad Knaus hit the john. I will admit that this is a definite complaint: I am hoping the coverage on Jimmie and Chad is really toned down this time around.

I am looking forward to the Brickyard, yes, but this is another long race on a flat track. Planning ahead for that, I am having a barbecue with friends also. :)

Many watchers will get bored and find something to complain about. I think that's already given...

Daly Planet Editor said...

Great comments! Thank you and keep them coming.

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Anonymous said...

As long as there are no Waltrips, Hammond or Larry it is always better. The guy who mentioned Evernham, Craven has a point, they have insights no other TV people seem to ever have.That story Craven told on NN the other day about he, Larry Hedrick and Harry Hyde was interesting.As far as complaining about commercials. I quit years ago, get used to it! it's part of life.I remember no racing on TV, Bristol tape delayed for the NFL draft, etc, so quit bellyaching over the commercials.TNT was good,a bit too much Larry Mac this year. I also remember Alan Bestwick in the booth calling races and he was crucified and criticized so heavily he was removed. I believe this site was especially cruel to him, so I don't expect to see him return anytime soon.

RJ_Number8 said...

Mr. Anon, we can definitely be friends...

Here's to good broadcasts this weekend in racing!

Richard in N.C. said...

If I'm not mistaken, L'EESPN is getting ready to usher in the beginning of a new TV world - vitually no access to NASCAR races for millions of households for the rest of the season since all or almost all the remaining races will be on L'EESPN not ABC. I like the on-air personnel at L'EESPN (and don't feel I need to dislike the FOX people to enjoy L'EESPN), but I'm suspicious of the guys in the shadows in the truck and the halls of Bristol.

glenc1 said...

at least they have a sense of humor--did anyone just see the ad with the 12 and Aflac haulers & the Smokey & the Bandit music? Now that was funny...

glenc1 said...
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glenc1 said...

did some research; apparently that ad was already planned, but the timing was good...

I miss the old 'ride along' ads. ESPN did a good job with them.

David said...

I don't normally get in the mid week posting game because I tend to tune NASCAR out due to "NASCAR overload" but this is an important thread to me and I believe many of the frequent TDP'ers since we have rode ESPN pretty harsh the last few years.

I love this new generation from ESPN. Is it perfect? Probably not, I could live without Brad in the infield, Rusty, and Brewer. Swapping Brewer out with Evernham and having less voices trying to get into the mix would be a much smoother flow but that being said between Reid leading the booth and Bestwick anchoring the rest of the broadcast, we are in for a different ESPN. I hope that the production truck puts the race ahead of the Chase which has been the biggest concern for them the last number of years.

They do well the first half, then get the Cup series and run away with the Chase promos.

I am curiously excited about Indy. It doesn't lend itself to the best racing per say but is enough a spectacle and enough of a test for all the elements broadcasting that it will be a great gauge for how far they have come and where they are headed.

Punch, Reid and Bestwick have been nothing short of spectacular this season. Hope it keeps up.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Reid. I think he's mediocre at best. DJ and Petree are fine,but are too politically correct. They waffle when it comes to calling out Nascar or a particular driver(s). Bottom line is that I'm not expecting anything better than Fox or TNT.

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Sophia said...


Ditto to your post.

I shan't be tuning in except to maybe check out the anthems. the rest will be DVR'd. Will be immediately deleted or last 20 laps watch ONLY...if I am curious enough that day.

NASCAR season is over for me in many ways for a plethora of reasons.

Add Carl's win last week to the list of reasons.

#1 reason?

^%$# Camera work.

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Vince said...

Richard in N.C. brought up a good point. With the economy the way it is a lot of people have canceled or cut back their cable. I'm one of them. I think that ABC/ESPN has made a big mistake putting most of their races for the remainder of the season on cable only. At least with TNT we had RaceBuddy. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the tv numbers the rest of the season. I'm already missing RaceBuddy.