Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's Opening Day For ESPN

The on-track action may begin on Friday, but all hands are on deck for ESPN's opening day TV special from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday. NASCAR Now will be one-hour long and will air at 5PM on ESPN2. Unfortunately, the show does not re-air.

Late afternoon on a Thursday is not perhaps the timeslot NASCAR deserves, but fans have learned over the last three years to take what ESPN gives them. The good news is that what ESPN is promising to give is something different.

What the network desperately needs from NASCAR fans is a clean slate. The embarrassing TV fiasco called the Chase for the Championship did almost nothing last season but make everyone mad.

Fans of non-Chase drivers saw them slowly slip off the ESPN radar until they were never seen again unless leading a race. Fans of Chase drivers were hit over the head constantly with the meaningless "points right now" stat as if the race were suddenly going to be halted by locusts.

Even fans of Jimmie Johnson chimed-in last season on ESPN's overkill of that team. There is now a word for what ESPN does when it zooms-in on one topic and beats it to death. It's called "hyper-coverage." No one seems to know quite where it came from, but it's rapidly becoming the thing to do.

This season, ESPN has done all the right things during the ramp-up to these final seventeen races. Feisty Marty Reid is in the broadcast booth, dependable Allen Bestwick will host from the Infield Pit Studio and Dr. Jerry Punch has finally returned to pit road.

Thursday will be the first time ESPN will come on the air as the Sprint Cup Series network of record this season. NASCAR is in a TV tailspin. Critics are coming out of the woodwork because they smell blood in the water. It will not be an easy task to turn this ship around. The good news is that ESPN has the manpower, technology and talent to do just that.

Handcuffed by no online video streaming or RaceBuddy style application, picking the right thing to show to viewers is going to be the key that will either unlock the door to success or send fans running to the NFL when that season opens. The time to show NASCAR fans that things have changed is now.

These final races deserve to be presented as events with a singular focus on the actual racing. The Chase will take care of itself. The points will take care of themselves. Detouring again from the action on the track to tell stories that fit the ESPN script is going to doom this season to failure from the start.

No one is better at setting the tone for a race than Bestwick. His ability to offer exciting and informative commentary is well-known. The fact that ESPN chose to pass him by in the hunt for a new play-by-play announcer continues to amaze many folks.

However, without Punch to drag the telecasts down, this may be Bestwick's best season to date with ESPN. Reid and Bestwick know their respective roles and know how to fill them. Reid said in interviews this week that this is the biggest TV opportunity of his life. Count on him to make the best of it.

Fans who saw Punch at Gateway this past weekend know how he can draw emotion out of NASCAR personalities. Punch is the quintessential reporter. Instead of hanging his head after being replaced in the booth, Punch has used the Nationwide Series races to get back his credibility on the air. His timing is perfect.

Reid has already proven his ability to draw Dale Jarrett out of his polite shell and get him to speak his mind on the air. This was one of the greatest fundamental failures of Punch in the booth. Jarret and Andy Petree spent a great deal of time trying to add play-by-play commentary instead of simply being race analysts.

I will agree to give ESPN a clean slate. Start again, focus on the racing and show us that you know the sport and love it like we do. The NFL opens on September 9 with a special Thursday night game. That gives ESPN six races without competition.

There is perhaps more on the line than ever before as the sport heads down the stretch. NASCAR is counting on ESPN this season to deliver the goods in a season of uncertainty. The talking is over and the first pitch of the regular season is 5PM on Thursday.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on 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.


ikilgore said...

JD, I like how you are giving ESPN a clean slate. Can you please review the races more in-depth? I like how you have the interaction with the fans on this website, so keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

What I wished we would've seen Sat night at Gateway was the Jamie Little from a few years back ... when she was a pit reporter for the IRL ... and they were at Texas ... and Dan Wheldon had a bad race & was storming off ... and Jamie ran after him & grabbed his shoulder ... and he swung around about to clobber her til he realized he'd be hitting a girl on national tv ...

That's the girl who should've been in Wrecker's Lane ... err, Victory Lane ...

Not the drooling, blithering fan gurl who threw the softball questions ...

I have absolutely NO faith in Danielle being able to ask hardball questions of Tim Cindric for Thursday's Race Hub ... Too bad he's not going to be in the studio, but will be a canned interview ... But, the IRL's in Edmonton and Nascar's in Indy, so he's spread thin ...

Anonymous said...

i wish but i dont see it happening, ESPN has let me down the last few years

Jonathan said...

JD I have to say you sure are on hell of a writer! Theres nothing else to say this is a make or break year for ESPN and here we go! I couldnt be more pumped up after the off week

Everyone I hope you have as much fun as I know im going to have this weekend!!! INDY BABY ;)

ps I hope JPM does what he should have last year WIN @ The Brickyard

Anonymous said...

ESPN has 1 race to prove its not same old same. Each week is a new test. And last year I quit watching races week 1. I can get race info elsewhere, & like most fans - will.

Thanks for all your hard work JD its appreciated!

Bryan said...

"Fans of Chase drivers were hit over the head constantly with the meaningless "points right now" stat as if the race were suddenly going to be halted by locusts. "

As usual, you nailed it on the head JD. I'm like you, for the first time I'm actually excited to see what ESPN has changed. FOX was disappointing, TNT was TNT, but they had RaceBuddy which is hands down the best way to watch the race. Now it's ESPN's turn, the network that routinely belittles NASCAR (and any form of racing) on SportsCenter, making quips the entire 30 second "highlight", which is more often than not just showing clips of the final 10 laps and someone's tire blow halfway through the race. Even though their biggest show still doesn't respect our sport, at least the NASCAR on ESPN crew has tried hard to change. So far, they have succeeded, and are making me eat my words the last few years. I'm just glad they listened, and we have places like your site to thank. They have made Nationwide races watchable, let's see what they can do with the Sprint Cup.

GinaV24 said...

JD, a picture of my favorite car! Yay. OK, I can agree that ESPN has all the pieces in place to cover the races right, but based on last year's "hyper-coverage" and just plain bullheadedness, that window to impress me is small.

I won't be home to watch the 5 p.m. opening show since it isn't possible to get home in time.

Yes please, no more "if the race ended now".

BTW, in case I haven't said it lately - great articles, great topics for discussion and thank you, thank you for your efforts on behalf of the race fans to help us get the attention of the powers that be.

Ken said...

I think we are missing the most important aspect of the coverage that needs changing. I will base my judgement on the quality of the camera work and which shots are shown on TV. If we see a lot of follow the leader cameras as well as in-car and bumper cams, the coverage will be a failure regardless of who is in the booth or what they are saying.

Donna in FL said...

More likely brimstone than locusts LOL... I agree that where TV is concerned: This. Is. It. I've come to believe that NASCAR fans, where the media is concerned, were among the most ignored. The difference today is that fans no longer have to take it. There are more outlets than ever to get news & info, we have recording devices to bypass advertisers. I think in the past few years the fans have made it pretty clear how they expect to see their sport presented & respected on the small screen AND on their computers. It would be grand to see it realized. For NASCAR's sake, it better be soon.

Longhorn Race Fan said...

I just hope we get to see the Bristol race in Houston. The local ABC station, KTRK, will be airing a Houston Texans preseason game in its time slot. They have digital subchannels, hopefully they will use them.

Tim in Ohio said...

Marty Reid better step his game because he looked like a complete amateur during the 4 IRL races. The comments were ferocious on trackforum and the numerous blogs that cover IndyRacing (no more IRL after Jan 1st). The whole production came off as unprepared and amateurish. The sad thing is the only diffence between VS and Espn is the producer and on-air talent, the rest is the same crew for all races.

Vicky D said...

Longhorn, I'm here in Houston and I had no idea about the Texans pre-season game being on the same time as the Bristol race. I'll have to look into that, but my guess that there are more football fans here than Nascar fans. This will be interesting.

Big Jon Medek said...

Friendly warning to race fans who stop (or have stopped) watching bad race telecasts: be prepared for the consequences! The bulk of all money comes to the sport because of television and the ratings which set ad prices. If the core fans who are mad at bad TV coverage stop watching, then you eliminate any reason for the races to be broadcast live on TV. The same thing happened to the National Hockey League and it still hasn't recovered. Better to keep working to fix the problems than lose TV coverage. The lack of fans in the stands, especially in the core region, is a big problem. However the TV networks only broadcast races to make money, not to help our sport. If we want races to be shown on TV we must support the crummy networks and work to help them fix the problems. Not fun but watch what happens when the TV contract is up if we don't!

allisong said...

Can I just say that I like the "points as they run" drop-down? If my guy is in the chase, I appreciate that information. Yes, I know the race won't end now, but it tells me, for example, how many spots on the track he needs to gain to take over a position in points, or what he stands to lose if he drops back.

If he's not in the chase or no longer in contention, my eyes don't wander over there. No harm, no foul.

Ziggy said...

Wow, while reading the article on NASCAR.COM about what RJ Reynolds meant to NASCAR all I kept thinking were those good old days of racing on ESPN.

Please Mr Disney Sports Channel give you us some of that classic production from the '80's & '90's ?
Is it that difficult ??

GinaV24 said...

allisong, but don't you think its stupid when they do it 4 laps into a 500 lap race?

I guess for me its just one of those meaningless stats they want to hit us with since it doesn't matter UNTIL the race is over. If a driver wrecks on the last lap and can't get across the start/finish line and 30 cars pass him, well, it changes everything.

GinaV24 said...

Big Jon -- you make a good point, but the fans have been pretty patient and the broadcasting has gotten worse, not better. I'm no longer willing to waste my time if the broadcast is poor.

Best example from JD's column - he ended the blog early on the 600because the coverage from Fox was so unbearable.

Life's too short.

Vicky D said...

Gina I agree with you re points as of now. Even Kenny Schrader complains about that because he says - but the race isn't over yet. Also, the interview with Jerry Punch & Keselowski's dad was on tv where he said he's not going to kill my boy. JP's on the lefthand side and the look on his face tells a lot.

red said...

allisong, does a live points standing thru out each race so you can check lap by lap if you're interested.

espn could actually refrain from the constant points/chase "as they stand right now" theme at least until the last 10-15 laps of any race. up to that point, too many changes to make it meaningful. and if fans want in-depth info such as who has to pass who (whom?) to gain/lose points, the page is a better option.

as for how espn will do: i'm reserving any judgement in either direction. each network gets 2 races to impress me or i turn into a "hit or miss" viewer.

mkrcr said...

ESPN has the easiest contract of all the Media outlets. After all, they only have to show 12 cars in the Chase. The rest don't matter, except to the sponsors.

Anonymous said...

Great article JD. I'm kind of looking forward to ESPN Coverage of the Cup series since their Nationwide coverage have improved this year. Like you said I hope they focus on the racing and show it whether is for 25th position and not get caught up in focusing on five cars like it have been in previous years. With the post race thing on Sportscenter, is it going to be an extended one or five minutes and Sportscenter return to their beloved NFL and Baseball?

Daly Planet Editor said...

ESPN's promise is to use SportsCenter to deliver a complete post-race show each and every time.

Let's see if they can deliver.

Anonymous said...

Am looking forward to the telecasts.Too bad R.Craven isn't included.

Matito said...

The only time that the "Points as of now" graphic should be used is during the second half of the final races before the Chase and at the end of the season. I can understand wanting to know how many positions my driver needs to gain to get into the Chase or stay in the points lead.

Vicky D said...

Just watched dvr'd Nascar Now and Rusty is already screaming at us and it's only Thursday. Maybe we'll be lucky and he'll lose his voice by this weekend. Thought the interviews were good but maybe they didn't need the 4 guys there I think 3 would have been better. And Ganassi's interview was very good. Looking forward to see what the tires will do this weekend too, but we certainly don't need to see Points As Of Now with 5 laps into the race.

allisong said...

Red, yes the info is available online, but isn't the goal to NOT have to multi-task while watching a race? I don't find the drop-down box to be so obtrusive as to prevent me from seeing the racing. It's easily ignorable if you're not interested.

Anonymous said...

We can only hope that ESPN can offer us better than we have seen thus far in 2010.

Rusty Wallace is the equivilent of Darrell Waltrip with his babbling and self promotion of himself and his race teams. Hope they review his role and reduce it or cut him out.

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

allisong, oops! you'e right: i've been at this "multitasking race watching thing" for so long i forgot that the idea is to be able to just watch the race.

interesting how things have changed, eh?

earl the pearl said...

Soo everyone is FAWNING over the
" Suspend " coverage ooops I mean
the ESPN coverage from Indy. Are we
all on the same planet ( daily) ?

First of all we DONT NEED MORE
play by play !!! We dont need more
analysis - especially from Jabber
Jarrett. We need LESS.

And then comes Marty Reed.He always
seems to be in the audition mode
in Broadcaster School..

As for Handy Andy. Actually he is
semi ok .. Does not go on and on
to fill up time.

What we need is SOUNDS OF THE
ENGINES -- Not sounds of the

Oh golly how could I forget ..The
boys in the booth are just going
crazy - telling us that Brad and
Carl will meet again - in the
Nationwide race tonight. Gosh I
know I cant wait - I love a good
fight staged for folks in tv land

Anonymous said...

How nice.. oh perfect comment by
brother Burton. While talking with
Dave ( giddy to the max )

Jeff says we were pissed off !!

lovely isnt it. Perfect