Sunday, November 14, 2010
Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From Phoenix (2PM ET - ESPN)
This is going to be the last real example of how ESPN chooses to present the Sprint Cup Series races in 2010. The final event in Homestead is always very strange. Lots of network executives are on hand, there are extra TV programs to do and the tone is very different.
This season, despite changes in personnel behind the scenes, ESPN has clung firmly to a philosophy that has been used since the network's Sprint Cup Series coverage began. The pre-race show offers "talking points" that the telecast then follows. Regardless of the actual racing, this pre-race script is followed throughout the live telecast.
The result has been a loss of viewers for several reasons. First, the focus on fewer and fewer drivers as the Chase progresses alienates fans of drivers no longer mentioned. Second, the lack of attention to the stories of non-Chasers who are in the top ten on the track. Finally, the inability of the director to open the cameras wide and show the actual racing for position instead of focusing on drivers selected in advance.
It's not the Chase, the COT or the racing. Those are elements that TV just has to deal with in any motorsports series. Those are the rules. The responsibility of the network covering the race is simply to step back and provide an accurate view of what is going on in the event for the fans watching on TV. It sounds relatively simple.
Allen Bestwick has been a rock for ESPN since 2007. First as a pit reporter, then as a Nationwide Series booth announcer and now as the anchor of the telecasts, Bestwick is often the voice of reason. This weekend, he has Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty alongside.
The Infield Pit Studio is rather unique. Used for both Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races, Bestwick and crew are often limited to in-race recaps once the green flag falls. This season, ESPN has added a convoluted SportsCenter post-race show. This format stripped Bestwick of the NASCAR focus and inserted a usually ill-informed Bristol, CT announcer into the NASCAR telecast.
The end result is that many viewers switch to SPEED for the three hours of Sunday night programming that begins at 7PM ET every week. Had ESPN allowed Bestwick to anchor the coverage and throw to Bristol for some highlights of other sports, the results would have been much different.
Marty Reid sounds like a man who needs a break. Handling both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races during this time of the season, Reid has been struggling to keep up with the information that needs to be passed along to TV viewers. Lucky Dogs, restart orders, pit road penalties and even on-track incidents have all been sometimes lost in space.
Reid has often been caught watching the TV monitors in the booth as opposed to the action on the track. Accidents are relayed by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree, who are once again providing most of the credible content on the telecasts. This duo has quietly cemented themselves as the foundation of the ESPN coverage.
Keep an eye out today on how tight the director chooses to shoot the cameras. Criticism is mounting and ratings are plummeting as fans at home simply don't get to see what is actually happening on the track. As we often say, when the TV coverage does not even relate to what fans hear on the MRN radio coverage, there is a big problem.
Jimmie Johnson is loved by ESPN almost as much as Carl Edwards. Last year, JJ was the focus of the final telecasts and the fan reaction was brutal. ESPN is a network that likes "hyper coverage." That is a seemingly endless focus on only one item. That item last year was the #48 team.
Tim Brewer has become almost a cult figure. Popping-up in the telecast to relate fundamental issues about tires, shocks and even fueling, Brewer's presence is often forced into the telecasts quickly after an incident. This makes Brewer's explanations of what he thinks happened often proven incorrect later when a pit reporter interviews the drivers. Talk about a no win situation.
At the end of this season, ESPN will once again evaluate the entire on-air line-up. Personalities like Ricky Craven and Ray Evernham deserve bigger roles. Meanwhile, those struggling like Reid and Daugherty may find themselves looking over their shoulders.
All of this means that this PIR event is big for many reasons. Like the race teams, a good performance today may mean an extended TV contract for some and a bad performance may mean a change for next season. It's going to be very interesting to watch.
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