Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can ESPN Save The NASCAR Hall Of Fame?

Those of you who have been around a bit may remember the old RPM2Night TV show. What began in a tiny studio near the Carowinds theme park eventually moved into the ESPN Regional Television (ERT) facility in the Ballantyne area of South Charlotte.

Back in 2000, it was ERT General Manager Chuck Gerber who put into words why it was a smart move for ESPN to produce its only motorsports show from Charlotte. "It only makes sense because all of the teams are here," Gerber told Erik Spanberg of the Charlotte Business Journal. "It's a good relationship for everyone." Click here to read the entire article.

In 2011, ESPN2 enters year five of producing the network's only motorsports news program called NASCAR Now. After a terrible start, the on-air and production team have finally hit on a combination that works. An hour on Monday, thirty minutes Tuesday through Friday and a preview show before each Sprint Cup Series race.

When the Chase races come around, ESPN adds a killer Sunday night one-hour show that has all the highlights, information from the track and complete interviews. It's been interesting to watch ESPN take years to sort this series out. Now, it just might be time to take it to the next level.

The current TV contract with ESPN and NASCAR runs through 2014. That means at least four more seasons of NASCAR Now will be produced. It's very possible that with a contract extension this TV series may run for many more years. It's a powerhouse product for NASCAR fans who can't get enough of Allen Bestwick, Ricky Craven and the rest of the gang.

When SPEED decided to get back into the NASCAR news game, they created a series called Race Hub and located it in North Charlotte at the SPEED studios. The idea was that the proximity of the studio and the race teams would make for easy access to drivers and other NASCAR personalities.

This series airs Monday through Thursday and is comprised of same-day interviews, recorded studio guests and features. It has been a welcome addition to the TV landscape, but has not diluted the NASCAR Now franchise in the least.

Ten years after his article on RPM2Night, Erik Spanberg is now the senior staff writer for the Charlotte Business Journal. Click here for his story on the current situation with the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Needless to say, things are in a funk. The Hall needs something that can regularly attract visitors. It has to be something that out of town guests would remember and tell all of their friends about. Word of mouth is the best advertising. At the same time, North Carolina locals would need something to bring them back for a repeat visit.

Perhaps, the solution to this problem might be a little TV show called NASCAR Now. As many of you may know, the Hall is connected to the NASCAR Media Group (NMG) television production facilities in the same complex. Showtime tapes Inside NASCAR in one of the NMG studios.

Many of us watched the special NASCAR Now shows produced from the Hall of Fame during events like the grand opening, the induction and even the announcement of the inductees. Dr. Jerry Punch is a Hall of Fame voter and he reported for NASCAR Now surrounded by very appreciative fans. Just with that one show, he made a lifetime memory for each and every one of them.

Currently, NASCAR Now is jammed into a corner in the Bristol, CT studios of ESPN2. This fish out of water show takes production resources away from an already overworked facility. While Mike Massaro agreed to move back to Connecticut to co-host the show, both Nicole Briscoe and Allen Bestwick live out of state. There is a whole lot of traveling going on to get this program done each week.

Reporters like Marty Smith, Ryan McGee, David Newton and Shannon Spake all live in the Greater Charlotte area. Briscoe does as well. Add Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, Rusty Wallace and Punch to that list. You get the point.

Just as Gerber stated back in 2000, where ESPN's coverage of NASCAR is concerned all the teams are in the same place. It only makes sense to originate the daily program covering the sport from where the news is happening. Not to mention the fact that NASCAR has consolidated its own operations in the office complex right next to, you guessed it, the Hall of Fame.

In 2006, I forwarded a letter to ESPN's SVP John Skipper suggesting that ESPN consider originating a NASCAR news show in Charlotte if one was in the works. My response was that ESPN would not spend the money to invest in a High Definition (HD) facility when the Bristol studios were available.

Well, since that time some things have changed. ESPN has acquired an immense amount of new college and pro sports that each require a studio presence. Meanwhile, NMG has a state of the art HD television facility in downtown Charlotte looking for more work. Finally, attached to that facility at no extra charge is the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

With a nice low price from the NMG folks, ESPN could free up studio space and production time back in Bristol to serve the new stick-and-ball sports programming. NASCAR Now could have free run of the Hall of Fame, providing the folks who operate that facility with a unique attraction that would change every single day.

Putting the show out among the exhibits, the fans and the history of the sport would provide a unique backdrop. It would also allow ESPN the daily contact with the sport it has been lacking with the series produced in Connecticut.

NASCAR Now is not slated to return until February. That leaves plenty of time for some good conversation, some good imagination and as the bottom line, some good common sense. Maybe ESPN and NASCAR can actually agree on something that will make both of them better once it's done.

We welcome your thoughts 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.


Anonymous said...

This suggestion is entirely too rational for either NASCAR or ESPN. No go.

Roland said...

Great column. I agree with everything stated. This show has definately been the bright spot of a dismal 4 years of espn. Hadnt really thought about the traveling involved for the hosts just to host the show. It does makes sense from a logistical sense to put NN at the Hall. I support this fully. Now they just need to work on promotion and premption issues that plague this show.

Josh said...

that is an amazing idea

Vince said...

Sounds too logical, which is why they won't do it.

Photojosh said...


That is an excellent EXCELLENT idea. However, I have no faith that ESPN would go for it. They seem to really like to have all their pieces close to Bristol.

uncredentialed said...

I just don't like the idea of an independent news show being based in a building operated by the company they are covering.

At best, it's too cozy a relationship. At worst, on a day when real bad news is breaks, you are going to have a debris yellow... err I mean power failure.

Anonymous said...

Get back inside the box and stay there!Do not think unless you are in said box! LOL
Brilliant idea - its a win times 3 HoF,espn & the fans. Which is why it will be completely ignored.

Sally said...

If ESPN had more interest in promoting it's Nascar programming, this would have been done by now. Unfortunately, they have shown absolutely no initiative in this area. Nascar Now is certainly the most intelligent racing program on television, but it took ESPN forever to figure it out. It wouldn't hurt for them (or Speed, for that matter) to keep some sort of Nascar presence during the short off a once a week show to update fans. With their horribly limited coverage of the 'chase' races, I really don't expect ESPN to do anything as intelligent as move the show to Charlotte.

Veri: MOVEylo!

The Mad Man said...

It's logical and makes a great deal of sense. That's why neither NAPCAR nor BSPN will buy off on it.

The Professor said...

I love this idea. It would be key for generating return visits. And cutting travel costs might make it more attractive to the $uit$ at E$PN. Question is whether NMG would let another major player into their playground--not sure they want the competition in house.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of making the show an attraction - If I understand your suggestion JD - have the fans watch the production - the interviews, live instead of via satellite in Bristol.

I do also agree its not likely to happen. makes too much sense. ESPN would rather have control (in CT) and pay the large travel expenses for 40 weeks the take a free studio, save money on travel, help support NASCAR and the HOF and promote the sport and their own production of it. It's a no-brainer but ESPN has never been known for using their brains as far as NASCAR is concerned.

51 yr. fan said...

I can't feel sorry for the HOF.
No one wants go to into the city and pay to park; then pay high admission when the free race shops are along I-77 and I-85 and feature lots of memorabilia. The "uptown" folks sold their goods
by inflating the attendance figures
and have now admitted it. The adjoing facility is only partially
occupied and is having it's problems. Maybe ESPN wants to
take a "wait and see" approach
on any move.

Anonymous said...

A studio store front show has to have a store front with high foot traffic. Have you seen where the HOF is located?? A relatively isolated corner of Charlotte. Yuk

Could work in NYC, but not Charlotte. Makes you wonder if they wish they'd built it in Nashville

GinaV24 said...

The ideas in your column make a lot of sense and so it would be a good idea which is why ESPN probably won't go for it.

Of course the HoF could have been helped by not limiting the first group of inductees to 5.

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken, and I do not believe that I am, Punch now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Be that as it may, this is an excellent idea.

Vicky D said...

I agree with Vince, it's so logical non one would go for it!

MRM4 said...

JD, I don't know if your comment about Punch was referring to him not living in the Bristol, CT area or you were noting he lives in the Charlotte area. He actually lives in Knoxville, TN. He's lived here around 5 or 6 years.

Again, something that makes sense will probably not be considered. Seems like we have two stubborn forces in ESPN and NASCAR.

Ziggy said...

This article must be emailed directly to the Head Huncho's at ESPN. But more than likely it would be relegated to the "Deleted Items" folder.

Great column, JD.

Anonymous said...

I realize this blog is about Nascar TV. However, PLEASE, lets stop talking about "can (insert thing of your choice) save (insert part of Nascar of your choice)?"

The only thing that can save any part of Nascar is Nascar itself. Unless there is a dramatic turn around in the next 3-5 years,none of this is going to matter at all.

ESPN has been doing this for a while and do a pretty good job of it. So perhaps we can accept that and hope that the folks in Daytona can figure it out as well.

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't see this happening. ESPN doesn't need to take the risk and move into the struggling facility. ESPN has enough to worry about with production and talking heads after a terrible 10 race decline.

Especially in this economy, the casual fan would not want to spend the time and money at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Especially when they could be someplace warm or visit a big city with an abundance of attractions.

AncientRacer said...

The responses to this really, really good idea tell much about our collective faith in both NASCAR and ESPN.

One issue not addressed, however, is the Union question. NC is a Right-to- Work state. CT is not. That could be a sticky wicket.

bevo said...

I like the thinking but I too have serious reservations about the idea. Even though the trend is going the other way I still think it's important to maintain a journalistic separation. Granted ESPN is back and forth on the issue depending on their financial interests it still rubs me the wrong way being so comfy with who they are covering - example Sirius128.

The other issue is I can see it attracting a few extra vacationers a day but any kind of sustained increase depends on locals. For that to happen it has to be in an area with other attractions. I don't know Charlotte very well but as others have pointed out it seems to be pretty isolated.

The last issue is the mega one. The folly of public funds used for a private business. They can generate all kinds of bogus "economic impact" statistics to garner support but it is a rare case when it actually happens. Economic blackmail by sports franchises and organizations is nothing new.

Anonymous said...

For me, Espn had a choice if it were to have a daily Nascar program. Either do it in Charlotte,or not at all. The HOF is going to need all the help it can get. My guess is that the Marketing consultants Nascar hired just wrapped up a Marketing Survey (at considerable cost) suggesting the show originate from Seattle! Just kidding....I think?

FloridaMatt said...

JD, you said "The current TV contract with ESPN and NASCAR runs through 2014. That means at least four more seasons of NASCAR Now will be produced." Are you telling us that NN is part of the contract?

If not, it sounds very much like espn has no particular incentive to continue it. Competition for the studio with the "real" sports, big travel expenses, and what has to be pretty shabby ratings. Since disney/abc/espn does not bother to give NN a reasonably dedicated time slot on *any* of their glut of channels, it's obvious they have no particular motivation to keep it on the air at all.

I don't see much likelyhood of a cooperative effort between nascar and espn at this point. espn has just proclaimed that the ratings drop has nothing to do with decreased cable subscriptions, so we're kinda down to two things: shabby product and/or shabby broadcasts. Gee, which one will they agree is the problem?

Fixing the hof's problems by moving NN reminds me of Networking Truth #5: "It is always possible to aglutenate multiple separate problems into a single complex interdependent solution. In most cases this is a bad idea." (Google rfc1925 for the other 11 Truths).

For those of you who voiced concerns about media/promoter separation, I'll offer the view that that car left the hauler a long time ago.

Daly Planet Editor said...


That's a great question. Cable networks surround large bodies of live event programming with what are called "support shows."

On the regional level you see it with coaches shows and review shows for the NBA, NHL and MLB games.

On a national level, ESPN has all the Nationwide and the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races. A large amount of programming like that normally has a regular support show that works to make sure viewers of that network are up to date on the sport and know when and where to tune-in and watch.

"NASCAR Now" or some form of it will absolutely be around as long as ESPN continues to produce NASCAR races.

Hope that helps!


Darcie said...

So, what's really wrong with Nascar's HOF? I don't know much about it, so it's baffling to me. I mean, other Halls of Fame don't seem in great jeopardy, so why this one? It's not like Canton is in a great tourist area, and neither is Cooperstown. Charlotte is a large metropolitan area, so who screwed up?

While putting a show there might spark interest, who's going to spend the cash for all the ancillary things? Nascar's greed just showed itself again with this far too ambitious project that cannot sustain itself. Broadcasting a show from there won't save it.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking that too Darcie?

Agree with the rest, anything that actually makes sense will be ignored by BSPN.

Dot said...

BSPN save anything without a stick and ball connected to it? I don't think so. Remember guys, these are the same people who think of race fans as turds in the punch bowl. BTW, I didn't watch NN this season unless I caught it by accident. It was hardly ever on when listed. However, WSOP, pool and bowling always were. We are so loved.

It is a brilliant idea however. Like others have said, it will never fly, it just makes too much sense.

Anonymous said...

I can understand if ESPN was hesitant to make such a move. RPM tonight was a really good show that was killed by NASCAR's greed. Not letting them into the tracks is something I still cannot believe. I still shake my head at Mike Massaro standing at the heli pads trying to get interviews. Sally's idea about SPEED doing this is good, but since the FOX people took over Speedvision, it has gone in the wrong direction.

The Mad Man said...

Darcie, they key to any good business is location. The HOF is in a part of town that people won't go into during daylight hours much less at night.

Anonymous 10:19 makes a good point too about saving the HOF. It shouldn't be up to BSPN to save it. The City of Charlotte and NA$CAR need to be the ones to save it.

I think if they inducted the folks who pioneered NA$CAR first instead of their own admission of "star power names" they might actually get more folks to show up and there would be no need to save the HOF. But what do I know. I've only been following what was once a sport since 1963.

GinaV24 said...

Mad Man -- absolutely right. Picking 5 people as inductees for the "1st" class with 2 of them being named France doesn't make me want to rush right down there to spend MY money.

Dennis M said...

Mad Man and GinaV24 have it right! Why oh why did they try to start a HOF with five inductees?

Why not make the first class 25 "real" pioneers of the sport from before the "Modern Era". There was certainly no dearth of candidates.

My first NASCAR race was at Langhorne Speedway so I'm no Johnny come lately, but I would not bother to visit the current HOF if I found myself across the street! Even if it was free it would be a waste of time!