Sunday, October 3, 2010

Live Blogging Sprint Cup Series From Kansas (ESPN/ESPN2 - 12PM ET)

Once again this week, the TV coverage will begin on ESPN2 with the pre-race show and shift to ESPN for the race itself. This is a function of the races being moved from ABC to ESPN and the network already having an NFL show in the 11AM - 1PM timeslot.

Allen Bestwick is hosting the telecast today from the Infield Pit Studio. Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace are alongside. Tim Brewer is in the Tech Garage. The focus should again be on the Chase with perhaps a news item or two breaking into the line-up.

Marty Reid is back in the broadcast booth with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Reporting from pit road are Dr. Jerry Punch, Jamie Little, Dave Burns and Vince Welch.

ESPN is once again struggling with bad reviews and low ratings. Fans have chimed in with all kinds of suggestions about the reasons why NASCAR is having a tough time in the playoffs. Hopefully, good action on the track may help the cause today.

There are no weather issues and there should be a good crowd today. Kansas has a history of turning out a lot of race fans for NASCAR events. This speedway is a pet project of the ISC and having a successful event here is very important to the France family.

TV has fun at Kansas because there are many great views of the racing action. The aerial view shows the facility while the speed shots work to relay how fast the track actually is for these cars. ESPN struggled on Saturday with the NNS event, using tight shots that rarely showed more than three cars and missed most of the action.

ESPN has a formula for these events that fans and TV viewers know all too well. It puts a continual emphasis on the Chasers and lets the actual events of the race slowly slip away. It's a tough challenge to cover both inside one race.

This week is going to be pivotal in the Chase. Not for the racers, but for the TV network. ESPN needs to deliver an interesting and focused presentation that keeps the fans watching TV and lets the emphasis be on what is happening on the track, not what the network chooses to show.

Over the last several weeks, ESPN has gone to the first in-race commercial before lap ten. They have run the final commercial inside of twenty laps to go and once within ten. No one understands what is happening with this company that was once a critical partner with NASCAR in the growth of the sport.

This post will serve to host your comments on the ESPN presentation of the Sprint Cup Series race from Kansas Speedway. To add your TV-related comment, 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.

Good Morning! It's "RaceDay" With Darrell Waltrip

SPEED continues to offer more opportunities to Darrell Waltrip for on-air participation. This weekend, Waltrip called the ARCA race and Sprint Cup Series qualifying from Kansas. He wraps-up his Midwestern swing on Sunday morning at 10AM with two hours of RaceDay.

Kyle Petty and Kenny Wallace are the panelists on the program. John Roberts is the host. Hermie Sadler and Wendy Venturini report from the infield. Waltrip is not taking the place of anyone, he is just being added as another voice on the panel. At least, that is what SPEED would like you to believe.

There is little doubt from his endless messages on Twitter and his active participation on Sirius radio and other media outlets that Waltrip wants more exposure. After several years of working during the FOX portion of the season and then fading from view, Waltrip finally has the opening that can make it happen.

The man who originally hired "ole DW" and crafted his on-air personality, David Hill, is now in charge at SPEED. Hill has put his hands all over SPEED this season and Waltrip is one of his favorite people. Hill is an Australian who now lives in Los Angeles, CA and was introduced to NASCAR slightly over a decade ago.

It was Humpy Wheeler's TV executive daughter Patti who held Hill's hand as he learned what these rednecks were doing racing in circles. At the time, Humpy was still the ringmaster at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Hill got a lot more than the nickel tour of the sport. Millions of dollars and many years later, FOX is more deeply identified with NASCAR than TNT or ESPN.

Hill sees Waltrip as the real face of the sport because he is the only former driver in the FOX combo of Jeff Hammond, Larry McReynolds and Waltrip. The two former crew chiefs might know the details, but it's Waltrip's homespun personality and championship background that Hill admires.

As we know from Waltrip's experiences on the Trackside program he can be an engaging interviewer and an outstanding analyst. Viewers also know he can be self-centered and short-tempered. Waltrip sees himself as the senior partner in the NASCAR on FOX TV team.

When Jimmy Spencer teamed with Wallace on RaceDay the show was often over the top. Skits included a mock courtroom complete with robes and wigs, Wallace dancing on the desk in commercial break and Spencer's out of control rants on racing topics across the board.

Now, things have changed. Petty has come on board and teamed with Roberts to establish a very different vibe. A thoughtful Petty has change the tone of the show and how the panel does business on the air. This has been a major challenge for Wallace.

Once an engaging and vibrant on-air personality, Wallace often finds himself beginning his comments with a tired line. "Listen to me race fans," he says. Then the remainder of the time is filled with Wallace telling TV viewers what to think and why he knows he is right. It's gotten old.

The presence of Waltrip as an added party signals the continuing evaluation of what contribution Waltrip can make to this program and how his personality blends with Petty and Roberts. TV is often cruel because change comes on a very public stage.

The other pieces of this puzzle fit. Venturini and Sadler move seamlessly through the garage while Roberts and Petty give each other mutual respect that shows clearly on camera. Wallace is the odd man out.

Wallace does not appear on other SPEED shows like Trackside, Race Hub or NASCAR Live. He does not work on any race, qualifying or practice telecasts. He continues to race full time in the Nationwide Series, despite being at the tail end of a very colorful career.

It won't be known what form RaceDay will take next season or who the members of the on-air crew will be until later this year. SPEED has a nasty habit of never admitting a show has been cancelled or a talent has been removed from a program. Instead, the TV schedule just changes or the personality is said to be reassigned. Such was the tale of Spencer. Such is the nature of TV.

Guests on RaceDay will include Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Mark Martin. The temperature on the outdoor SPEED Stage at 10AM ET should be around 45 degrees. There are eight TV programs remaining in this series for 2010.

This post will serve to host your comments on this edition of RaceDay and the program in general. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

The Only TV Ratings Solution Is Change (Repost)

Update: Reposting for some Twitter users who have never read the TDP columns on this topic. There have been many over the last four years.

We have talked for over a month about what would happen this season when NASCAR finally went head-to-head with the early Sunday NFL game at 1PM Eastern Time. Well, the results are in and they are not pretty.

ESPN’s telecast of the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 19, earned a final national US household coverage rating of 2.3, averaging 3.6 million viewers. Last year’s telecast aired on ABC and earned a final U.S. 3.2 rating. (Thanks to for the information.)

This is the lowest-rated Chase telecast ever and that resulted in a spirited conversation on Tuesday between journalists, bloggers and fans on Twitter. With good racing at Loudon on a beautiful day, the question is what happened to the TV viewers?

As we all know, the answer is the NFL. Leading up to Sunday, we asked on this blog, on Facebook and on Twitter how many people were going to only watch NASCAR. The response was very few. Some hardcore fans put racing first, but many had an NFL game involving their favorite team and would be watching football and checking on NASCAR.

The bottom line is that the NFL TV partners did a better job. They put compelling telecasts on the air that contained two key ingredients that have dogged ESPN during the Chase for four years now. The NFL action is never interrupted by a commercial break during the three hour telecast and the focus of the coverage is the game itself.

Here are a couple of fan comments from Sunday only minutes after the race started:

"Why do they go to commercial after the first 8 laps and come back and then go back to commercial?" (from Gymmie)

"Commercial overload is slowly bleeding the life out of televising this sport. It is slowly killing the goose that lays the golden egg." (from Bevo)

"Well, if this becomes a commercial fest I don't think that the remaining NASCAR fans watching will have a problem changing the channel to an NFL football game." (from Anonfan)

Veteran fans already know the issue at hand. Cable and broadcast TV networks use commercials to drive revenue in NASCAR because there is no structure to the telecast. Sports like NFL football actually come with an attached commercial format. When the clock will stop for commercials and how long those breaks will be is coordinated in advance.

The bottom line for the NFL is to make sure that a commercial never runs during play. NASCAR is the exact opposite. Green flag exciting racing may draw the fans, but seeing only four minutes of action before going to yet another two or even three minute commercial break has only one effect. Viewers reach for the remote.

It's a bit ironic that the NASCAR on ESPN production team has dedicated themselves this season to utilizing a split-screen effect to show two sets of cars racing for position. Even on the short tracks, these two video boxes show viewers two stories playing out simultaneously.

The answer to solving the commercial dilemma is to give fans what they are missing. Utilize the same split-screen style to show the commercial break in the bigger video box and keep the racing action in a smaller second box.

This solution kills two birds with one stone. Fans will not reach for the remote because the racing action is still on the screen. Secondly, sponsors can be assured that their commercials have a much better chance of being viewed rather than having the remaining NASCAR fans performing the "NFL two minute check-in" at every commercial break.

The second topic today is storytelling. While the NFL simply tells the story of the game, ESPN has to juggle the story of the Chase and the story of the race. It has never worked out. Memories of last season's Jimmie Johnson lovefest are still fresh in many minds. It was a disaster.

Click here to read TV's Rock And A Hard Place published last November here on TDP. You may enjoy reading the fan comments as well. ESPN has tried to put the Chase before the race since 2007. Something has to give.

Sure, ESPN had twelve announcers in Loudon. Sure, ESPN played recorded driver interviews during green flag racing. Sure, ESPN only updated Chasers. Sure, ESPN struggled with wave arounds, lucky dogs and restart orders. The good news is, those things can be fixed!

Fundamentally changing the commercial presentation and refocusing the Chase telecasts on the races themselves is something that has to come from ESPN with help from NASCAR. It's simply time for change. There is nothing else left to do.

We invite your comments on this topic. To share 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.

The TV Curse Of The "Non-Chaser" (Repost)

Leave it to television to come up with yet another gimmick for the Chase. This time, it's a new word that is going to haunt the sport for the rest of the season.

While there are twelve teams that are running for the season championship, there are many top teams that are continuing to race to win. The fact is that there are far more cars on the track outside of the Chase than inside.

NASCAR is a sport that relies on sponsors. That reality is driven home every day with the current economic struggles of even the biggest teams. While marketing and advertising is a NASCAR staple, what sponsors really like is TV time.

Currently outside of the Chase are sponsors like Target, UPS, Bass Pro Shops, US Army, Budweiser and Home Depot. All the teams they sponsor, however, are still on the track and racing. Normally called by name on the live telecasts, ESPN has now changed all that.

Despite racing hard and going for a Sprint Cup Series race win, every single team outside the top twelve has been lumped into a new category that ESPN just loves. From Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Kasey Kahne, they are all now just called non-Chasers.

This allows ESPN to put all the focus on the Chasers and solve a problem that haunted the coverage last season. How do you cover the race while featuring the Chase at the same time? The answer seems to be simple, just pay attention to the Chasers.

Lumping 31 teams each race into the non-Chaser category lets ESPN remove them from the coverage and simply tell the playoff story of the contenders. It does not matter whether the cameras are showing Juan Montoya, Marcos Ambrose or David Reutimann. As long as that car is a non-Chaser, it just doesn't matter.

As the picture above suggests, there is a fundamental problem with this new non-Chaser approach. Despite the best efforts of ESPN to create a script that features the twelve Chase drivers, one reality remains. Fans do not change their allegiance in the middle of the season.

Just because Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not make the Chase, his fans are not going to burn their t-shirts, throw away their ball caps and simply pick a Chaser to root for down the stretch. The fundamental problem with eliminating the non-Chasers from the TV coverage is that fans of those drivers simply stop watching.

Should ESPN again present the Dover telecast as a saga of twelve drivers, the results will be the same. Fans of the non-Chasers eliminated from the telecast unless they are leading the race will simply find other things to do.

This Sunday, if ESPN decides to cover the race and let the Chase work itself out, the reaction from fans of non-Chasers will be very positive. But, one quick glance down the dial shows the NFL TV networks happily waiting for the disenfranchised NASCAR fans if this skewed TV perspective continues.

If your favorite driver is a non-Chaser, how are you reacting to this lack of TV coverage and in-race updates? If you root for a Chaser, what did you think of the last telecast? Is there a solution to the problem short of dropping the Chase entirely?

Leave us a comment on this topic by clicking 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.