Wednesday, April 27, 2011
ESPN Riding Out A Bumpy Week
It was back in early February when NASCAR confirmed that there would be a TV network switch for the Nationwide Series race from Richmond, VA. Normally, all the races in that series appear on ESPN2 or another of the ESPN family of TV networks.
At the time, it seemed simple enough. ESPN2 was going to be smack dab in the middle of the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday night, April 29. The company's other two networks, ESPN and ABC, were also tied-up.
All eyes immediately turned to SPEED. The network would already be on-site providing the kind of "support programming" it has offered for years. In addition, the NASCAR on FOX team would already be there for Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race.
SPEED has produced the Camping World Truck Series for years. In addition, the Gatorade Duels and the All-Star race air on SPEED with a hybrid team of announcers and production staff. One Nationwide Series race certainly would not be a problem.
After NASCAR made the switch to SPEED official, things quieted down rather quickly as the season got underway. Now as the race approaches, business is picking up where the topic is ESPN and the Nationwide Series coverage.
Click here for the Bob Pockrass column from Scenedaily.com. Here is an excerpt:
"But the switch (of networks) comes across as a sign that ESPN doesn’t care about the Nationwide Series and that other sports programming comes first."
This frustration is born out of the conflicts ESPN has been involved in with the Nationwide Series and other live programming for several years now. The biggest clash has been with college football. From September to November, the Nationwide races are stuck in a little afternoon timeslot between football games.
It's very interesting to see an entire company geared-up for college football come to a screaming halt for NASCAR racing. It appears to be an inconvenience and the topic has often been raised as to why those races just don't move to SPEED.
Back in October of 2007 this situation came to a head with the stand-alone Nationwide Series race in Memphis, TN. Click here to read "ESPN Pushes NASCAR to the Back Burner." It was a classic moment in NASCAR TV history. Here is an excerpt:
"The Busch Series has sometimes hopped between three ESPN networks in one single race. In Memphis the caps were off, the heads were bowed and the invocation was underway. Then, suddenly on ESPN Classic...NASCAR was no more. College football took to the air right in the middle of the NASCAR prayer. Does it get any worse than that? In the middle of the prayer and without Marty Reid saying a word."
"NASCAR fans quickly grabbed their remotes and switched back to ESPN2 only to see live college football. Switching to ESPN it was live horse racing. Ladies and gentleman, The NASCAR Busch Series had left the building, the network and the airwaves."
"NASCAR had been told where it stood very clearly. Only a nice tackle by a young man from the Iowa Hawkeyes ended the ESPN2 game a short time later and allowed NASCAR to return to the air. But, the point had been made clear."
Just this week, the double top secret NASCAR Fan Council survey was focused on one topic. That was questions about each of the NASCAR on ESPN announcers. Fans were asked, in confidence of course, to detail the likes and dislikes about the members of the TV team that provides the coverage of these very Nationwide Series events. The survey pulled no punches.
Making hay while the sun shines is a phrase that the folks at SPEED know all too well this week. Since there is no truck series race, SPEED's focus has been on getting as much publicity as possible for the Nationwide Series telecast.
There is perhaps no better way to get tongues wagging and keyboards typing than to announce that it will be a double-barreled Waltrip attack for the Richmond coverage. Darrell and Michael will be teamed with truck series announcer Rick Allen for this special event.
Tuesday, word leaked-out that SPEED had added yet another wrinkle. The popular online RaceBuddy application will be used for the Richmond Nationwide Series race. Fans love gizmo's and this allows for four additional camera views, social media live chat and no TV commercials. It can be accessed for free and without any sign-up at NASCAR.com on Friday.
So, the ESPN Infield Pit Studio and Tech Garage are both parked this weekend. Instead, SPEED will offer over twelve live hours of programming from RIR beginning at 10:30AM ET.
Ironically, it will be the Nationwide Series cars taking to the track at that time for practice. ESPN2 will be showing Skip Bayless holding Court on First Take while ESPN will be offering yet another hour of SportsCenter.
When the dust settles after Friday night, it will be interesting to gauge the fan reaction to this SPEED telecast vs. the regular NASCAR on ESPN TV team. Maybe, the NASCAR Fan Council just wanted a jump on this topic.
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