Monday, July 25, 2011

The Boys Are Back In Town

Apparently, nine billion dollars is a pretty strong motivator. After all the blustering, legal wrangling and angry comments it appears that the NFL owners and players are ready to settle the current lockout.

ESPN's Adam Shefter is reporting that lawyers are putting the final touches on an agreement that will be offered to the players for ratification on Thursday. If that goes well, the NFL will be back in business on Friday and ready for the regular season on time.

While NASCAR Chairman Brian France said earlier that the NFL situation is not on his radar, it certainly is for ESPN. Nine of the final ten Chase races are on Sunday afternoons directly up against the regional NFL games carried by local TV stations across the country.

No sport guts the NASCAR fan base like NFL football. Just like NASCAR, it appeals to both men and women. The NFL also has what NASCAR can't deliver and that is a home team. Football has been the biggest TV frustration in building an audience during the Chase.

One of the reasons for "Boys have at it" was the TV struggles of the sport down the stretch. Despite the made-for-TV playoff format and subsequent tweaks, the Chase has not resonated as a successful TV product up against NFL games.

A key reason in this equation is ESPN. The NFL dominates ESPN like no other sport. While the network's Sprint Cup Series races do get a post-race show, NASCAR takes a clear backseat to the total "NFL surround" experience offered by ESPN's various media platforms.

Now in season five, it's been a struggle to figure out how to present the Chase races on TV. It's been well-documented that the major conflict is how to balance the action in the race with the drama of the Chase. There are two very distinct stories unfolding on the same track at the same time.

The result on TV is often confusion. Drivers not in contention for the Chase but in the top five of the race can fall off the TV screen, even while leading. When a top Chase contender has trouble the cameras follow, regardless of how poorly he was running in the race. It's a tough assignment.

Meanwhile, the NFL has no such problems. The games unfold play-by-play with TV commercials integrated without ever missing a down. Halftime gives the networks an opportunity to insert a studio presence and promote the second half through analysis and highlights.

Now that the NFL is returning, the clear challenge for ESPN is to brand the network's Sprint Cup Series coverage in a unique way that will keep the NASCAR fan base from straying to the regional football games. While we don't know what that might be, we certainly know from the last four years what it should not be.

The jokes about ESPN inserting Chase standings continually into four hour races are endless. There has to be a better balance. The screams of protest from fans of non-Chase drivers never mentioned in the entire telecast also need to be heard. Fans don't change favorite drivers seven months into a season.

Wouldn't it be interesting if ESPN produced the Chase races focusing on the race? Wouldn't it be interesting if the best racing on the track, regardless of position, was put on the screen? Figure out how to update the Chase without affecting the race coverage and as they say in the sport, business will pick up.

Simply put, focusing the TV coverage only on the Chasers alienates the fans of more than two-thirds of the entire starting field. When those fans get frustrated, we know where they go. It's a familiar location right down the dial. It's a familiar sport and a familiar team.

It's time to sit up straight and face the fact that unless something changes, the TV results of the Chase will be the same. Especially now that we know the boys are back in town.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.


SnowdogBob said...

Nail. Head. Hit!

The trick is to make the RACE the focus. Many things have happened over the last several years, whether it's announcers making themselves the focus or over trumping up the championship (or the chase for it). When i watched races in the 70s/80s the RACE was everything. Points and a championship were an afterthought.

I think the drivers still have this right, when you hear Tony, Jeff or Jimmie talking about the handful of tracks they haven't won on yet, they still get it.

Instead of the chase adding excitement to the final 10 races it rendered the first 26 moot, and with a 10 race chase...there's no urgency other than to not screw up. With our new points systems that emphasized the penalty for a bad day this is only worse now. Drivers now have to not make excuses for why they're willing to "Go For the Win". "We need a win to make the chase", or we're locked in for the now we can go for wins. That's just disgusting to listen to for me. If you're in the race, and have a decent car, your only focus should be how to win. Maybe that's why someone like Kyle can click off 100 wins while everyone else is more worried about points. I can't call myself a Kyle fan (his personality out of car makes it impossible to date) but at least he has the right idea...Win (or it was a bad day) I'm a stat weenie...i know what the points are most every lap (old system or new) but it sure doesn't make captivating TV for them to worry about it.

For the chase they should cover the race, everything else is a side story. We've been lucky to have a strong champion like Jimmie the last 5 years...if someone squeaks out a championship with a pile of 8th place finishes while the strong guys get caught up in bad luck i'll have trouble considering that person a champion and TV won't even know how to explain it.

Anonymous said...

nascar is killing itself without the help of the nfl. Every poll I have seen overwhelmingly is against the chase. nascar needs to worry about what it can do to right its problems, including the tv coverage, before worrying about the nfl. But, I do agree with everything you said JD. MC

GinaV24 said...

Perfectly said, JD. To me, its so simple. Just show the race. At the end of the race, recap where the chase drivers are and reset the points as needed.

ESPN's schizo approach to it makes me less likely to watch the races they show. Instead of being excited by the end of the season, I find myself aggravated and tuning out and yes, watching football something I was less likely to do BEFORE the advent of the made for tv 10 race trophy sequence.

Roland said...

Spot on commentary JD. Although I wouldnt call it a done deal yet but the chances of NFL still being in lockout come September are slim.

Not gonna lie, I was really hoping NFL would stay locked out through November for obvious reasons.

If they did stay locked out through November the ball is in nascars court to make something happen. We all know nascar can't compete with the NFL. If they go head to head its up to ESPN to make something happen. Viewers see our sport through the eyes on ESPN. Their product has to deliver, and they have failed miserably since 2007. Their action has been script the broadcast to create drama, drama centered around Jimmie Johnson. I expect nothing less in 2011. The move to ESPN from ABC was perhaps the dumbest TV move of the new contract. Of course less people are going to watch your broadcasts on ESPN than ABC. Do they care? No.

Fan frustration is going to be through the roof over the next 18 weeks.

Ill save my Marty Reid comments for another day.

Anonymous said...

I first embraced the Chase, now I'm dead against it. There are 36 races in the season. Anybody in the Chase can have a season ruined by someone's error on the track, a random mechanical gremlin or some half-witted driver "Having At It". As for Football, I forgot the joys of 'the Channel dance'. That sure does screw up DVR recording!

MRM4 said...

I never thought for a minute the NFL would miss any games. There was too much money at stake, not to mention making a bunch of fans mad.

NASCAR is its own worst enemy. They decided to compete with the NFL instead of doing what they do best. They have paid the price. Most fans don't like the Chase. They gave the broadcast rights to a network that always has one eye on the NFL. They have a driver and team that has found a way to beat the system to the point of winning 5 straight championships.

Buschseries61 said...

I certainly hope they learned from last season's mess. We can't have another season of ESPN's hit comedy 'Nails in the Coffin'.

KoHoSo said...

I don't know what to think about ESPN when it comes to change. It sure seemed like they were finally listening when they moved Dr. Jerry Punch back to being the lead pit reporter and Rusty Wallace into the infield studio. Still, worse than any abysmal commentary that belongs on Awful Announcing is nothing compared to how ESPN goes out of its way to avoid showing any driver that did not make this manufactured travesty known as The Chase. With no Disney corporate big-wig willing to step in and stop the obvious anti-racing bias (unless one is a little hottie more famous for making racy commercials than winning), I have no faith that we will be spared another season of ESPN's forced story lines and complete avoidance on non-Chase drivers...all while one of the best and most liked play-by-play men in any sport languishes in the infield studio with some commentators that haven't added a single piece of useful information to a telecast since they first opened up their mouths.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'd lay a decent-sized bet that I won't be.

Anonymous said...

I don't see this as ESPN's job to sell the chase. That is Brian France's problem. Until people realize there is absolutely no way to compete with the NFL, you are just swimming upstream.

People need to accept where NASCAR is right now. You can move the races to SPEED, or some other network that can exclusively follow NASCAR, but that won't change a thing with the ratings. The NFL is king.

I don't see any way of moving forward unless France is willing to make drastic changes to the schedule to move the chase out from NFL Sundays, or the NFL season for that matter.

Nobody can compete with the NFL, period.

IndyB25 said...

Its Called ESPN and TNT. If you watch IndyCars, you see them talking more about who can win the race them saying "Oh No! The points leader spins! He'll take a hit in points!" we don't need to hear about points unless its the last lap in the last race.

Bruce Ciskie said...

The World Series used to start on Saturday, with Game 2 on Sunday.

Even the freaking World Series can't compete with the NFL. Get away from the NFL, and do it at any cost, and maybe the Chase would matter to some people.

Of course, that's assuming the Chase is a good idea, which I would argue it is not.

Anonymous said...

For you older timer out there....before the chase, couldn't a driver lock in the championship long before the season ended? What was the attendance/interest like then? What about the guys that had no chance...did they shop showing up at the end of the season?

With everyone focused on the chase now, were the prizes for going balls out and winning a single race better to make it worth it? Hanging back and "surviving" a race is lame.

This wildcard thing sounds like it has some potential.

Something needs to be done about Nationwide with all the Caup guys winning and the points leader never winning a race. Maybe the Cup driver should start in the back, or invert the field, or something. I understand why you need them, but I typically only attend the N'wides races. I was on the fence for Dover until I found KyBu wasn't going. Then I was excited to go.

The Mad Man said...

Faux starts off the season talking about the NASCAR play-offs even though they're 26 races away and force feeds it to us throughout the duration of their broadcast. Then we have a break with TNT. They might mention it but don't force feed it to us from start to finish of a broadcast. Then it's back to the same force feeding of the play-offs with BSPN. So by the time the actual NASCAR play-offs get here fans are already burned out on it.

Then we have the myopic coverage of only a dozen cars during the first 26 races of the season as dictated from Daytona Beach which turns off folks. 43 cars, 43 stories, and we only hear about 12 of them, maybe.

Then we have the bias of the commentators from both Faux and BSPN and the constant shilling for one make of car.

Then there's the various promotions paid for by various teams, sponsors, and auto manufacturers during the race which seem to focus only on one car.

The actual race is of little to no importance. It takes a back seat to everything else that goes on.

When you watch an NFL game, you know you're going to have commercials, replays, and highlighting of certain players. But that's all done behind the game being presented as the priority.

The mental midgets in charge of NASCAR, whose sole experience is with marketing and not racing, never had sight of what NASCAR is supposed to be about which is racing. And until racing becomes the priority once again, things won't improve and NASCAR will be playing second fiddle to the NFL.

GinaV24 said...

Anon 12:12, while I can agree that it is NASCAR's problem to sell the chase since we seem to be stuck with it even though it seems like a lot of fans hate it, it is UP to ESPN to make the race they are broadcasting interesting to all viewers, not concentrate so much on points and chasers to the detriment of the actual event going on. To JD's point, that wouldn't happen with any NFL broadcast on ESPN.

Steve L. said...

Darn, I was hoping we could have a season without any NFL games interfering with NASCAR. Now, it will be like always, NASCAR interfering with ESPN's NFL games.

It doesn't matter, by the end of the racing season, we're all sick and tired of the ESPN coverage anyway.

We need an all NASCAR station!

Anonymous said...

I know this might be a crazy idea, BUT ...

I think it's time for NASCAR to stop having "2nd trips" to tracks and actually trim the schedule back so that the season ends Labor Day Weekend. I really don't think there is a need or purpose for putting NASCAR up against the NFL and NCAA ... ESPN simply pushes things aside come that time of year, so why make the summer events more compelling and end the season Labor Day weekend?

If each track had ONE date, we'd have what? 23 or 24 races? That pretty much allows NASCAR to dominate from March to Labor Day without any real competition.

The Chase was created to add interest during the NFL/NASCAR head-to-head. It hasn't done that. I don't know that anything can do that unless 5 guys can win the Cup at Homestead and ESPN actually cares.

I'd be perfectly content with a 25 race season, NO Chase, and no competition from the NFL in the fall.

The Mad Man said...

Plus to add to what Gina said, the NFL doesn't start shoving the play-offs down our throat during their very first weekend of play or during pre-season like Faux does with NASCAR.

17972 B. C. said...

There is no doubt ESPN could do a lot better with the coverage, but the weird dynamic of the chase makes for a weird telecasting problem. Steve L says we need a NASCAR station. Since the chase is their baby, what makes one think that, or anybody else who had the contract during the chase, would concentrate more on the race than the chase.And the concentration on the title isn't only limited to NASCAR. Your team is out of the race in any sport, forget them being on a National telecast. 8 or howmany candidates there are running for Pres. as a Republican,the press follows the frontrunners only. The tough part for NASCAR is they are doing 2 things at one time, a playoff and a scheduled race. And as far as competing with football, the only prayer to gain viewers against the NFL is to have players entered to race during their NFL bye week.

GinaV24 said...

Anon 1:15 - you are correct that a driver could lock up the championship by being consistent under the "before the chase" rules. However, each race was a standalone event and all the drivers could move up inthe standings. There were some very close races for the championship and of course, there were some blowouts, but I still prefer that over the made for TV version where they lock the teams into the top 10,12,15 whatever number NASCAR dreams up this year. It used to be fun following the races to see who could come on strong at the end and move up in the points.

TV gave us coverage of all the teams not just the chosen ones.

Anthony, I think that idea has a lot of merit. Sometimes less is more and the law of supply and demand has caught up with NASCAR. If they went with less races, I'd like to see them go back to a full season championship. Race for the whole ball of wax every week and let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

It's not only the NFL, but NCAA football when the race in on Saturday night. Nascar will never, ever compete with football of any nature, and the sooner they "get it" the better it will be. Nascar needs to either end their season on the first weekend of October, or just resign themselves to secondary status.

Everyone complains about the incessant commercials, but those are here to stay and won't change. One way to reduce the number of commercials would be for the networks to charge more per minute. But we all know that can't be done because Nascar, a sport that's dying a slow death, can't demand the big money that the NFL and NCAA can. Does anyone know what it costs to air a 60 second commercial during a Nascar race, and compare that to the cost for football?

With regards to ESPN and the other two, while I fully admit the broadcasts are bad, with them focusing on just a few drivers and ignoring everyone else, I've maintained that you simply cannot make something interesting that's basically boring for 95% of the time. Tandem racing, the AWFUL Chase, cookie cutter tracks, look alike cars, boring races and nasty owners/promoters are the prime reasons why the sport is dying. Not even the best director on the planet can take a basically boring race and turn it into something exciting and worth watching.

Anonymous said...

I don't give a rats behind about the chase or the points or any other nonsense.Just give me good racing with dedicated drivers, sensible announcers who know when to keep their mouths shut,no walrips and you will have my undivided attention whether there is a NFL game on or not.

Rambo M. said...

My observation of this cluster is simple:

When you're dealing with organizations that are A) this big, B) this loaded with money, and C) this arrogant about criticism, it's not hugely suprising to see a blind eye turned to every issue. This applies to both NASCAR and the TV partners. At this point nothing short of internal upheaval or a miracle will change anything... not until 2014 at least.

You want to send a shock to their system? Oh, it's very easy: stop watching the ESPN races. Turn off the TV, turn on the radio and do something else. I certainly will be. Make the ratings plummet and both parties will squirm. It may not ultimately change anything, but doing the opposite is worse.

As for the N'wide and Truck series, i'm thinking title sponsors are probably the only thing propping them up anymore. With 10 start-&-parks every race and rising, NASCAR certainly can't be bothered to sustain them.

Anonymous said...

Anthony--that may be fine for you but not everyone. Heck a lot of us are counting down on Twitter when Pre-Season Thunder starts when we can get SOMETHING until we finally get Speed Weeks. As "short" as the off season is, many of us feel like it's forever. I don't watch football. If I see on Twitter something good is happening I might tune in but it's not "must watch" for me.

Anonymous said...

Gymmie, you make a good point about the issue of the off-season being potentially 2 and a half times longer under my idea. The two-month break already seems long to me, too, but I really do think that shortening the schedule would make the sport better.

As Gina said, the 'less is more' concept would be beneficial at this time. Having all 23 race tracks come close to selling out each year instead of having 2 "horrible" attendance figures would be better for the track owners. Drivers and teams wouldn't be faced with 17 straight weeks without a break anymore. The points chase would automatically be closer and therefore more competitive.

Yeah, for diehards like us, it would be tough to have 5 months without racing instead of 2, but I think it makes things better that way.

Anonymous said...

I'm tired of the NFL. Too many criminals. I can't watch the BEARS when their on the NFL Network anyway so I concentrate on NASCAR. I wish TNT had the entire NASCAR schedule. I listen to the scanners with my headset on TRACKPASS and turn the volume up on the TV if I think I might want to hear some coverage.