Monday, July 25, 2011

Last Chance For Romance


Donna Summer thumped out the classic disco tune "Last Dance" in 1978. It was simple and to the point. As the final song was played in the club, it was her last chance. In order to find romance she had to do just one thing. She had to dance that last dance.

Next weekend, ESPN returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the fifth time to begin the network's Sprint Cup Series coverage. In many ways, it is ESPN's last chance at romance with the NASCAR fan base.

The network's coverage of the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races last season was an unprecedented disaster. TV viewers fled in record numbers and left NASCAR mired in simmering frustration.

In 2010, TV ratings for the first four Chase races were down almost 30%. ESPN executives were summoned to Charlotte for an October meeting. They pointed to the NFL, they pointed to earlier race start times and they made a lot of excuses.

What ESPN did not do was look in the mirror.

Since 2007, ESPN has struggled to figure out how to present a Sprint Cup Series telecast that engaged the fans. While the network's online and studio news coverage of the sport has been sorted out, the live event production has become a running joke.

In a company known across the board for pioneering the coverage of many sports, this situation is almost unheard of. Despite the commitment of technology and manpower, the issues for ESPN have remained unsolved.

There are some things ESPN cannot change. The commercial load will remain the same, the network will never influence the racing and Mother Nature will ultimately decide if the weather will cooperate.

The problem is that ESPN refuses to solve the issues within its control.

There are eleven on-air voices in every ESPN Sprint Cup Series telecast. This format has never worked. The two analysts based in the infield have just as many opinions they want to share on the air as the two analysts in the TV booth.

The host in the infield is often more informative and energetic with his updates than the play-by-play announcer upstairs calling the race. Toss in a former crew chief in the Tech Garage and four pit road reporters who also want a share of the TV spotlight and you have a pretty fundamental problem.

"Overproducing" is a term that is being used a lot where ESPN is concerned these days. Instead of simply focusing on the sporting event in progress, the network seems to be concerned with other agendas.

For NASCAR coverage, these have included forcing new technology into the telecasts and creating storylines during the race that echo the pre-race comments of the ESPN analysts. Often, it appears as if the producer is following a script written in advance.

ESPN has seven races before the Chase begins to show NASCAR fans what the network has to offer. Nothing is more important than these seven telecasts. Without TV viewers being drawn in by good coverage during this stretch, it's almost impossible to get them to return once NFL football has started.

Once the NASCAR playoffs begin, the teams outside of the Chase simply disappear on ESPN. Fans invested deeply in specific drivers, teams and manufacturers for perhaps years are suddenly out in the cold. If fans of twelve drivers stay and fans of the rest of the drivers change the channel, the TV math is not hard to figure out.

Turner Sports developed the online RaceBuddy for NASCAR fans. On the surface, it just provides a few video sources that allow fans a more interactive experience. In reality, it provides fans a place to go and view the one-third of the racing action that will be covered by TV commercials.

ESPN has again decided not to include RaceBuddy in this season's Sprint Cup Series coverage. This transition is especially tough because all six TNT races made extensive use of this platform. From the moment ESPN hits the air, the familiar pattern of several minutes of coverage followed by several minutes of commercials will begin again.

The commitment by ESPN to use the side-by-side commercial format for the second-half of the final ten races this season doesn't fly. If there is no RaceBuddy and ratings last year were abysmal, it might be time to embrace this new approach to commercial integration for the entire seventeen race package.

The big on-air change that ESPN has announced will be positive. TV veteran Allen Bestwick will be moving from the infield studio into the TV booth to call the Sprint Cup Series races. Since 2007, Bestwick has been quietly working hard for ESPN in a variety of capacities.

After early chaos with the NASCAR Now series, Bestwick suddenly appeared one day to host just one episode of the show. Click here for a 2007 TDP column on that day. His appearance started the ball rolling in the right direction after four months of struggle. He still hosts most Monday shows produced in a format he helped design.

Following a run as a pit reporter in season one, Bestwick was moved into the Infield Pit Studio to bring some organization to the host position ESPN was unable to fill. Brent Musburger, Chris Fowler and Suzy Kolber were just some of the faces who hosted NASCAR pre-race shows in the early days of this contract.

Next weekend, with Bestwick now steering the ship and Nicole Briscoe handling the infield studio, ESPN is putting a new face on the coverage. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree work well with Bestwick, while Briscoe has shown the ability to keep a short leash on Rusty Wallace and his cheerleading partner Brad Daugherty.

In the end, it will all come down to the willingness of the production team to make changes. Embrace the entire field, respect the sport and show the best racing on the track. Tone down the Chase points updates, the pit reporter hype and Tim Brewer talking fundamentals of the sport.

Fans have faithfully shown up on weekends since late February for NASCAR races on TV. July might be the start of the ESPN season, but viewers have already invested five months of time watching races on two different networks. Respect that commitment in the coverage by the third.

Well, this is it. The last chance for ESPN to romance the NASCAR fans. For the past five seasons, we have rarely seen any signs of life from this disjointed coverage. The music is about to begin and ultimately ESPN has to do just one simple thing. They have to dance this last dance or risk going home empty-handed once again.

The Brickyard 400 is on ESPN Sunday, July 31 at 1PM Eastern time.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below.

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen to everything you said JD. Might I add some things. espn needs to shorten prerace show. I bet more people would watch if it was just a half hour show. When it is longer, more people just tune out because of all the blah, blah, blah. Do not use cams, unless they show something important. I feel cams are now nothing but commercials - another way for the networks to make some more money. Cams add nothing to the broadcast and actually drive more people away. Put a "stop" on all the cameras so they can not zoom in. Obviously, the people in charge can not control themselves from zooming in. Finally, cover every race car! Sponsors are leaving for a reason. Lower tier teams are desparate. Have a decent post race presence, and I do not mean going to another channel.

But do not leave nascar out of the equation. They can spout all the statistics they want - so many different winners, so many lead changes, so many cars on the lead lap, etc., etc., etc. Most of the races are boring, boring, boring. Fuel milage, wave around, bogus debris, cookie cutters, cot, chase, etc., etc., etc. Indy is a boring race. espn can put all the lipstick they want on it - it will still be boring.

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
`As usual, you are well-spoken and your comments are on point. ESPN has never grasped the sport (i.e. - the action on the the track and that there are 43 teams in competition). It is galling that the suits at ABC/ESPN seem content to gnaw the hand that feeds them - NASCAR. As for NASCAR, 'Big Bill' and Bill Jr, despite their faults truly were keepers of the flame and protective of the sport they saw evolve from the sands of Daytona to one attracting the attention of American Presidents. Sadly, the current NASCAR leadership seems at a loss to right the ship or is it that ineptness is showing through. Only the fans, through their attention or inattention, can alter today's status quo. Keep pushing Mr. Editor ...keep this blog open and available to draw out the voice of the fans.
Walter

Anonymous said...

Bestwick in the booth alone will improve the telecast 100%
Just watch and see how much more enjoyable and informative he makes the show

Bray Kroter

Sally said...

It remains to be seen if ESPN will finally understand that focusing all their efforst on 'the chase' is chasing viewers away. Since the majority of fans have little or no use for this twisted version of a 'not-a-playoff', they are shooting themselves in the foot by stubbornly insisting on concentrating on 1/4 of the field in each race. In all the years I've watched Nascar, the championship was always a poor second in my interest to what was happening in each race on the track. If ESPN can manage to just cover each race as it happens, the rest will take care of itself. Maybe Allen Bestwick can help steer the ship in the right direction. But I'm not holding my breath.

AllisonJ said...

NASCAR needs to look at F1 production on Speed. Clear, concise, no visual and aural noise to fog up the viewing experience. No obscene level of commercials, probably the biggest reason that NASCAR is collapsing. And F1 races are over in two hours.

The "Start and Park" article series over on NASCAR Scene give a good view into the heart of NASCAR. The top teams have the best of everything, including salaries, haulers, motor coaches, jets, helicopters, etc. That's why we lose 1 of every 3 minutes of racing to commercials. Yes, you need that $65k motor every week, but multiple $1,000,000 RVs? Gotta have those mahogany-inlaid Corian counters and full leather motorized chairs throughout and Brazilian rosewood paneling? Absolute gluttony.

Thank God for the DVR.

Sam said...

If their coverage was anything like the coverage of the N'wide race @ Nashville this weekend ESPN will fail once again.

There had to be a commerical every 10 laps or so. Awful. I look forward to AB calling the races, but very little else.

GinaV24 said...

Last chance is a good way to put it. I really like Allen doing the PXP but as a fan I'm expecting to get a full package of coverage when I tune in for a race. I have been disappointed in much of the coverage by Fox and ESPN for the last several years. Fox has the advantage IMO because they come into the season at the beginning AND when the weather is still winter-ish in most of the country, so I am more likely to stay inside and watch a race - even if the coverage is disappointing.

ESPN doesn't have that - it's summertime, it's the weekend and I have things I can and want to do outdoors, so they have to "romance" me into choosing to watch their broadcasts.

As you pointed out, JD, it seems very simple to me -- show me the race, don't bore me with too many people and too little coverage.

Roland said...

Im so happy AB is in the booth. That is such a huge improvement over the previous clown in that position. Unfortunately AB is going to have to carry the entire broadcast on his shoulders.

Espn has a new graphics package debuting next week. When they gave it a test run at the Indy 500 it was set up for 4:3. Now that ESPN is in wide screen I would hope they would optimize their new graphics package for that. Man I hope they use a different setup for qualifying than in the past. Not only can you not see the car, you cant see the lap tracker.

To be honest I dont expect much.

Anonymous said...

Rarely does any kind of race at Indy live up to its hype. This weekend will be no different. Indy is a narrow track with flat corners. So heavy stock cars on narrow tires don't make for good racing. The move with AB is good, but he doesn't control the production truck. I, for one, will avoid the pre race BS. I'm sure the Network will thoroughly overdue the pre race hype. There are entirely too many hosts, analysts and pit reporters. Many times, I get the impression that they're pre occupied with their on air personas than reporting the race. Let's see how they cover the race. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I thought they had problems last year quickly homing in on accidents and poor camera coverage of the accidents once they occured. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not expecting much this weekend.

James said...

I could not agree with you more about each point you made. In my heart I believe that each person has a favorite team or driver, but all fans love racing. Watching racing is supposed to be thrilling, not boring, and the last few races have certainly not be thrilling! Add to this the Bruton Smith "we don't want to" statement and most fans have found out just how they are viewed! So, I guess, if the coverage and the racing are not vastly improved this time around, "WE WON"T BE WATCHING FOR LONG".

AS always THANKS for a place to vent, hopefully its not for nothing.

Andrew said...

I'm looking forward to the latest season of NASCAR on ESPN. Despite the authors personal issues with the network, ESPN consistently delivers the best coverage of the season.

If one actually sits down and watched the telecast, he'll notice that ESPN does the best job of covering races deep in the field.

And with all of the griping about focus on Chase contenders, that's a very counterfactual complaint. TNT and FOX do not have a playoff portion on their schedule, so comparing ESPN to those networks in that aspect is wrong.

I will agree with John, however, that overprogramming is an issue. Hopefully it will improve this season.

But folks, ESPN has done a great job, especially the last 2 years or so. My advice is to separate yourself from the opinions of the author and contributors. Watch the race at face value without any opinions before the show even starts. I think you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

AllisonJ was right on about Speed's coverage of F1. They cover the SPORT/Business of F1. The commentators, while passionate, have no problem with calling a spade a spade. Don't try to put a happy face on everything. Lastly while The other two are good, nobody covering Nascar can match Steve Matchett as a technical guy.

But if the networks want to keep serving up the same old stuff, fine by me, just expect the same results.

Patricia said...

OK, we all seem to agree that espn is not going to fix all their problems in this one season. They seem to get a set plan and stick to it. They would be better off asking fans opinions every week on how they are doing and tweaking to best suit our needs. I don't see that happening for the fact that they don't seem to care. Putting AB in the booth is a start. He is going to be the scapegoat if the broadcast fails.
Who do we expect to take their place if and when they fail?? Speed Channel?

Anonymous said...

Remember ESPN cant fail. The only thing that will impact them is the numbers of viewer vs. what they are paying for the content. The same can be said of Fox and TNT.
So if they draw less people, they pay less at the next contract. Or, Nascar can try to get somebody to pay more. Simple as that.

West Coast Diane said...

Andrew,

Speaking for myself, although I am sure the other Planeteers would be in agreement...I do think for myself. I was yelling at the TV long before I found JD's blog.

JD just provides the forum for us to express our opinions and provide feedback. Many in NASCAR & TV read this blog. A number of changes have been made that were discussed & debated here.

Roadgeek Adam said...

I missed both races this weekend, and am waiting to hear Allen Bestwick on Sunday.


- I just posted to echo something said during the NW Race on Saturday. I agree that you should have something for J.D. McDuffie, since also it was a well-handled situation for ESPN then with Bob/Benny/Ned. It might help. ;)

Daly Planet Editor said...

Just to make sure everyone is on the same page with Andrew's comments.

I worked at ESPN from 1980 to 1989. I left with a nice party to move to Houston and start Prime Network. After five years, that company was sold to FOX and is now FOXSportsNet.

I moved to Charlotte and worked as the VP of Production/Operations at Sunbelt Video in Charlotte, NC. That company was sold to NASCAR and was called NASCAR Images. It is now the NASCAR Media Group.

I then worked as a media consultant for years. Projects included putting SpeedVision on the air and working on two new racing series.

Now I am out of the TV business, live in Florida, and opened this blog in 2007 to follow the happenings of the new NASCAR TV contract.

All of the NASCAR TV partners have been outstanding in terms of providing TV information and updates.

The format of the blog is to provide news and commentary focusing on the TV end emerging media issues concerning NASCAR.

I hope that provides a perspective for those new TDP readers who are just joining us as the sport hits the halfway point in 2011.

Thanks,

JD

Andrew said...

Thank you for that thoughtful response, John.

I think the biggest issue I have with several users on this forum is the ignorance to change.

Despite what the author thinks, I've checked into this forum weekly for the last 2.5 years.

Over that time, I've seen constant whining about ESPN's coverage of our sport. At first, I agreed. ESPN did a very poor job in 2007 and 2008. They downright struggled.

But the network made some (necessary) adjustments in response to these problems. Dr. Punch moved back to pit-road. Marty Reid (who SEVERAL OF YOU loved) was inserted in the play-by-play role. Rusty was relegated to the infield. Bestwick moved to the host position. They got rid of that draft-tracker or whatever that weird thing was.

In short, several positive changes were made (and acknowledged, to John's credit). But although those improvements occurred, they were not taken into account in the future. Many of you moan about how ESPN never listens even though they have made several great changes.

They've got a long way to go, but they are a ton better than they were just 2 or 3 years ago.

I make it a point to watch NNS races every week because of ABC/ESPN.

And finally, the old ESPN isn't coming back. Never. Don't compare the current one to the pre-2001 group. That won't ever be replicated. If anything, compare it to FOX and TNT.

GinaV24 said...

James - and the reason fans won't be watching for long can be summed up in Bruton's own words "we don't want to".

Andrew, I am quite capable of forming my own opinion on ESPN's coverage without JD's input -- apparently you have some issues yourself.

For the past several years they have been out to lunch and made the races completely unwatchable simply because they didn't choose to cover the race but appeared to be following some pre-planned script. When the actual race deviated from said script, the wheels came off - one example that comes to mind was to cut away from the green flag racing going on to use a full screen shot of a pit stop for the 48 and following it in excruciating detail.

You are correct in saying that Fox and TNT don't have the made for TV playoffs and ESPN does. So what? If all of the networks simply concentrated on showing the racing as it occurs and stopped being so stuck on their own agendas, it wouldn't matter which races they covered.

the chase has failed to engage the fans because I don't stop being a fan of my favorite just because he does or doesn't make the chase and when I know there is less chance than an ice cube on the sidewalk in July of seeing any coverage of him, why should I bother to watch?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Andrew,

The issue is not your opinion. It is the fact that you believe there is some sort of thought conspiracy against ESPN.

I had a wonderful time working at ESPN, still have tons of friends who work there and communicate daily with multiple ESPN staffers.

Rather than take my opinions at face value, you are trying to insert an element into the equation that simply does not exist in order to have your views make sense.

I would simply urge to you consider each topic from your own perspective and then offer that view as opposed to getting off-track criticizing myself or other readers.

Opinions are much more valuable when they are offered without prejudice or emotion. That is how I have tried to offer mine on this blog since 2007.

JD

sue said...

I'm just so happy to see that Allen Bestwick in going to be the play by play. He knows Nascar. But besides that I believe espn is so arrogant that nothing else will change and their coverage will be just like it was in the past. Nothing but chase contenders and Jr if he doesn't make the chase.

OrangeTom said...

I'm probably in the minority in this pov, but have never been a huge fan of Bestwick. Always have thought he gives off a bit of a used car salesman vibe though I don't doubt his NASCAR bonafides. Still an improvement over Andy . . .

Andrew said...

John,

Thank you for the response.

I believe that there is some sort of inconsistency that exists with your writing.

How else do you explain your tendency to credit ESPN for making a positive adjustment, yet still downgrade them on the aggregate? That is illogical.

You're a fantastic writer; one whom many can aspire. But I think there exists inconsistency in your opinions. I was pointing that out and trying to draw a conclusion as to why that might be.

Since my conclusion is wrong, can you please clarify to me why you will credit ESPN on good individual changes, but not speak well of them overall?

Finally, you mention that I should simply provide my own opinion without criticizing others. I'll point out that most of the comments on your posts are in regards to what you write. Thus, very rarely does anyone give their own, unique opinion. Most opinions on here (including mine) are derived either in support or rebuttal of your writing.

Thanks again for your commitment to this website.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Tom,

The downside to Bestwick is that he has truly been a NASCAR soldier.

The challenge for him up in the booth is going to be to call it as it happens and let the analysts and fans offer the opinions.

Let's face it, ESPN did everything in their power not to give him this position for years.

In the end, he is truly the last bullet in the ESPN gun. Jerry never worked and Marty had a chance and imploded.

I hope things go well, we all know this is going to be a crucial season for the sport...especially down the stretch.

JD

Daly Planet Editor said...

Andrew,

I appreciate your continued attempt to infer that there is an agenda.

No one said you were wrong, because an opinion is subjective.

You are incorrect in suggesting that there is now, or ever has been, any sort of conflict between myself and ESPN.

When someone offers a false statement as a premise for their opinions, it makes those comments invalid.

All I ask is that you offer your own thoughts on these issues. Don't get caught up in the views or opinions of others, just state your case.

Over the last five years, plenty of folks have accused me or hating and/or working for ESPN, TNT and FOX.

People ask the SPEED folks all the time if I am secretly on their payroll. It's just human nature to want to be right.

There are plenty of websites that offer opinions on teams, drivers and the sport. Since this is the only one that focuses on TV it makes it quite different.

I hope you can understand my opinions, respond to them and become a regular contributor.

As you can see from some of the other comments, I do not control or influence the opinions of the adults who read and comment here.

Thanks,

JD

James said...

Gina > you mirror many of my own thoughts > from the eyes of the FAN. I do not have knowledge of the tv world, or the politics involved nor do I really care, but I do have an extensive knowledge of racing and I know what I want to see and what excites me. The thrill of racing is the passion that comes from within. If the "show" is so commcialized that I no longer feel the thrill, I loose the passion to watch. When I hear a promoter like Bruton Smith talk out of both sides of his mouth,
1) we don't want to
2) we have more invested
3) we want the fan to have the best experience
4)it is all about the fan

When I am fed the line of crap and feel the rage of the fan who was "taken" at Kentucky and see the response, then watch the lies when it it reported that Bruton profusely appologized when in fact he did the opposite and watch NASCAR do nothing my passion becomes inraged.

old97fan said...

Andrew,

Changing the talking head in front of the camera doesn't really qualify as substantive change. Changing how you present the event does. ESPN has done the former not the latter. The number one complaint from Nascar fans to ESPN is to show more of the race action. Not follow a single popular car around the track for 30 laps even though that person is in 20th position. Not showing meaningless in car cameras that don't give you a real clue of what is going on, or zoomed in (close up) camera shots that leave you clueless as to what is really happening between cars on the track. And please not coming back from a commercial break that missed the restart only to promo some other sports event for two minutes, followed by a door camera shot, then a brief shot off of turn 3 of the leader already a second ahead of the pack, followed by 2 laps of one of the golden boys from Hendrick then back to a commercial break without even letting us know what the restart order was. This particular sequence was the norm with ESPN last year and when it wasn't the norm it was because they gave us extra time between commercial breaks to work in some goofy explanation from the cutaway car of why Dale Jr's car wasn't working right.

The fact is sports broadcasting has gotten to the same place that movies were at a couple of years ago. They make programming decisions based on the producers idea of the art of broadcasting and what will get them awards rather than what the consumer is asking for. Since sports broadcasting is a market driven commodity and not publicly or benevolently funded, you will see exactly what happened in the movie business years ago happen in sports (only without the charitable safety net) a growing dissatisfaction from the consumer followed by an exodus of support like you are starting to see now.

The only way it will go the other way is if the powers to be in sports broadcasting that show racing get over themselves and show the race.

Andrew said...

Old97fan,

I understand what you say and agree with your assessment that producers need to get over themselves and show more of the race.

That's EXACTLY what ESPN has done the past 2 seasons. They are better than FOX and TNT at showing battles deep in the field. In fact, ESPN is a big reason why I got back into this sport in 2009. The races from FOX, (a BP-less) TNT, and ESPN drove me away from 2005 through 2008. They were awful. FOX turned our sport into a soap-opera on wheels. TNT was in a transitional mess with Weber, Bestwick, etc. ESPN was still figuring out what could work and what wouldn't.

Your assessment of what ESPN does (showing a single popular driver for several laps, etc.) is exactly what FOX does. ESPN doesn't do that. I suppose that it's a matter of taste.

And it goes back to watching the race without any blinders. Going into a telecast, viewers are looking for certain things - good or bad. I think that folks grew accustomed to viewing poorly-run races on ESPN from its 2007 and 2008 campaigns. Well, they've shown marked improvement since then. Unfortunately, viewers still look for that bad coverage and will fit any small error or mistake to justify that ESPN doesn't do well.

William said...

I am not sure there is any network or broadcast team that can make the racing from many of the tracks in the chase interesting let alone tolerable. NASCAR has a product problem not just a production problem. In 3 years I have not watched one nationwide race completely from green flag to checker. I used to. In the last year or so I haven't watched a complete truck race. I used to. In the past 2 years I have not stayed up to finish watching a cup night race. I used to. I can suffer through he telecast if the racing is worth it.

Anonymous said...

I like AB and wish him well. Like all of us, he's far from perfect. It was either last year or the year before when Brad K, Carl and Kyle Busch were constantly in the news. AB was hosting. Rusty and Kesolowski were in the booth when AB threw to a live shot with Kyle. Kyle said that "Brad was wrecking someone every weekend". AB took over and for the next 2-3 minutes until break, talked about everything but what Kyle said and Kesolowski was sitting right there! I couldn't believe it! Rusty didn't say a word either. I mean hosts pray for an opportunity to get a juicy conversation going with controversial interviewees. AB has certainly been around the sport for a long time, but he's shown that he occaisonally has problems interpreting some of the technical situations that go on out on the track. I'm not dumping on AB and think it's fantastic that his nemesis is gone and his career can progress. It's just that the blogs for the last several years have implied that AB will solve all of what's wrong with Nascar TV coverage. Maybe he can make sure we don't have mindless commercials during the last few laps of the race(?). This is the only Nascar blog I regularly follow largely because of the tone that JD sets. His exchange and response to several posts today show him for the straight shooter that he is.

Marsha said...

Andrew, if you don't like the tone of this blog, I would suggest you don't take the time to read it.

Do I agree with JD or the posters all the time - no way. But I do respect everyone's right to his/her opinion. No one makes me read or contribute to the blog - I chose to.

I have enjoyed reading the blog and have learned so much from it. If I had been turned off by its content, I would have just quit reading it.

West Coast Diane - was your father's hip broken?

KoHoSo said...

One thing I would like to say about AB now heading the booth is that we will need to show some patience. AB did not fix NASCAR Now in one telecast and I don't expect him to do the same with Cup telecasts.

Also remember that we have no idea how much influence he is going to have over the production. We will have to see if he is able to prod ESPN in the right direction to give us a better balance of race vs. Chase.

Still, it is a welcome addition and will make Cup races on ESPN fr more bearable to have somebody leading the telecast that knows the series, still cares, and will be enthusiastic without yelling at the audience.

Anonymous said...

As Anonymous at 10:53AM said:

"There are entirely too many hosts, analysts and pit reporters. Many times, I get the impression that they're pre occupied with their on air personas than reporting the race."

I totally agree with that. Also all the networks have approximately 1/3 of the race for actual commercials and then add in the pop ups after that.

The thing that bothers me most about all of them is the fact that they do not show all the competitors and just zero in on a few. I realize some people like all the gadgetry and bells + whistles, the in cars, on cars, etc but I just want to watch all the drivers compete. All the channels seem to think more is better when they add that stuff, but it is really what turns a lot of us away. Why is that so hard for them to understand? Like any reporter(?), they compete to see who can outdo the other and all they do is make a$$#$ of themselves with their boasting on themselves.

Telecasts will never change back to where they once were, but hopefully A.B. will be an improvement.

GA Red

glenc1 said...

I don't let other people do my thinking for me...I read others' opinions in an effort to perhaps make me consider things I hadn't before, but I use those things along with my own observations to decide what I like/dislike about network coverage. I can, and will continue to complain about the things ESPN (or others) do wrong. One can enjoy the changes they have made while not applauding the overall package because some things are STILL so horribly wrong. They do not do a good job coverage battles all over the track (it's more haphazard.) They do not do a good job running down the field (all of them are guilty of that one, hence my reliance on MRN/PRN/ESPN's racecast thingy.) They use too many shots that are apparently aimed at people who want to see how fancy their HDTVs are. Too many in car cams, bumper cams...and yes, the other networks are guilty also, and I'll continue to complain about them as well. They focus way too much on the Chase--it's hard to compare, but if the NFL broadcasts spent as much time talking that much about the playoffs *during* the regular season games I would complain just as loudly. Fans of say, the 49ers or the Bills, are still fans, regardless of how awful their team might be....ditto on fans of any team not in the Chase. I would not expect them to get a lot of coverage, but I do expect them to get mentioned once in a great while. ESPN *does* focus on certain popular drivers, Gina even gave a specific example of that (although I frowned at the memory!)

I watch F1 sometimes, and though the footage is not controlled by SPEED, the commentary & coverage is still concise & entertaining. But I also watch Rolex sports car racing--and they are responsible for everything, and do a bang up job. They cover it even when a small team has an issue or a great day, and they generally try to have interviews when things go good or bad for them. And they have (IMHO) a bigger challenge, 2 separate races to cover, and multiple drivers for each team. And they're not afraid to lay blame when needed. So we do have better coverage to compare to than Fox or TNT. I always *hope* for the best. But I'm prepared for it not to be, sadly, even with AB back where he belongs.

Buschseries61 said...

The first change of lead announcers lead to success for Dr. Jerry Punch as ESPN's most credible pit reporter. Marty Reid showed a lot of energy and promise in his Nationwide races from 07-09. But once Reid moved up to Cup, he was lost.

I hope this change will bring Marty Reid the same success it brought Dr. Jerry Punch. Shorter races and less pressure in the Nationwide series is where Reid worked really well before. For the Cup series, I think Allen Bestwick will help ESPN in areas that Reid struggled.

Bestwick has been around the sport for a long time. He helped NASCAR Now develop with his Monday roundtable. He helped add life into the broadcasts in 08-09 from the infield studio. Now he needs to get the best out of Petree, Jarrett, and pit reporters. He also needs to set a balance between the Chase & race. The Road America broadcast displayed the sense of order and energy that ESPN needs. That same broadcast was also Petree's best. I'm encouraged by this change and excited to see what ESPN can offer.

Longhorn Race Fan said...

I feel that ESPN has done a good job the past two seasons and has drastically improved their coverage since 2007. Nothing will ever match the ESPN of 1981-2000, but my heart skipped a beat when you said Allen Bestwick would be back in the booth. I feel that he is the best play-by-play guy since Bob Jenkins. On a side note to the editor, it's awesome that you were a part of starting Prime Network. I was always a fan of the network. I'm from Houston and hate the city, but I hope to help start the Longhorn Network for ESPN in Austin, as I work in television. On another note: while I'm glad that the NFL is back, look for the Bristol night race to be wiped out on ABC on a lot of affiliates again this year because of nonsensical preseason games. I know it'll be bumped in Houston because of the sorry Texans. I'll e-mail the station in advance and hope that they'll put it on the digital subchannel like they (and a lot of other affiliates) did last year.

GinaV24 said...

Thanks, James, I appreciate it. I know that many times with NASCAR I feel like I'm being fed a load of rubbish and expected to say it tastes like the best meal EVER because those at the top say so, regardless of my own opinion. That applies to listening to Brian France, Darby, Helton and the various owners and track promoters, as well as the various cast of talking heads on each one of the networks. They can say that the racing is wonderful, the brick on wheels is the best thing ever and wowee whoopee do, ALL the fans LOVE the chase and I'll trust my own opinion before I believe them. I'm from Missouri, show me.

that leads me back to Allen B in the booth. I do realize that it won't be an overnight fix and that he can't do it alone, but I hope to see progress in the coverage and in reasonably short order, too. As I said before, the summer and fall have some of the best weather there is and there's only so much time available and I've become somewhat selfish in how I spend my weekend time, so ESPN needs to show me that I'm not going to have to see and hear the same old script or I'll go enjoy the weekend and catch the "box scores" on the internet.

Roadgeek Adam said...

I will, now having read Andrew's comments, respond with this simply:

I have watched NASCAR for 16 years of my 20 years on the land we stand, and its the only sport I watch on a regular basis. I remember Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons, Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett, Buddy Baker and such. Over the last few years, I have watched the many broadcasts. I watched the 2000 NAPA 500, 2001 Daytona 500 (and almost every race in 2001). I've watched at least 400 races, all on TV or the radio.

I have learned I have the capability of watching the ticker atop the screen and the camera and drown out the people in the background. I am not good in technology so I don't notice the camera differences that most contributors here can. 90% of the time Marty Reid in the NW Series is pretty good (no Chris Economaki) but suitable enough for a lower series.

I only learned of this blog last year and started contributing. It's an interesting place to spend time during a race.

In thought, sure ESPN is not going to be its pre-2001 kind, but it's not going to stop me from watching 43 drivers run around a track all day.

saltsburgtrojanfan said...

Hey this truly is ESPN's last dance and they better make it count. Their coverage of races these past 4 years have not been good. We may get a good telecast once every blue moon, but thats all. ESPN you need to go back through your old tapes and see how it is covered then compared to these last few years. ESPN, You set the standard in NASCAR telecasts back in the 1980's and 1990's. No Hype, Very Little Tight Shots, and showing the racing throughout the field. Today you emilate Faux's coverage, showing only the leader. tight shots and in-car/bumper cams galore.

And as for the announcers putting AB in the booth is a fresh start. I personally would rather see Bob Jenkins in the booth, but I like AB and his work too. Dr. Punch is where he belongs on pit road doing a very good job. He can do the PxP on a substitute basis, when AB is sick, injured, or what have you.

PS: The NFL lockout is over and ESPN is going to have good competition. They need to get their acts together if fans want to stay.

BTW I wonder if there are less than 2,000 at any of Bruton Smith's race tracks for the remainder of the year.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, you are right. I do go into a race with some "binders" on. For example, because of the last several years I have had it up to here with DW. No matter what other "improvements" fox makes, it only takes a very, very small incident with dw and I am gone.

Also, sometimes you can make "improvements" every year and still the "product" falls short. For example, every year it seems nascar makes "improvements" to the chase. Seems, every improvement is "what the fans want" according to nascar. Most people still hate the chase in spite of the improvements. Putting AB in the booth may be an improvement, but it may not be enough for the overall "product". MC

Anonymous said...

ESPN has a long way to go! TNT is by far the best coverage. I would rather see Mark Garrow do the play by play. Bestwick has the best post race show on Mon. Again, listen to me! Get TRACPASS and listen to the scanners and turn down the TV!

Gymmie said...

I hope you're happy that this song has been going through my head ALL day :p.

Look forward to Allen & it'll be a breath of fresh air!

I'll miss him on the Countdown but would rather have him in the booth FT.

Adam Wood said...

I consider NASCAR a family event and watch every single race with my mother. Here's what she says at some point during each race weekend:

"STOP YACKING AND LET'S GO PEOPLE"

sbaker17 said...

I hope the song that is played at the end of the season is from the ABC vault with Don Meredith singing "Turn out the lights, the party's over........"
And thus ends ESPN's run televising of auto racing.

Anonymous said...

I know little or nothing about the broadcast business and have no interest in it. Likewise, I have no interest in cameras or microphones. I have been a NASCAR fan for almost 50 years, and I turn on the TV to......... Watch a race, a contest between cars and drivers. I am not sitting in front of my TV so some technogeeks can try to blow me away with their latest toys. Show me the racing through the field. Every race is a unique, unfolding story; and it is the broadcaster's job to show me the big picture story as it happens. I am not interested in your hi-tech toys,your broadcast personalities, or what you think the story line should be. I am there for the racing, nothing more and nothing less.

In my perfect world, a race broadcast would be transparent. The networks would do such a great job presenting the race that I wouldn't even realize who the broadcasters are, what cameras were used, or what microphones were used. At the end of the race, all I should want to talk about is the various aspects of the racing. The broadcast itself would be an afterthought at best.

To all you broadcast professionals, I'm sorry but you are not the star of the show. I tune in to watch the racing, not you trying to impress me. If you have come to my attention, you have failed. In sports and many other professions, there is a saying "The great ones make it look easy." I worked in a profession where getting it right every time was taken for granted. You only came to someone's attention when you failed and something went horribly wrong. The broadcast of a NASCAR race should be viewed the same way by the people who present it.

Throw away the bumper cams, roof cams, driver cams, and telephoto lenses. Throw away the camera on the tire-changer's head. They are gimmicks that distract from your primary job of presenting the big picture racing.

NASCAR broadcasts should be guided by two old slogans. First, "Less is more." Eliminate the gimmicks you seem to love, and cut back on the number of talking heads. Second, always be guided by the "KISS" principle. "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Every time you stray from the car/driver competition on the track, the broadcast goes downhill quickly.

I have been advocating AB be moved to play by play for a long time. I view his reassignment to pxp as an act of desperation rather than a sign that ESPN finally "gets it." The fact that they recently signed Rusty Wallace to a contract extension, continue to think that Brad D adds something to a broadcast, and continue to use Tim B to give inane and insulting tech information all indicate to me that ESPN doesn't have a clue. I invite them to prove me wrong.

I found TDP about half way through its first year through a link on Jayski. I thought broadcast quality was terrible, and I saw an article indicating discussion on the subject. I have stayed at the TDP for two reasons: (1) The columns and discussions show me that I am not alone in my views and help my sanity, and (2) It is the only NASCAR related site I have seen where the moderator keeps discussions from descending to the level of a junior high cafeteria food fight.

Delenn said...

Firstly, I want to direct a comment to Andrew:

Fox being rubbish does not give ESPN the right to be rubbish too. I will give ESPN a ton of credit for making changes - from Brent and Suzy to AB, and from the Doc to Marty to AB - all positive changes. Fox consistently refuse to change anything, so ESPN wins there.

Secondly, some disclosure that may interest Andrew and others:

I like ESPN. Even though I live in the UK, I was walking round in ESPN polo shirts (bought from various US Sears stores) years before NASN existed. I like how ESPN do College Football, I used to like Sunday Night Football the best of all, and they finally have MNF on track. I watch Sunday NFL Countdown, College Gameday etc. I like ESPN. That doesn't mean I like what ESPN are doing to Nascar.

Thirdly, and most importantly, to Allen and anyone at ESPN reading:

You have made good changes to on air personnel. Finally, you have the master doing comms, and Dale and Andy will flourish in this arrangement, the direction of the race still needs fixing. I don't know if AB has the power to fix that, but it desparately needs fixing. Pretend you are sitting at the racetrack and show the race from that perspective. Show a battle for 20th place, rather than "looking in on our insert-sponsor-here fan favorite" (always Jeff Gordon, remarkable), call the restart correctly, call start and parkers, show the racing.

And finally, AB, I am sure I don't need to tell you this. LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW. Tell us what you see, and use that to drive the director to look at what is happening. Don't commentate from the screen - that would make you look as bad as the rest.

I am hopeful, but expecting the baloon to burst at some point. Go AB!

GinaV24 said...

Anon 3:19 a.m. I found TDP about half way through its first year through a link on Jayski. I thought broadcast quality was terrible, and I saw an article indicating discussion on the subject. I have stayed at the TDP for two reasons: (1) The columns and discussions show me that I am not alone in my views and help my sanity, and (2) It is the only NASCAR related site I have seen where the moderator keeps discussions from descending to the level of a junior high cafeteria food fight.

Awesome post! ITA and I'd be willing to bet that you speak for many of us on the reasons why we are all still here.

OSBORNK said...

Sometimes less is more. Most of the stuff, other than commercials and some of the talking heads, is a result of technology and gadgets that weren't available in the "good old days" of ESPN coverage. With in-car, bumper, Zoom and dozens of cameras, how is it possible for the director to follow that many monitors and show the best racing and accidents live? As a result, we get everything as a replay.

Back in the "good old days", with fewer cameras, they couldn't use one camera to follow one car forever because it was needed to show the race.

The networks remind me of a friend who got rid of his simple cell phone and replaced it with one of the new "does everything" devices. he doesn't know how to use it and he is harder to reach than when he had a simple phone. The networks have all of the new gadgets but doesn't know how to use them. KISS

Anon/J said...

Holy expletives, man - you said everything that needed saying. Probably made a few zillion enemies in the process. It is appreciated.

Ken-Michigan said...

The last few years on ESPN, the race broadcast would get so out of whack that we'd have to wait until Bestwick joined in from the pit studio to iron everything out and clear up what was going on, because the booth was unable to do so.

AB moving to the booth is long overdue. A true professional. He understands the ins and outs of NASCAR better than most who have microphones in front of them. AB does not rely on someone else to take notes during a race, I've seen him in action and learned a bunch. Bestwick is able to tell you when someone came in for gas and 2 tires without anyone else telling him. AB will have better information than ANY analyst you out in the booth alongside. He's a radio guy, he knows the importance of painting the picture and knows the sport better than most TV producers, in my opinion.

ALL the networks need to simply cover the race on that particular day. Seems like producers try to "predict" whats going to happen, then they find themselves following that "prediction" or storyline and by the end of the day, the viewer ends up with many stories left untold. Viewers don't appreciate that.

The problem..... the NASCAR community is way too tight. Whether its TV people, drivers, officials, owners, sponsors etc. Broadcasters can't be open and critical of a NASCAR ruling or competitor because their own motorcoach might be right next to THAT person in the lot.

How can a driver feud or a broadcaster say something critical with another driver on the track when they are only steps away from one another each week in the motorcoach lot OR live next to each other on Lake Norman ?

All in all, it has made the TV coverage and the on track product very Vanilla over the years.

We'd all be amazed how good the TV coverage would become, IF the racing / passing improved.

Congrats to AB !!

Mike (Detroit) said...

The Good News: This year, ESPN will have a helicopter camera for all 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup race telecasts for the first time.

The Bad News: ESPN also will introduce a modernized, progressive graphics package for improved readability, the first major graphics overhaul since ESPN returned to NASCAR coverage in 2007as well as a new animation package.(ESPN)(7-26-2011)

Lifted from Jayski's

Mike

Anonymous said...

As far as following a popular driver around the track even if he or she is in 20th........networks are a business and if a large percent of your CUSTOMERS want to know about a certain driver then Business 101 says you talk about that driver. If not then you lose many customers (viewers).

Sad to say but many watch only because of one or two drivers not true race fans. May not like it but facts are facts.

West Coast Diane said...

Oh oh! We are in big trouble:

Saw this on Jayski's...just what want more on board cams...NOT!

"ESPN will introduce several new production advancements in its NASCAR Sprint Cup telecasts, including the first-ever use of dual path transmission for onboard cameras. The new technology, developed by ESPN and Broadcast Sports International, will allow ESPN to get high definition video from two onboard cameras in the same car simultaneously, where in the past only one of the three cameras mounted in each car could be used at a time. As an example, when a crash is being replayed, viewers will now be able to see two different onboard points of view of a car involved or near the crash, such as the view of the roof camera, face camera or bumper camera."

Sally said...

So, ESPN is trotting out a bunch of new gimmick cameras to 'enhance' the broadcast. They still don't get it, do they? In all the years I've watched Nascar, all I want to see when I turn on the TV is the race. All of it, including drivers that are having problems, the ones I don't root for, and the ones running laps down. Give me a perspective on the entire field, and I will stay engaged for the entire race. Limit me to just a few drivers, single cars running well ahead of the field, and I lose interest. I want a rundown of all the pit stops, not some silly camera attached to a helmet. 'The Show' is the race, not the gimmicks. Until someone learns that, they are doomed to fail. Has no one noticed that, the more gimmicks, the less viewers? There has to be a connection there.

West Coast Diane said...

Marsha...no, no broken hip.

Anonymous said...

What would be cool is if "everything was more like NASCAR..."

They could put cameras in the end of a football. Or a batter's helmet. In the lane to see up the shorts of a free throw attempt.

Digger could pop out of a golf hole as the ball is hit on the green.

The possibilities are endless.

GinaV24 said...

West Coast Diane -- oh geez, I echo your OH NO! about the "new toys". I want to see the race in perspective, not from in car cameras in hi def.

this is not the way to win my heart, ESPN!

GinaV24 said...

Anon 1:30 pm -- LOL, Brilliant! Maybe they could hire bill murray to get rid of digger ala caddyshack.

old97fan said...

respectfully to all of the posters, while Andrew and I disagree, I don't think he should go away, his comments while contrary to how most of us see the ESPN circumstance, were very respectful. I do question his underlying premises but welcome his dissent.

ESPN could greatly improve their broadcasts by changing a couple of things. 1 Restore the prevalence of the camera long shot/eliminate the majority of the useless closeups and in car cameras. 2 focus on the race not the on-air personalities. 3 Actually, listen to their consumers instead of being enamored with their "art" (more on this in moment). Starting acting like real journalist and get out of bed with Nascar.


On the "art" thing. I used to work in radio years ago. A lot of the things we did and admired as the "art" of our craft were the very things that drove our customers crazy. I see a lot of the same things going on in television today.

KoHoSo said...

GinaV24...the problem with that is Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) was completely unsuccessful at getting rid of the gopher. I would volunteer my Lab/pit mix to do the job but I don't know if we all want to see DW cry when ol' Buster rips the stuffing out of him.

GinaV24 said...

KoHoSo -- yeah, DW would cry like a baby over poor digger - it would cut into his t-shirt sales! LOL

I predict vertigo and a total lack of interest on my part for the new cameras. Thank goodness I have trackpass even if Racebuddy will be gone until next season.

Maybe I'll just opt to listen to the race with AB calling it and not bother with pictures at all.

I have no issue with Andrew staying and presenting his opinion. But I'd like him not to assume that JD or any of the rest of us have some nefarious agenda.

Darcie said...

I watch the race "at face value" like Andrew recommends, and it's still a mess. Obviously don't have the expertise that JD does, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist nor a degree in communications from Northwestern to see that ESPN's production of Nascar races are spotty at best. And I don't know what you're watching, Andrew, but ESPN has a love affair with very few drivers and you never hear mention any other name, even if said driver is in the top 10 and having his race of a lifetime. ESPN virtually ignores drivers unless their name is Johnson, Gordon, Busch, Stewart, Hamlin or Harvick. Heck, they even ignore top tier drivers like Kenseth, unless he's actually in first place.

ESPN also pre-scripts their races, and even if something extraordinary happens, they will not deviate from their script. And don't get me started on their love affair with technology. Their bumper cams, their in car cams and all the other stuff adds little to the race.

ESPN needs to cut the crap and just show us a race as it unfolds. They can't take their poor production techniques and turn it into something worth watching. Like I say, you can take a pig to Neiman's, buy it a $5000 designer dress and Jimmie Choo shoes, slap on some lipstick and powder and call it Cindy Crawford, but that pig is still a sow.

Sophia said...

Anon 3:19AM

COSIGN to your post! Awesome deets we've been saying for years.

WC Diane

VERY DEPRESSING to see BSPN adding more JUNK to the broadcast.

See, Adding AB means nothing as long as we never see the race at home.

TNT was nice (except for their Enhanced Camera junk that ruined the race & NOW ESPN wants to do x 2

I give up on NASCAR.

The techno toys are overwhelming.

Kenn Fong said...

J.D.,

Perspective. You give us something no one else is doing: you know the history and the behind-the scenes shenanigans (and you're wise enough to keep the secrets) so you can analyze what happens and why.

Thank you.

West Coast Kenny
Alameda, California
(was that the shortest comment I've ever sent you?)

Kim said...

Regarding ESPN - it's really simple!

To all the on-camera talent, repeat after me:

"It isn't about me!"

There. I don't want to see you. If you are not speaking to clarify something that is happening on the track, or in the pits, I don't want to hear you. I don't care about your win in 1998, the time you rebuilt an engine in 13 seconds,or had Earnhardt,Sr. slap you on the back. If you're an owner, keep it to yourself. If your son is on the track, keep it to yourself.

SHOW me what is happening on the track. COVER all 43 drivers, not just those employed by Hendrick (and this counts when Kasey moves over, and I am a HUGE Kasey fan). TELL me what is going on on the track and in the pits and little more than that. KEEP your banter to yourselves.

There. That is something ESPN can control. And it would increase the joy of watching races a thousand fold.

And JD, thanks for the background info! : D I'm embarrassed to say I had no idea, and thought you were a mega fan who had a really successful blog! Which is true, but with a lot more behind it! :D