Sunday, September 4, 2011
Updated: ESPN Gets An Early Christmas Present
Updated: Click here for an outstanding motorsports story from SI.com's Bruce Martin. He got a pretty good glimpse behind the scenes of Danica Patrick's first IndyCar race after making the announcement she is moving to NASCAR full time in 2012.
Like it or not, what we are watching is a very big media wave heading toward the Nationwide Series beach. In 2012, ESPN cannot dump Nationwide Series practice and qualifying coverage. The network risks missing Danica getting the pole or having a practice incident that affects her season. The Danica-factor is going to change NASCAR TV.
Since the Danica announcement, ESPN may well be regretting the decision to move the NASCAR Now series to 3PM on weekdays starting in September. Taking over the 5PM timeslot is the teen-driven chaos of Sports Nation. It should be interesting to see what happens with NASCAR Now for 2012.
Danica is not going to get on her scooter and drive away from the Nationwide Series world like she does in IndyCar. Suddenly, she is going to be in second-tier garages running Saturday shows that are often dominated by Sprint Cup Series drivers.
As Martin examines so well in his article, Patrick's theory of NASCAR and the Nationwide Series reality that many of us know so well is quite different. The remainder of the original TDP post documents what Patrick is going to mean to ESPN in their frustrating attempts to salvage something watchable from the Nationwide Series races in the final three seasons of the current TV contract.
ESPN's own Marty Smith took to Wednesday's NASCAR Now to announce that the network had finally taken delivery of the biggest NASCAR Christmas present in recent memory.
This package cost no money to buy, is exactly what ESPN ordered and will generate millions of dollars for the network once it is unwrapped.
Smith confirmed that Danica Patrick is coming to the Nationwide Series full time in 2012 driving for Tony Eury Jr. and JR Motorsports. In addition, Patrick will run a handful of Sprint Cup Series races for Stewart-Haas Racing. Smith said the ultimate goal for Patrick is to get full time into the Sprint Cup Series by 2013.
Make no mistake, love her or hate her, this is exactly what the Nationwide Series and ESPN needed. It comes just in the nick of time as the TV ratings show exactly what trying to promote Reed Sorenson vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the championship contenders will get. The answer is not a lot of eyeballs.
The TV dynamic of the Nationwide Series is that ESPN puts time and effort into it right up until late July. Once the network starts coverage of the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races the Nationwide agenda slides to the back burner.
In just a couple of weeks, the Saturday afternoon Nationwide Series races will once again be sandwiched between two featured college football games on ESPN2. The entire broadcast day of that network is themed around college football, except for an annoying little NASCAR race that suddenly is not very important.
Once again this weekend, ESPN is alone in Montreal as the Nationwide Series takes to the wonderful Circuit Gille Villeneuve. After six months of fans following the series on TV, neither the practice sessions or qualifying will be aired on any of the ESPN networks or online.
As TV viewers may remember, when Danica raced earlier this season NASCAR somehow got national television coverage of practice and qualifying arranged rather quickly. Let's hope someone at ESPN is sitting down with SPEED right now to make that happen for 2012.
Another interesting element in this unfolding TV dynamic for next season is the fact that Carl Edwards is said to be joining ESPN for the Nationwide Series coverage as either an analyst in the TV booth or the infield studio. First, that means Edwards will not be racing and secondly it means he will be the one analyzing Patrick on a regular basis.
The official announcement about Patrick's plans will supposedly come during the Nationwide Series' visit to Phoenix in November. That city being the home of Patrick's longtime sponsor that is expected to migrate with her to NASCAR in the form of Go Daddy.
Smith's ESPN report was quickly swallowed up in an avalanche of other media organizations passing along the same information. In just a couple of short hours, Patrick had pushed herself to the front pages of most major sports websites. Her move was detailed on SportsCenter and the grind of ESPN making sure to get that information out to its viewers had begun.
Just a couple of months ago, the Nationwide Series landscape looked pretty bleak. Short fields, start and park teams and the domination of Sprint Cup Series drivers crossing-over to trounce the regulars made for a tough TV package to promote.
Now with Patrick running for the championship, several other young guns supposedly moving up into the series and TV exposure potentially expanding, things are changing. Like it or not, the Nationwide Series now has a face that fans will be seeing a lot of in 2012 despite her race results.
When ESPN got the series in 2007, company President George Bodenheimer said the Nationwide Series was a diamond in the rough that ESPN intended to polish. Now, after five years of rubbing, ESPN might finally get that stone to sparkle.
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