Friday, August 12, 2011

ESPN's Goals For Watkins Glen

When ESPN begins the Sprint Cup Series telecasts, there are some "advancer" stories that are prepared by reporters working the local beats. Click here for the story titled "ESPN ready to rock its NASCAR coverage at Watkins Glen International."

The story by Shawn Vargo is featured at, which is a Corning, NY publication. What's great about Vargo's story is that he uses quotes from Rich Feinberg, ESPN's VP of Motorsports, who is pictured above.

Here is Feinberg talking about ESPN's approach to NASCAR coverage being a simple one.

"We have our style and philosophy of how we broadcast a race," Feinberg said. "The focus of everything we do is about the drivers and the competition and not about us. People are tuning-in to see the NASCAR stars, the drivers, the racing. That’s where we try to keep our eye on the ball."

Here is Feinberg speaking about the in-race technology.

"We have to make sure our technology doesn’t get in the way of documenting and telling the story of the race,” Feinberg said. “(Technology) can enhance it, make it more entertaining, provide insight into what’s happening and perhaps help us foreshadow what’s going to happen. But it’s important for us to remain balanced in our usage of everything we have at our disposal."

Finally, Feinberg summarizes ESPN's goals when televising Sprint Cup Series races.

"Whether it’s the technology, the number of announcers we use or whatever makes up the entire picture, (the goal is) to balance out the use of all those elements, to ensure that our overall broadcast remains focused on what’s happening on the track."

"ESPN is in close to 100 million homes throughout this country," Feinberg said. "Our job is to serve those fans. We try to make the most compelling, entertaining coverage of a NASCAR race, on a weekly basis."

"The tricky line we try to walk is offering general basic storytelling to new viewers, while not alienating hard-core fans who really want the nitty-gritty and the strategy of what’s happening on the racetrack and we try to serve both with everything we do. At the end of the day, they all want to be entertained."

This is a very timely picture of Feinberg's mindset as ESPN gets into the very heart of the season and heads for the Chase. As most fans know, Feinberg made a very big decision just one week prior to the Brickyard 400. Allen Bestwick was brought in as the lap-by-lap Sprint Cup Series announcer and Marty Reid was asked to continue on the Nationwide Series telecasts.

This helped fans to understand that perhaps ESPN finally got it. When something isn't working, just fix it. Feinberg also shelved the infamous Draft-Tracker and several other gadgets along the way and this year seems to have the right pieces in the right places.

While ESPN sometimes is blind to the work of other networks, NASCAR fans see various SPEED personalities every race weekend handling a lot of the support programming like practice and qualifying sessions. There no bells and whistles involved, it's just NASCAR people talking NASCAR.

This weekend, SPEED puts the unlikely trio of Leigh Diffey, Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds together in the TV booth to handle Sprint Cup Series practice and qualifying. Those are the kind of colorful characters that make good TV. This combo should also make for some interesting uses of the English language.

It's not really the memories of TNT that the ESPN coverage is compared to, but the fact that SPEED is right there side-by-side at the track and seems to have few problems covering exactly the same content. This weekend, it seems that SPEED is doing the heavy lifting once again.

Friday and Saturday, ESPN will be deeply involved in Little League Baseball coverage. There will also be tennis and soccer coverage on the air while SPEED handles live on-track session after session from Watkins Glen.

Unlike FOX and TNT, there will never be a reporter, host or analyst on the ESPN staff shared with SPEED for this support coverage. Like it or not, ESPN sometimes appears to be a network that shows up for the race and leaves when it is over.

Fortunately, there is real potential for this weekend's mix of practice, qualifying and racing to produce some of the best NASCAR TV of the season. If Feinberg and his crew stay focused, the network might come away from the Glen with the best momentum ESPN's NASCAR coverage has enjoyed in years.

We invite your comments on reactions to Feinberg's comments and also on the SPEED coverage from Watkins Glen on Friday. The complete TV schedule is on the left side of this page. Thanks for stopping by The Daly Planet.