Sunday, November 16, 2014

ESPN Faces Season Six Challenge

Update: Originally published on 7/28/12

It's that time of the year once again. FOX and TNT are done with the Sprint Cup Series and now ESPN adds that coverage to the network's ongoing Nationwide Series effort. In other words, it's crunch time.

The Worldwide Leader returned to NASCAR in 2007 and quickly found that times had changed. The on-air product was just not clicking with the fan base. As a result, there have been many changes in key on-air personalities over the years. This season, former crew chief Tim Brewer has been quietly phased out and his Tech Garage has been parked.

Starting with the Brickyard 400, it will be Allen Bestwick calling the Sprint Cup Series races with Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree alongside in the TV booth. Marty Reid will step-in to call the Nationwide Series races. Once again this season Jarrett and Petree will do double-duty on both series.

Nicole Briscoe will anchor the telecasts from the infield with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. The versatile Briscoe has been co-anchoring the "NASCAR Now" news program and also working as a field reporter for ESPN since coming to the network from SPEED in 2008.

Moving Dr. Jerry Punch back to pit road from the announce booth was a solid move. It let him return to his best role as a reporter. This season Punch will be joined once again by veterans Vince Welch, Dave Burns and Jamie Little. Also working on pit road assignments will be Mike Massaro and Shannon Spake.

A welcome addition to the Brickyard 400 coverage will be Ray Evernham. Located in the infield, Evernham will provide a unique perspective that Wallace and Daugherty simply cannot. Evernham is long since removed from controversy and now can speak to a wide variety of topics as a major figure in the sport's history.

In terms of technology, ESPN's Sprint Cup Series coverage will once again use ESPN Non-Stop. That is the network's name for the split-screen commercial format shown above. During the second half of each Chase for the Championship race, the national commercials will be shown this way. That means the first seven races, starting with this weekend's coverage, will be presented in the traditional full-screen fashion.

14 of the final 17 Sprint Cup Series races will be on ESPN with the other three on ABC Saturday nights. The ESPN races will be available online through WatchESPN, but only to select ESPN cable TV subscribers. The WatchESPN service basically allows the cable network's feeds to appear on laptops, tablets and smart phones. The good news is that it makes ESPN's family of networks portable. The bad news is that not all cable companies offer it.

While ESPN did not update this information, all 14 of the ESPN Sprint Cup Series races as well as the Nationwide Series events will have the online RaceBuddy located at the website. This property is managed by Turner Sports, so ESPN chooses not to include it in any media materials about NASCAR.

Just like last season, the transition between the tech-heavy TNT and the traditional ESPN coverage should be a tad rough. Hopefully, this weekend RaceBuddy will be aided by the fact that both MRN and PRN radio networks stream every Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series race online for free. Unfortunately, those things cannot help with the biggest TV issue of the season.

The amount of TV commercials shown in Sprint Cup Series races has not changed, but the expectations of the fan base certainly have. Now informed by social media, fans are acutely aware of just how much race content and information is being swept aside during commercial breaks. The tipping point was the TNT race from Kentucky, where one-third of the racing was covered by what seemed to be the same three or four commercials.

In the ultimate irony, TNT then presented the Daytona race without any full-screen commercials and used the "Wide Open" coverage to show the real potential of modern TV production techniques. The final TNT race from Loudon quickly restored the grim reality of what ESPN will face at Indy. That is trying to integrate commercials into a race where passing is done on pit road and long green flag runs are the order of the day.

In the past, ESPN has over-hyped the Brickyard 400 by trying to make it NASCAR's version of the Indy 500. This year, instead of the Infield Pit Studio, Briscoe and her three analysts will be sitting outside on a terrace of the famed infield Pagoda for the pre-race show.

One of the Saturday pre-race features will be reported by Katie Couric, now an ABC journalist. She will speak to part-time Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick. The topics Patrick will discuss are listed as "her transition to NASCAR, how people perceive her as a person and possible sexism she might face on a daily basis at the racetrack."

The hype of 74 cameras, a Super Slo-Mo cam for pitstops and the return of the 80 mph frontstretch "bat cam" will be over after the Brickyard. What comes next is something so familiar to fans it has become a running joke. The focus on the Chase for the Championship begins right after Indy.

For the past six years, ESPN has taken out the Chase hype stick and beat fans over the head with it for the better part of four months. We have repeatedly answered that loyal fans of one driver do not make a change if their driver is not in Chase contention. Eliminating TV coverage of these drivers simply eliminates the fans of that driver as TV viewers.

Fans of Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya want to see coverage of these drivers. All three may miss the Chase. Should that change their TV coverage? If history repeats itself, all three may not be even mentioned in an entire race telecast during the Chase unless leading the race or crashing.

The fundamental problem with NASCAR's "playoff system" is that all the teams are still out there racing. While TV tries to show the race leaders and also constantly update the Chase, the sad reality is that entire teams fall off the radar. This year those teams may be from Hendrick, Ganassi and other powerhouse players in the sport.

As it has for the last several seasons, ESPN must ultimately decide to cover the race or feature the Chase. We certainly know what that choice has been in the past and welcome your comments about ESPN returning to Sprint Cup Series coverage for season six.


Sally said...

I'm already sick of hearing about 'the chase to the chase' and all the 'wild card' speculation. Why can't the media just let things happen and report as they unfold? The focus has already started honing in on just the top teams. They are already in the process of making the first 26 races of the season irrelevant. This doesn't bode well for the last of the season.

Colorado said...

The Couric thing has me mad right now. Sexism? Has she seen her
commercials? They border on porn...What does Patrick bring to the table in termas of racing knowledge? Anything for ratings I guess.

Zetona said...

Until the Chase, I'll be satisfied if ESPN just runs a reasonable amount of commercials. Unless they add RaceBuddy, I can ask for little more in that department. After that, it'll be interesting to see how much attention is given to Jeff Gordon, probably the sport's second-most popular driver, if he misses the Chase.

Buschseries61 said...

I'll have more detailed comments later, but the Katie Couric interview made me chuckle. Danica won't even be in the race! Somewhere along the corporate marketing chain there is complete disconnect between the corporations holding/presenting the races and the fans the 'product' is directed towards.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest and state that JD's very well written lead-in for this topic depressed me. My opinion is that Espn's Nascar coverage will essentially be the same as the other Networks. The only bright spot I noted was Ray Evernham who always gives thoughtful analysis of whatever topic is being discussed. The in-field studio trio is of no value to me and I refuse to watch them. Rusty's favorite words are "I" and "Me" which I can do without. As much as we criticized Dr. Jerry Punch's play by play, he does an excellent job as a pit reporter. Ditto for Dave Burns. Any race at Indy is usually a bore. It's a narrow track with flat corners that makes it almost impossible for 3400 pound stock cars to pass out on the track. I'm sure we'll be subjected to all kinds of pre race hype. Least of which will be an interview by world famous Nascar expert, Katie Couric of Danica. It'll be interesting to see how many laps down she is at the end of the race. The legions of Marketing experts at Nascar headquarters have their work cut out for them to convince Nascar fans that they put on a real racing show. We shall see.....

Anonymous said...

Once again it's that time of the year for ESPN to milk the brickyard hype for all it's worth.I watch the race's on Jr's Hotpass channel so it dosen't make as much difference but i would still love to have good coverage.Their(IMO)Nationwide coverage has actually been decent but as JD said it's now that matters.Once again there is the troubling decision to have 14 of the 17(including the finale) race's on cable thus millions of people will once again get left in the dark.Whenever they get asked about it,the network people float this BS statistic about "90 percent of the population have basic cable" without thinking that even if the number is that high(it's not)that "10 percent" is hundred's of millions.As i posed in my question to JD on the Brian France topic,i also hate how they have(especially the finale)moved back to later start times for a variety of reasons.I think we may actually have decent coverage of the brickyard outside of the hype,but once things get settled in the old habits will probably return.I long for the days(and im young!)when you could actually watch a sporting event and not just a reality show.We will see how thing's go,but with the TV climate the way it is,this period could be ESPN's moment of truth.


sbaker17 said...

I’ll tell you what, no doubt about it.
IMHO Brewer should have remained and Evernham should have replaced Wallace AND Daugherty.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Andrew, links do not post in blogger. Please try your comment again without the link. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to apologize for my childishness trying to pester someone into answersing my early/late start time question i posted on the Brian France topic.Iv'e been wanting to ask that one for so long,and i got carried away.I didn't even look to see that your supposed to email JD if you have a question(although at this time i dont have an email set up or twitter account) .I apologize to JD for being immature and making off-topic comments.I know he has to work harder than a race car driver to keep this blog running,and i know he dosen't need idiots like me wasting people's time.From now on i'll do my best to stay on topic and try to be more mature.


Daly Planet Editor said...


David Hill from FOX Sport pushed for those later times and eventually NASCAR agreed.

The entire change proved to be a disaster for the networks involved and also for the series.

Hill admitted he was wrong, so NASCAR and the networks returned to traditional start times.

Sorry for the delay in answering.


Anonymous said...

When I think Nascar, I think Katie Couric. Bleahhh.

Could be worse. NBC could be covering the race and Bob Costas would be doing the interview.

GinaV24 said...

Danica Patrick interview about sexism? Ha, well, I'll skip that. The woman is a very savvy person and uses sex to sell herself quite well. IMO, racing allows for more equality than most sports because the physical component is made up with the car, not with how physically strong/fast/tall whatever you are.

I haven't been particularly impressed with ESPN's coverage although I like Bestwick in the booth very much. He's great. However the emphasis on the chase, chase, chase leaves me bored, bored, bored. If Gordon doesn't make it in which looks very likely at this point, I will probably not bother to watch ESPN at all. After all, I can get updates on twitter and follow along with trackpass and get information that I am interested in without being hammered with ESPN's version of NASCAR coverage.

JD, thanks for the info about the change in start times. I agree making the races start late for the chase was a complete fubar. So glad that they changed them back to "normal".

Anonymous said...

Thanks,I appreciate it.I know the ratings for the 2010 chase were low,but IMO they just bailed on one of their best ideas of recent times.They actually still do the first 2/3rds of the season the same but they reverted back on the rest.As i said before we narrowly averted a disaster at the finale last year due to rain with the race starting at 3:20 rather than 1:20,and i dont know about you,but i just find sunday night races miserable and depressing.Iv'e got an idea,if they want to have the finale finish in primetime ,how about moving it to SATURDAY NIGHT!!!Now that would be exciting!Otherwise i would just prefer them to start it at 1 pm(or at least 2)and have a poetic ending in addition to having a larger window to resume rain delayed races(who would have won the 2009 Daytona 500 had it started earlier?).It's probably too late to do anything about this year,but here's hoping we can change things back in the future.I think one of their biggest arguments for later times it that "they dont want to start with NFL games",but i think if Nascar hopes to have any sucsess in the future,they cant be afraid of football.Remember back early in the decade when things were so good that they very often went head to head with NFL games and more than held their own in the ratings.They aren't in the best of times going to beat the NFL(no sport right now can)when it comes to viewers but in order to have a good ranking they have to suck it up and not fear them.As many have pointed out,i think Nascar just needs to return to basics,and such a move would go under that heading.But with BZF in charge,the chances of it are always questionable.I know this is probably overstated,but i so long for the day's early in the decade when there were plenty of intresting stories but yet still that feeling of simplicity that made Nascar so fun to watch.For now things aren't great,but thank's to people like you who have kept the faith,i still have hope that we will be able to bring back those glory days.


Buschseries61 said...

Wow oh wow oh wow! Lots of news to talk about.

The Katie Couric interview still makes me grin. Besides the fact Danica won't even be in the race...Sexism!?! Katie should be talking to Amber Cope before consulting GoDaddy Girl Danica. It's like the media is writing stories for Danica because she has brought nothing to the table!

Anyway, giving fans RaceBuddy as an option shows ESPN finally gets it. (I certainly hope RaceBuddy will not be all in-cars.) We may not have side-by-side until the Chase, but at least the fans have some video source to follow the race under commercial. Thanks to all that made this possible.

I certainly hope ESPN finds a balance with the Chase. I agree with Sally, the season long intensive focus on the last ten races of the season by the competitors and media has done quite a bit of damage to the sport. The focus on points gives us 'entertaining' races like Loudon. Then the fans only get additional irritation by ESPN sectioning off the field into "haves" and "have nots". The entire season seems worthless for fans of drivers outside the top 12. While ESPN can't solve all those problems, they can at least fairly cover a race.

Finally, the David Hill announcement gives me some hope for the NASCAR on FOX coverage in 2013. The man hurt the sport as much as he helped it. A fresh new direcion at FOX Sports is what this team really needs.

KoHoSo said...

I have to agree with Anonymous 11:31 above in how I feel more depressed about what ESPN will bring than any hope I have for positive change. After all, TDP has been around for five years now and, aside from a few and admittedly significant victories, overall we are still getting the same crappy coverage we were getting in 2007...because, no matter how hard AB tries, he cannot also be in the truck to make sure we get the right pictures to show the true action and drama in the race and to keep the camera off the useless buffoons that ESPN tries to pass off as infield studio analysts.

I hope I'm wrong but I doubt that I will be.

Unknown said...

No matter what happens with ESPN's coverage it will be by a mile better than TNT's. Their coverage was absolutely awful, I quit watching after Michigan.

OSBORNK said...

Can you imagine the uproar if the networks handled baseball the way they treat NASCAR racing. What would be the reaction if the networks stopped showing any team that was no longer in contention for the playoffs and substituted teams that were still playing for a spot in the playoffs? What would be the reaction if they did the same thing with football and basketball?

Anonymous said...

Racebuddy is a great idea that never seems to work for me. Scoring is way behind, if it works at all, and the constant skips and freezes turns it into an un-watchable slide-show. I have 20mpbs cable and a good up to date rig, I don't think the probs are on my end....

Fed UP said...

I hate the chase...its phony. If your driver or team isn't in it, why bother watching the telecast?

What they need to do is to have two races-the "chase" race, where the chasers race against ARCA competitors (but only 5)...and the regular balls to the wall racing (without the chase spoilers). Points don't matter, but the payola is high.

It bothered me when JJ use to whine that someone wouldn't pull over for him because he was a "champion" and they were racing him "unfairly." This way, the chase drivers are in their little bubble, the other teams get some exposure, and we actually have racing being shown.

Yeah, don't think it will happen either. *sighs*

Just please don't let ESPN suck as much as Fox, amen.

GinaV24 said...

LOl, Fedup, that last line is priceless.

Matt TSB said...

Osbork - The NFL does that with flex scheduling at the end of the year. The Sunday night game can be switched to a better game if the scheduled one is unattractive. Just google NFL and Flex Scheduling. Makes perfect sense to make sure the primetime game is a good one.

atd118 said...

ESPN is more of a reality series.. ESPN has been a disgrace for years now, with everything they do.. They will create story lines and come up with this drama, etc, blah blah blah. I cant even watch ESPN anymore.. It is what it is. We as fans are screwed.. The real race fans are screwed. WE have to watch, because we have no choice.. I honestly give up even complaining anymore.. Its never going to change... I listen to MRN and synch it up with the tv feed and I watch... Thats it. Im going to deal with the completely useless tight shots over and over, the 1000 commercials, the fake made up drama story lines, etc.. It is what it is..

atd118 said...

Also David Hill gone from FOX made me smile, but im sure they will only replace him with some other clueless guy who knows nothing about racing and how to cover a race... So im really not to excited..

Anonymous said...

It isn't fair to blame ESPN for focusing on a "Brain" France creation. That was NASCAR's purpose of creating the dang Chase to start with. They supposedly wanted to put more focus and emphasis on the championship and to build a playoff-esque atmosphere to compete against the start of the NFL and college football seasons. ESPN is merely doing the very thing NASCAR wants.

Anyone that watches sports knows that once football starts up, NASCAR matters even less. People do not tune from football games over to NASCAR but the opposite does happen. I guarantee if Faux had this portion of the schedule it would be the same type of Chase coverage, only amplified due to the SPEED involvement.

Anonymous said...

Lol...every other sport showcases the top teams all the time!!!!!

Nba- mostly big market teams every natl gm
NHL- only about 1/3 of the league gets NBC coverage
MLB- nothing but big markets and teams that get ratings
Nfl- even on sunday afternoon gms the bad teams gms are shown in fewer markets

Anonymous said...

I want to tell everbody if they have time(even just to watch it partially)to go to youtube and check out the 2002 Sharpie 500 at Bristol.I cant post links on blogger but its a 26 segment video uploaded by a user called Kingcuervo88(and no i am not him),who BTW has plenty more full races from the late 90's and early 2000's.

Watch how good not only the broadcasting is,with nice wide shots,no commercial overload and excellent commentary,but also the gave me chills watching the finish even though i knew the end result!They dont race like that anymore,and they sure dont broadcast like that anymore.


Anonymous said...

We'll be hearing between commercial brakes"as of the points right now".

Anonymous said...

Just can't wait for the Katie Couric interview given that she knows absolutely nothing about Nascar and, in all likelihood, probably looks down her long elitist New York nose with great disdain at Nascar fans. Will she ask Danica if those Nascar hillbillies are sexist or what Supreme Court decisions she most disagrees with? In the future, maybe NBC will let Al Sharpton do a few Nascar interviews or, better yet, bring 'Mr. Hate' Keith O back to tell Nascar fans who have ever supported a Republican that they are fascists!

Anonymous said...

anon 3:31....we have made this point over and is NOT like stick and ball sports. They don't have home and away teams, they travel as a group week to week. Race fans expect different things.

tle said...


I hate to say it, other then getting to listen to Benny Parson, it looked and sounded almost the same.
TNT was using bumper cam when Gordon did the bump and run. Wally was clueless even asked to have something explained! The speed trap gadget didn't work when they tried to future it.

Anonymous said...

Unforunately you are right about those things,even then the broadcasts werent perfect,but they were a far cry better than today's reality shows,they didnt even take a commercial break that whole last part(which may not seem like much but today that seems like a pipe dream).My pet peeves are when they dont show anybody other than the winner crossing the finish line,and then dont even tell you who finished where,and the lack of coverage of many cars throughout the field.The tight shots dont bother me as much,but i still wish they would use wider shots,especially early in the races.As i said before(other than katie couric and the other hype)i actually expect a decent telecast,but once they get to Pocono and into "the grind",we will probably see the same old things.


Nascar_Gamecock said...

Good Lord did they only sell tickets to family members of the drivers/teams?