Wednesday, May 9, 2007

ESPN's "NASCAR Now" Gets Lost In Translation

Quite possibly, it was the story of the year so far on the NASCAR landscape. ESPN Insider Terry Blount showed-up with breaking news that perhaps JR Motorsports was going to get a new driver...and that it might be Dale Earnhardt Junior. Blount indicated that perhaps Junior would leave DEI, bypass other teams, and move his own JR Motorsports operation up to the NEXTEL Cup level. Wow! Even in theory, this is a huge story.

For host Doug Banks and NASCAR Now, this story would require live on-air flexibility, open conversation with the NASCAR Now reporters, and a scramble for more information and interviews. What a great story to have dropped in your lap on a "slow news" Wednesday. This would be a great test of ESPN2's new daily show, and serve to set-up the news conference to be carried live on the network the next day. NASCAR Now's response to this breaking news situation was simple...just don't mention it again. Pretend it did not happen...and that is exactly what they did. The network that showcases SportsCenter, ESPN News, Gameday, and Emmy Award winning news coverage chose to "bail."

Banks returned immediately to the scripted program, and left NASCAR fans staring at the TV with open mouths and in complete shock. NASCAR Now moved on to "confront" Kasey Kahne about "standing by" his comments that David Stremme was fat. This was the story that followed the Junior bombshell by Terry Blount. Kasey says David is fat. That called for NASCAR "expert" Brad Daugherty to speak in completely pedestrian terms about what every fan already knew, tough season so far for Kasey. Did we mention Junior might leave DEI? Oh wait, Kasey says David is fat.

SPEED Channel's Inside NEXTEL Cup panelist Greg Biffle then stopped by on the phone to answer scripted questions from a host who knows nothing about the sport. It was horrible. Doug Banks just says "all right" when anyone ends their response, and then moves on to the next scripted question. Not only does it make things stiff, but it often makes things hilarious when the person being interviewed goes "off track." Banks is helpless, and it shows through. He never asked Biffle about Junior or the breaking news.

Incredibly, Daugherty then came back to comment on Biffle as if he himself had never been there. Nothing that Daugherty spoke about was brought up by Banks in the interview. Why didn't Banks ask Biffle the questions that Daugherty raised? Why didn't Daugherty interview Biffle? What is going on here? Did we mention Junior might leave DEI? Did you know that Kasey called David fat?

Terry Blount returned at last to update this breaking story. Well, maybe not. After yet another feature on the fact that Hendrick has won the COT races, Blount was only asked scripted questions and allowed to only address the COT problems. Incredible. Banks then stumbled into the commercial promising a preview of Darlington. Did we mention that Junior might leave DEI? Did we mention that this was a story NASCAR Now was obsessed with for months before this? Why didn't Brad interview Biffle? Did we mention Kasey says David is fat?

Banks then updated the Darlington Busch field, Mark Martin's status, and then tried to return to the breaking news. But, he did not know what to say. He got the time of the press conference and the location correct, but could not add anything about the actual "content" of this breaking story. Terry Blount was no where to be seen. The show simply ended...just like that. One could almost feel Banks letting out a deep breath and saying "that was a tough one."

With all the resources of the world's leader in sports television, perhaps the budget could have allowed a cell phone call to Marty Smith for some background. Shannon Spake could also have filled in some details, or provided some background on the JR Motorsports operation. As viewers remember, both Marty and Shannon were on-scene for the new JR Motorsports facility opening ceremonies last week. By the way, they were on-scene reporting for ESPN...and this show.

Sometimes, words just cannot describe the bi-polar disfunction of this mess called NASCAR Now. Fans were patient through February, bothered in March, and amused in April. Now, in May, ESPN has a full-blown disaster on their hands.

No matter what it took, including going live with ESPN News, bringing in the experts on-the-fly to be interviewed, or making any kind of last second arrangements, this story should have been the theme of the entire thirty minutes. The reporters, analysts, and experts should have been on the phone, on the liveshot, and in the studio to address this breaking news. No matter what it took, the "Worldwide Leader In Sports" should have been there for NASCAR fans. And they "bailed." Did we mention that Kasey called David fat?

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