Sunday, November 25, 2007

38 Races In 22 Minutes Cheats NASCAR Fans Again

The season rolled out of the garage in February at a cold and windy Daytona. It ended ten months later under beautiful South Florida skies with a smiling NEXTEL Cup Champion.

Thirty-eight events and thousands of racing miles comprised the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season. For the three TV networks covering this series, the commitment was huge in terms of manpower and logistics.

As TV packages go, NASCAR rivals tennis and golf as manufacturing hundreds of hours of live national TV coverage in a single season. Luckily, NASCAR racing is just a tad more popular than those two sports.

Putting aside the TV coverage of the practice and qualifying sessions, the Cup races alone generated over one hundred and fifty hours of live TV in 2007. Spread over ten months, it is easy to understand how this sport is very attractive to TV networks.

On this past Sunday afternoon, scheduled up against the early NFL games, ESPN2 presented their NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season-in-review program. As one might expect, it was produced in cooperation with NASCAR Images in Charlotte, the sport's official TV production group.

ESPN is the new "big daddy" of NASCAR. They televise the entire Busch/Nationwide Series, produce a daily NASCAR news program, and host the final seventeen NEXTEL Cup events live on either ESPN or ABC. This year-in-review program was a chance to look back on an incredible season that saw many first time events for both the network and the sport.

Before ESPN's Cup coverage began, they broadcast an outstanding series called Ultimate NASCAR. It gave viewers a chance to bond with Dr. Jerry Punch while he hosted a series of shows on diverse historical topics that really showed-off the best parts of the sport. The editing, sound effects, and grandeur of these programs was often breath-taking.

Now, after a year of hard work, ESPN was going to recap the entire season of the highest level of stock car racing in North America. Viewers could look forward to the ESPN and ABC TV team of Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree and Tim Brewer sharing their views.

Also, summing up their thoughts after a long year would be Allen Bestwick and Mike Massaro, two high-profile NASCAR veterans that were the backbone of ESPN's coverage of pit road this season.

Marty Smith would be there to give a good synopsis of an incredible year in NASCAR news. From Junior and Kyle changing rides to Toyota buying their way into Gibbs, this was a huge year of NASCAR news, even without the COT.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to this party. As the NEXTEL Cup year-in-review program began, there was absolutely no mention of ESPN. There were no ESPN announcers on-camera. There were no ESPN graphics. Something was very wrong.

Then, the voice heard next was the "generic voice-over announcer" that fans have come to understand works for NASCAR Images. His booming tones signaled another "NFL Films style" presentation of NASCAR action highly-edited into a set format. This was the NEXTEL Cup season-in-review show?

The 2007 footage began to zip by in a flurry of announcer voices that were never introduced, but magically seemed to be scripted for every moment. Using announcers from all three TV networks, from both radio networks, and from NASCAR Images the on-track action flew by at lightning speed. There was a very good reason it was so fast.

The entire thirty-eight race NEXTEL Cup season was going to be recapped on ESPN in twenty-two minutes. Let me say that once again. The 2007 Cup season was going to be pulverized into twenty-two minutes of video footage.

Twenty-two minutes is the amount of content that is left in a thirty minute show on ESPN after eight minutes are subtracted for commercials. Twenty-two minutes to cover one hundred and fifty hours of racing as a final tribute to the teams, drivers, and fans. Twenty-two minutes.

Regardless of the parties or the TV contract issues involved in this decision, it is completely amazing. NASCAR fans have been knocking down the email door at The Daly Planet asking about off-season TV programming. Other than this show and the Banquet...the NEXTEL Cup landscape is barren.

In the meantime, over at SPEED, NASCAR fans are being treated to daylong "theme blocks" of classics like PINKS, Unique Whips, and Payback. The NASCAR programming is completely gone from a network that basically survives because of the sport.

Can you imagine a two hour version of Inside NEXTEL Cup recapping the season?

How about a studio version of RaceDay where John Roberts leads a discussion looking back at the season with Jimmy, Kenny, and Wendy?

Maybe Steve Byrnes could lead the Trackside gang of Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond through a season-in-review with lots of guests on the phone and some in the studio. Viewers would not mind Junior checking in from the beach on his cell phone.

The point of this column is that NASCAR fans deserved more than just a thirty minute "generic" recap show on one cable network on a Sunday afternoon. This NASCAR Images show was a "throw-a-way" that was probably mandatory in the ESPN TV contract.

What other explanation could exist for a TV network that committed so many resources and so much time to NASCAR? Consider this, the NASCAR pre-race shows on both SPEED and ABC were longer than the year-in-review program. Does that make any sense at all?

SPEED can do a three hour RaceDay from Homestead but no three hour season-in-review? ESPN tells us they have spread NASCAR across five TV networks, an InternetTV site, and their own and Jayski sites as well...but they do not want to waste their time on a look back at their own efforts?

Maybe NASCAR will make a little note about an expanded post-season TV programming mix for 2008. With new sponsors, a new car, and struggling TV ratings, it just might be a good time to expand that season-in-review show to remind fans of the action over the ten months of the season. For this year...its just a little too late.

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