Thursday, January 17, 2008

ESPN Silent On NASCAR Changes For 2008

Last week, prior to my appearance on Sirius Speedway with Dave Moody, I asked ESPN if they could help me out with some information.

I knew that Dave and the fans would want to know the on-air personalities that were going to be involved in the network's 2008 NASCAR coverage. The response from ESPN was that they had nothing to announce.

Thursday, reporter David Exum of the Boston Herald tried the exact same thing with Julie Sobieski, ESPN's VP of Programming. In this interview, he got the exact same answer.

"Can you discuss any new changes in ESPN's NASCAR coverage for the 2008 season?" asked Exum.

"There really isn't anything we are prepared to announce right now," answered Sobieski.

Mr. Exum continued to ask several straightforward questions. He wanted to know if the network was happy with its 2007 efforts.

"How satisfied was ESPN with its return to broadcasting NASCAR races after a seven year hiatus?" he asked.

"It was a ramping-up year for us and we got a lot accomplished, but we've still got a lot more to get done over the next seven years," replied Sobieski.

Exum next zoomed-in on the fan complaints about the ESPN News Network and ESPN SportsCenter's lack of NASCAR coverage in 2007.

"How much of an impact do you think ESPN's SportsCenter had on NASCAR coverage overall?" asked Exum. The answer was fascinating.

"From an ESPN perspective, we had the races on-air, but as far as SportsCenter is concerned, they make their (own) journalistic decisions. We were happy to deliver the kind of coverage on the platforms that we have," said Sobieski.

Exum then asked about how the network involves the fans, and gets information. Many fans remember receiving an ESPN Marketing questionnaire a while back asking about the on-air announcers by name, and the quality of the overall TV coverage.

"Do you feel that ESPN listens to the NASCAR fans in terms of coverage concerns?" he asked.

"We certainly hope so and we hope fans feel that way," said Sobieski. "We pay a lot of attention to what fans have to say. We want to deliver the best experience to the fans that we possibly can. We listen to the fans reaction outside the walls of ESPN, but we also listen to fans reaction inside the walls of ESPN and making decisions along the way. We’ve learned a lot our first year back and we’ve listened a lot and you should notice some changes to make the experience better for the fans. We want to increase our green-flag coverage as much as we can because we at ESPN understand that NASCAR is a sport that doesn’t take breaks like other sports. There is no halftime or time outs. NASCAR is non-stop action. Our goal is always to deliver as much green-flag action as we can and that’s what we are really looking at in 2008."

Exum's brief interview was interesting for what it said, and also did not say. From our Daly Planet TV perspective, this was the perfect opportunity for Sobieski to reach out to the fans and the NASCAR community before the season. The one thing that clearly stands-out is that ESPN remains basically silent on most NASCAR issues.

No high-profile ESPN "talent" assigned to the races like Rusty Wallace, Jerry Punch, or Brad Daugherty have been talking to the media about the upcoming Nationwide Series. Tim Brewer has not been on ESPN News talking about the COT issues from Daytona testing. The "race team" has kept a very low profile.

Turning to the infield, the network has not announced who will be behind the anchor desk in the Infield Studio for the network's Daytona programming. That is a huge on-air role with a very high profile. ESPN has also not announced what roles Dale Jarrett and Brad Daugherty will fill for 2008. You may remember that both men worked in the Infield Studio and also in the announce booth last season.

Back in the studio, one of the most asked email questions from fans is who will be hosting the daily NASCAR Now programs on ESPN2? This lack of information is certainly interesting, given the fact that the first on-air date of this program is now only a little more than two weeks away. The series returns on Monday, February 4th at 6PM Eastern Time with a one hour show.

Normally, it would be a healthy thing for the NASCAR Now host to be featured on the website and made available to motor sports journalists for interviews. This would be a great time to do just that, with testing the only thing in-progress.

As the Charlotte Media Tour begins shortly for those same journalists, the only ESPN presence in the sport continues to be the "NASCAR Now Insiders" of Marty Smith, Terry Blount and David Newton. Nowhere on the Media Tour agenda does it list an ESPN media opportunity among the stops at race shops and other featured attractions.

So, we have the NASCAR on Fox gang back intact for 2008, and SPEED has confirmed that the Craftsman Truck crew, including Krista Voda, will be back for this season. SPEED also confirmed that the RaceDay, Trackside and Victory Lane gang will be back. The only issue we are waiting on with that group is the host of INC.

Hopefully, Ms. Sobieski's interview means that the ESPN media releases about the 2008 NASCAR season will begin soon. This is a new TV racing season, and everyone gets to start with a clean slate. That certainly holds true for ESPN.

We will keep you posted as the information starts to take shape, and hope you feel free to give us your feedback on Ms. Sobieski's interview and the other TV issues contained in this column. Just click on the COMMENTS button below to add your opinion.

Thanks again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.