Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Updated: Hurricane Season Comes Calling

Update: Tropical Storm Hanna slowed down and is only expected to be passing Northern Florida on Friday afternoon, so the Nationwide Series race from Richmond looks good. Unfortunately, it is forecast to be over Virginia on Saturday evening. Weather.com has the projected path.

Living on the Southeast coast of Florida I have had the pleasure of three hurricanes over the past couple of years and a tropical storm just last week which left behind fourteen inches of rain as a present.

The picture above is the eye of Hurricane Jeanne literally over my house. We were almost a month without power. That little white blotch to the left is Lake Okeechobee. To give you some perspective on the size of the storm, Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake in the US behind Lake Michigan. It has its own zip code.

Now, the tropics are swirling once again and this time things are not looking too good for the ESPN gang on Saturday night. The Rock and Roll 400 in Richmond is the first Sprint Cup Series race that ESPN is producing in the ABC package.

As of 8PM on Tuesday, Tropical Storm Hanna was expected to become a hurricane, slide up the Florida coast and be in the Virginia area on Saturday night. The rainfall in advance of the storm may well play a role in the Friday night Nationwide Series race as well. Saturday does not look good at all.

ESPN's David Newton updated host Ryan Burr on Tuesday's NASCAR Now about NASCAR's contingency plans. Newton's comments were that NASCAR would focus on the Sprint Cup Series race and move the Nationwide Series to Sunday or even Monday if weather cancelled the events on Friday night.

In terms of the big ABC race on Saturday, his comment was that NASCAR would stay and try to race on Sunday morning. This would presumably get the teams and transporters out of the track and on the way back to North Carolina in a timely fashion late Sunday afternoon. If worse came to worse, they would try to race on Monday morning.

Newton did not mention anything about the ABC or ESPN contingency plans. The ABC Network does not have network sports access on Sunday mornings across the four time zones of its affiliate stations. Sunday afternoon has a live WNBA game at 1:00PM Eastern Time followed at 3:30PM by the live IRL race from Chicagoland. Cross ABC off the list.

Sunday morning finds ESPN itself involved in the two-hour highly-rated NFL Countdown show. That program runs from 11AM to 1PM live and then transitions to a college football weekend wrap-up show. Cross ESPN off the list.

It looks like ESPN2 will be the intended target for the Cup Series in the same way that Richmond seems to be a potential destination for Hanna. We must make sure to add to this a term that we Floridians know all too well. I think it is one of the greatest phrases of the English language.

We have to remember that all of this is still in...say it with me..."the cone of uncertainty." Possibly the best term ever invented since "actions detrimental to stock car racing."

Basically, no one knows where a force of nature like a hurricane is headed so teams will be experiencing a very interesting weekend of weather as they travel from the Mooresville, NC area to suburban Henrico County, Virginia.

We will continue to add updated info to this post throughout the week and try to keep everyone updated on the series and the TV network plans for the weekend.

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ESPN Event Coverage May Be Shifting

It is time once again for Monday Night Football to begin. As most fans know, ESPN has been in-charge of this franchise and last season the coverage bore a striking resemblance to ESPN's first year of NASCAR telecasts.

NFL fans were furious over the fact that the game on the field was sometimes nothing more than a distraction. There was an entirely different agenda going-on in the broadcast booth.

It featured ABC celebrity interviews, long-winded discussions on various NFL topics and lots of fancy graphics and features. What is did not feature was the football being played on the field.

Click here for a summary of what just one guest did on-the-air during a game. Jimmy Kimmel wound-up being banned from ESPN as a result of this effort.

Over in NASCAR land, this (click here) column spoke to the insanity of the ESPN coverage. On that day, the pre-race TV show for the Busch Series race at Talladega never even mentioned the race. The entire program was focused on the next day's Sprint Cup Series event and the top Cup drivers.

Unfortunately, there was one little problem with that approach. ESPN was not televising the Sprint Cup race. The network wanted to be associated with the big stars and the big series, so that is exactly what they did.

Once ESPN's Sprint Cup coverage got underway, this column (click here) spoke to the disaster that was Pocono in 2007. The "shut up and drive" weekend featured X Games athletes being interviewed, the infield studio on-camera discussing issues and pre-recorded features being played back. All of these things were done while 43 drivers were racing under the green flag in the background.

Just like Monday Night Football, NASCAR racing had been relegated to background noise for ESPN's network-wide agenda of conversation. Also, just like NASCAR in 2007, the fan reaction to ESPN's event coverage had been a tad less than favorable. The network was roundly ridiculed in the media and across the Internet.

With the coverage of the Sprint Cup recently underway and the MNF franchise just about to begin, reporter Jim Carlisle (click here) caught-up with some ESPN executives and heard a very new tune. It was a melody that might be music to the ears of some NASCAR fans once The Chase begins.

"I think we may have been trying to over deliver for all audiences and casual fans," said Senior Coordinating Producer Jay Rothman. "You could call us the old ABC on steroids, but the truth of the matter is we are a sports network and people tune into ESPN for a sporting event."

"One of the things we heard was you're trying too hard. Well, we're going to pull back. We may not put 20 pounds in a 5-pound bag; we'll give you 5 pounds in a 5-pound bag. But guilty as charged: I think we were trying to service too many and found we were doing too much."

ESPN Senior VP Jed Drake was directly involved in putting together the 2007 NASCAR coverage and the Monday Night Football package. Drake is the Executive Producer who is responsible for how events produced in the field by ESPN look on-the-air.

"The feedback that we got was that they love our coverage, they want us to focus on football and that when we do that, we do it really well." With The Chase about to begin, things for NASCAR fans may be looking up if Drake changes the word "football" to "racing" in that sentence and then delivers the goods.

Earlier this season, Drake took ESPN Senior NASCAR Producer Neil Goldberg to a track in the Midwest. They decided to fix a big problem that had been a thorn in the side of ABC for several seasons. It is a little race called the Indy 500.

Stripping the hype, the glitz and keeping Brent Musburger on a very short leash, Drake and Goldberg put on one of the best Indy 500 telecasts in recent memory. Click here to read a TDP column about the event coverage.

What this proved is that when the pressure is on for big events, ESPN can re-focus on the action and leave the hype to the endless talking heads of studio programs from First Take to SportsCenter. People tune-in to event coverage to watch the athletes, not the announcers.

“We've become more aligned with what they (fans) want versus what we think they want,” said Rothman to the San Diego (click here) Tribune. He added ESPN learned more of its audience was avid fans, not casual fans. "And we may have been not aligned in that area over the last couple years,” Rothman said. He admitted ESPN was trying to serve too many masters.

“But the truth of the matter is, we are a sports network and people tune in to ESPN for a sporting event," said Rothman. "There are many other entertainment options out there."

While Rothman is not involved in NASCAR coverage, both Drake and Goldberg play key roles in the entire NASCAR on ESPN TV package. Richmond will be the highest-profile Sprint Cup race of the ESPN production team's season. It will also be the first Cup race in prime-time on the ABC Television Network.

If this new ESPN focus on directly covering the action can make its way to the ABC portion of the Sprint Cup Series package, it will make the same dramatic difference that the commitment to football rather than conversation will make for the MNF franchise.

The "Rock and Roll 400" will take to the air on ABC at 7PM ET on Saturday night. The challenge will be to cover the entire field, to show the best racing on the track and limit the interruptions under green flag racing. This TV crew did an outstanding job on the short track at Bristol, so Richmond may be just what the doctor ordered to start the broadcast network coverage and kick-off The Chase in style.

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Logano Shines On E:60

The well-coordinated coming-out party for Joey Logano has included selected media appearances on NASCAR's TV partners. While Logano has done well on shows like RaceDay, Trackside and NASCAR Now, Tuesday night brought a new challenge.

This time, ESPN has sent a crew from the sports magazine show E:60 to open-up Logano's life away from the track and introduce his family as well. It was reporter Tom Farrey that drew the assignment of spending time with Logano. Interestingly enough, even for a cynical news reporter, one got the feeling that Farrey had a blast.

"Hype isn't nothing, you have got to live up to it," said Logano of his Nationwide Series debut. Paraded around like the second coming, Logano was realistic in understanding the challenges of an 18 year-old in a national NASCAR series race. "I'm also glad I did," he said smiling as the footage of his victory rolled by.

"He was way better than anybody else," said Mark Martin of the first time he saw Logano. "He was way better than any other 14 year-old that I'd ever seen in the country."

It was Logano's parents who were most effective on-camera talking about their son. This was a normal couple who had never been involved in racing and after seeing the talent of their son, had decided to make a change to focus on him. Apparently, its working.

"I'm one of the most competitive people in the world." said Logano. "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser. I don't like losing at whatever it is, I get mad. I'm a nice, mellow kid until you get me in a competitive situation."

Farrey got a ride from Logano in a Richard Petty Racing Experience car and came through unscathed. When asking Logano if he really knows how fortunate he is, the correct response came back. "I know I'm a lucky person," Joey answered.

E:60 reported that Logano's parents spent over a million dollars supporting the racing activities of Joey up to this point. They related that he was home-schooled and basically has always had exactly what he needed to get to this point.

Farrey's parting question to Logano was if he could be the best driver ever? "I'll try and let you know," said Logano smiling. That seemed like a fair way to close the interview. This program re-airs at 11:30PM ET on Thursday.

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NASCAR TV/Media Stories

There are a new group of TV/Media stories out recently, click on the title to read the entire story. Comments can be left below.

Little And Spake Make TV History As Broadcast Duo (tricities.com)

Dr. Jerry Punch, The Voice of NASCAR (Tricities.com)

Jarrett Follows In Father's Footsteps to Broadcast Booth (Mlive.com)

Why did ESPN air "the worst" characterization? (Thatsracin.com)

ESPN Disses The NASCAR Fan One More Time (NASCAR-bits.blogspot)

DW: I Just Don't Get It (Foxsports.com)

Are We There Yet? Is Anyone Paying Attention? (Frontstretch.com)

ESPN Is The Mark of Inconsistency (Frontstretch.com)

We will continue to add some more media and blog stories as the build-up to Richmond continues. To add a comment, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you.