Sunday, June 3, 2012

Final Sunday: Taking A TV Timeout

Update: This is my third and final weekend of putting the Sprint Cup Series race on the DVR. Last week, I watched highights on ESPN and SPEED but never viewed the entire race. Dover is the final FOX race of the season. There will be a post available for your post-race comments after the telecast is done. There are several columns below open for comments. I will return next weekend for TNT coverage. Thank you.

Original column: The man in the picture is Lou Cappi. He was featured in an ESPN photo essay showing people who work in support roles at football games. In the old days, Lou's position was called a "red hat." On the football sidelines, connected to the TV truck, would be a man standing there in a red baseball hat. He would signal to the officials on the field when to hold play for a TV commercial. The red hat made him easy to spot.

Now, orange mittens are all the rage in the NFL and they even come with a snappy logo. Lou crosses his arms when TV needs a commercial break and the officials will stop play after a possession or turnover. It's a system that makes sure the TV advertising revenue is inserted into each game every week.

In addition to the timouts called by each team, TV networks agree in advance with both college conferences and the NFL to a series of commercials that are going to be required in each half or quarter. These are the dreaded TV timeouts. They are much more annoying for those at the game than for the TV viewers.

The ultimate goal of both the referees and the TV networks is to insert the commercial inventory with as little disruption in the flow of the play as possible. Sometimes this is not a problem and the stoppages go almost unnoticed. However, sometimes the orange gloves get crossed just as the home team finally gets a drive going and the crowd reaction is less than favorable.

Needless to say, there are no TV timeouts in NASCAR. In fact, the TV network is not consulted on when to restart the race after an incident. NASCAR does its own thing and TV chases them from green to checkers. Opening the door to TV asking NASCAR to extend a caution flag would not yield good results.

Here at The Daly Planet, I tried to take a TV timeout a while back but readers were persuasive in asking me to continue to provide a place where opinions about various NASCAR TV and media topics could be discussed. Well, that was then and this is now.

I'm crossing the orange gloves and taking a break. The current Sprint Cup Series TV coverage is so frustrating that I am joining others in simply waiting to watch another live race until the TNT coverage begins. It was the last telecast that forced this move.

Here are some comments from veteran fans after Darlington:

Walter: "Since becoming a NASCAR fan in 1958 and attending my first race in 1960, I classify myself as a serious race fan. So I make my comments with a lengthy history and must say that never in 50+ years have I been so disappointed in the product shown by the broadcast partners."

JR: "I think there was a good Sprint Cup race at Darlington, but we didn't get to see or hear it! I've been quiet too long! I found myself yelling at the director for missing passes and showing insignificant shots. DW was totally distracting and usually wrong in (his) various comments. What a disgrace to the sport I love!"

KoHoSo: "I am tired of close-ups that give no sense of what is going on, something that is only fueling the fire that NASCAR is "boring" this year. How can we really judge if the racing is boring if all we see is one or two cars at a time all the time?"

SBaker: "I believe that I have watched every race from Darlington since ESPN began televising auto racing way back when. I even remember the Wide World of Sports attempts at showing the Southern 500. Last Saturday night I had to turn the TV off. Between the poor camera work and the Orators from Owensboro, I just couldn't take it any more."

Last week a firestorm erupted when I republished comments from a 2011 Jeff Gluck article at SBNation that the NASCAR TV networks do not care what fans think about the TV coverage. Gluck repeated his comments to me in a recent Twitter exchange.

"Those words from last year ring true today. The TV networks don't care about fan input and that's my point then and now," tweeted Gluck. "It does need to change, but they don't care what you or I think. They're going to do what they want."

Readers may remember that last year was the year of the fan. The NASCAR Fan Council was lauded as changing the sport for the better. Fan input on social media was actively encouraged. What the fans wanted was the product that NASCAR was going to put on the track.

This year fans are the enemy. Darrell Waltrip called the NASCAR Fan Council and Twitter out for forcing knee-jerk reactions in the sport. He said fans just don't know what they want. NASCAR's Robin Pemberton called fans needy for asking TV to show the debris when a caution flag was thrown. Select media members blamed fans wanting crashes as the reason for negative press about the sport being boring.

To say it is a confusing time to be a NASCAR fan might be the understatement of the year.

Watching Sprint Cup Series races on TV was once a joy. Now it is a burden. What used to bring excitement now brings only frustration. It's not the racing on the track but the fundamental inability to "see" the race on TV and get impartial analysis from the announcers that provides the anger.

The familiar hyper-tight coverage of FOX mixes only two cars on camera with even tighter in-car camera shots. There is no perspective, no chasing the best racing and no updates on stories inside of the race. The Kurt Busch pit road saga confirmed that. It's also become clear that telecast sponsors are given coverage priority. Nothing drove that point home like Danica Patrick and Go Daddy last Saturday night.

FOX paid the money to produce the Sprint Cup Series races through the end of 2014. The network has the total right to present the events on TV as they wish.

What they do not possess is the ability to make me watch the product they produce.

So, I'm taking a Sprint Cup Series TV timeout. Media columns will return next Monday and appear on select weekdays. The TDP Facebook page is being discontinued. The live (#TDP1) race stream on Twitter will end, but the TDP Twitter account (TheDalyPlanet) will continue to be active.

Thanks for your patience, I wish things were different but they simply are not. Happy to have your comments on the topics discussed in this post. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.

Dr. Dirt Says Goodbye

Dick Berggren is now 70 years old. Sunday will be his final race working for the NASCAR on FOX team.

There are many unique personalities in motorsports media, but Berggren tops the list. Driver, announcer, reporter and editor are just some of the things he has done in his life. By the way, he taught college psychology for almost a decade after getting his doctorate from Tufts University.

A New England native, Berggren has already been inducted into the National Sprint Car and New England Auto Racers Halls of Fame. After ending his driving career, Berggren moved to reporter and then editor of Stock Car Racing Magazine. In the print world, he may be best known for launching Speedway Illustrated over a decade ago.

I met Berggren working on the ESPN telecasts of NASCAR in the 1980's. Professional, personable and informed summed him up best. He has worked for many TV networks over the years, but FOX proved to be his longest run. He is ending a TV career that in total spanned 32 seasons.

"As a colleague and friend, Dick has had no equal in the 40-plus years I've been in this business," Mike Joy told the Detroit Free Press. "He always has been the best-researched reporter on the ground. Whatever the event, Dick by far is the best-prepared pit reporter this business has ever known, and he always has brought a great degree of professionalism to every telecast he has worked."

Berggren will be focusing his time on seeing more New England area racing, spending time with his wife Kathy and coordinating a New England motorsports museum that will be located at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That is not to say the transition away from TV will be easy.

"I'm dreading the 2013 Daytona 500 because I won't be there on pit road as part of that team," Berggren said. "That will be hard, but nothing is forever and I understand that. But, it's time to move on."

Best of luck to Berggren as the newest chapter of his diverse life unfolds. His contributions to NASCAR TV are tough to summarize. Needless to say, he had a passion and pursued it vigorously. It will be interesting to see where he pops-up throughout the remainder of this racing season.

We invite your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button. Comments may be moderated prior to posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

Last Chance For Romance

It was 1978 when the song "Last Dance" was released on the "Thank God It's Friday" movie soundtrack. It was sung by the queen of disco, the late Donna Summer. The song won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and peaked at #3 on the Billboard Top 100.

In the song, Summer knows this is the last song of the night and her last chance:

Last dance, last chance for love.
Yes, it's my last chance for romance, tonight.

I need you, by me. Beside me, to guide me.
Cause when I'm bad I'm so so bad.

So, let's dance the last dance.
Let's dance the last dance.
Let's dance the last dance tonight.

Sunday afternoon the NASCAR on FOX team will take to the air from Dover International Speedway. No matter how good the telecast, the racing or the finish one thing is certain. This is the last dance for the FOX gang in 2012 and change is on the horizon.

It's been a decade of NASCAR for FOX Sports. The network came along when NASCAR needed a shot in the arm and delivered it. Larger than life personalities like "Ole DW" and "Larry Mac" mixed with "Hollywood Hammond" to become household names. Chris Myers served as the straight man in the infield while Mike Joy directed traffic in the TV booth.

Along the way, things changed. FOX began it's TV run with the passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in Daytona. Since that time the sport has meandered through good times and bad. The cars have changed, most of the drivers have changed and the Sprint Cup Series now races for a whole different kind of chase.

The FOX gang has aged before our eyes. The original excitement has given way to conversation and stories, perhaps as much a function of middle age as anything else. Agendas are plentiful and carried out with no apologies. FOX knows that come hell or high water it has two more seasons of Sprint Cup Series telecasts signed, sealed and delivered.

The fly in the ointment this season has been social media. NASCAR fans on Facebook and Twitter number in the millions and make their voices heard on topics relating to the FOX telecasts on a regular basis. Now, instead of a wall between the broadcasters and the consumers, there is a direct pathway for those consumers to make their voices heard.

Most individual members of the NASCAR on FOX team are regular Twitter users, many of them updating daily on both their TV and personal activities as they travel the racing trail. It's been an experience that has paid dividends and also come at a price. Sometimes, that price has been steep.

The FOX TV formula for years has been the same. The only change this season was the move of Jeff Hammond into the field as a roving reporter and the introduction of Michael Waltrip into the Hollywood Hotel. This left three announcers in the TV booth, one roving reporter, a host and analyst in the infield and four pit reporters. Ten voices in all.

The pictures remain the same. Other than Talladega's pack racing, FOX continues to move quickly to framing two cars in the camera shots as soon as possible after restarts. In-car camera are used frequently, despite the fact that seeing the actual racing on the track is often sacrificed. FOX makes an effort to replay in-car angles of drivers in accidents.

The Digger nonsense is long gone, but the various sponsored features now dominate the telecast. As we have seen over the years a segment of racing is followed by a commercial break. The most difficult task is to then reset the scene for TV viewers after the commercial is done. This often involves changes in position, cars out of the race, cars waved around and the order of a restart.

The senior management at FOX Sports has changed. The new executives in charge have made no bones about the fact they are looking at changing SPEED into a mainstream cable sports network in 2015 after the current NASCAR TV contract expires.

Dick Berggren has recently confirmed that this will be his final year as a pit reporter for FOX. Darrell Waltrip is now 65 years old. Negotiations on the new TV contract were supposed to be finalized this summer. Instead, they have yet to begin. It's certainly an interesting time as the FOX portion of the season draws to a close.

This is your opportunity to offer an opinion on the 2012 NASCAR on FOX season as the network prepares for it's own last dance. The brothers Waltrip, the lack of RaceBuddy, the side by side commercials and the pictures selected to show to TV viewers have all been hot topics this season.

Dover is a fitting end to the FOX portion of the season. Drivers pound it out on a concrete track with the casino in the background and the horse racing track in the infield. Surrounded by wagering FOX watches for the final time and gets ready for the hand-off to TNT for the summer.

Did you get what you wanted from NASCAR on FOX this season? Did you use other media while you watched the FOX telecast? Did you appreciate the analysis of the Waltrips? How would you rate the pit reporters? How about an opinion on Jeff Hammond in his first season as the roving reporter?

Happy to have your opinion on these and any other NASCAR on FOX topics you may want to discuss. Comments may be moderated prior to posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by.