The Frontstretch: ESPN Putting More Into Their Race Broadcasts Than The Super Bowl? You'd Be Surprised by Mike Neff -- Monday October 15, 2007

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During the recent meeting between the Frontstretch and Rich Feinberg, the Vice President of Motorsports for ESPN, there were quite a few interesting facts that came to light that many of NASCAR's fans might not be aware of. In an effort to give the network some of the credit for what they do in broadcasting races – since they seem to take so much blame – here is some of what we learned about the Worldwide Leader In Sports’ coverage this season, and what they do on a weekly basis that many of you might not realize.

ESPN is a much different company than they were when they left NASCAR coverage, and NASCAR is a very different sport than it was when ESPN left. Back in the day, there were a handful of cameras and a dozen or so employees who put on the coverage on a race weekend. Now, the company uses up to 75 cameras to cover the action that takes place during a race, with types ranging from track positions, to crew cams, to wall cams, to pit cams, to in-car cams, to handheld roaming cameras. Each and every one of those cameras is HD. Fox, NBC and TNT put on HD broadcasts, but ESPN is the first company to use HD in every single camera and every single microphone involved in the process. Nothing that is broadcast is sent over the air non-HD. There are 250 people involved in the production of a race weekend and most of those people are onsite for four days while the event is being put on the air.

It was pointed out to the Frontstretch more than once this past weekend, that the amount of technology utilized in putting on a Cup race is bigger and better than that used to broadcast the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is a one day event, and the NASCAR broadcast is put on 38 different weekends throughout the year; it is the longest sports season of any sport in the United States. As an example of the cutting edge nature of the technology, the HD in-car camera technology arrived in Daytona this February the morning of the race. It was delivered by a gentleman in a briefcase who was flown to the track in a chartered jet to make sure that it was successfully handed over to ESPN in time for it to hit the airwaves for their very first race production back in the sport.

ESPN is also the first company to put two female pit reporters on their broadcast team for their Cup races. There have been female pit reporters before, but there was only one on any of those broadcasts. ESPN has two and also has a female reporter in the pit studio for their cut in coverage during the races. They are also the first company to have a full-time African American announcer which, along with the female pit reporters, emphasizes ESPN's embracing of diversity, which is very well aligned with NASCAR's focus on diversifying its sport.

The pit studio that ESPN created is the only one of its kind in sports. It has a full glass wall that runs the length of the structure to allow an unobstructed view of the track for those people and cameras inside. The lighting for the entire studio is LED lighting, which is so cool that you can touch it with your hands without risk of injury. The lighting is much lighter than traditional lighting and is also much cooler. The combination makes it cheaper to transport the studio from race to race and requires less cooling, both items that help reduce the impact on the environment of having the state of the art facility. The cameras utilized in the studio are all robotic and have technology that allows them to adjust for lighting automatically, so there is no need to change the lighting in the studio as conditions change outside of the studio.

The tech center, where Tim Brewer gives fans detailed explanations of what is going on with cars and part and pieces on cars, is the first of its kind. It has never been done in motorsports. The other broadcast networks had done cut away cars and graphics, but ESPN moved it indoors, to a studio, with an interactive computer that allows Brewer to call up any images he wants and manipulate them however he wants to. The advantages of having it indoors are obvious: weather is taken out of the equation, lighting can be controlled and noise if virtually eliminated. All of these benefits are designed to make the viewing experience more enjoyable for the fans at home.

Every person that works on the ESPN broadcast is encouraged to think outside the box and change the way things are done. When ESPN won the rights to broadcast the Cup series again, they didn't go out and sign an agreement to lease broadcast facilities to do the races. They designed the trucks from the ground up. They went over every detail, from having the monitors on a concave wall to reduce the amount of picture distortion, to the location of phones and buttons that are used by the personnel putting on the race broadcast. The trucks were then painted like the car haulers that take the competitors race cars to the tracks so that they became a part of the environment and were obviously incorporated into the sport.

When it comes to the playback of the action, it is remarkable what ESPN goes through. There are 66 sources of playback for replays during races. Monday Night Football has 17. There are 19 servers in the radio truck that record all 43 channels of radio communication, along with all of the video output from the cameras, for the entire race. Race teams often contact ESPN to have playback from their radios to confirm what was discussed as the race progressed. The statistical information that is provided about drivers is updated in real time. The entire media guide for all of NASCAR is in a computer database that is stored in a production truck. The information is updated every lap as the race progresses, so that the information that is displayed in graphics on the screen is a current and accurate as possible. When a driver leads laps during a race, they are added to their cumulative totals for the year and their career at the instant they cross the start-finish line. It is rather amazing that the data can be updated so quickly.

The power that runs this whole conglomeration comes from a Caterpillar generator that is taken to every race right along with the production trucks. It allows the television crew the added security that, even if there is a power failure at the track, they are plugged into an uninterrupted power supply, with the appropriate redundancy, to allow them to keep the show going even if the track doesn't have power.

The final thing that stuck out very prominently about the people that put on these race broadcasts: every one of them is a passionate race fan. No one was a production major who was doing racing just because it was the assignment they drew when they were given a job at ESPN. Every single person, from the producer, to the director, to the pit producer, to the graphics people, to the guys who run the cables from the generator to the trucks, is a truly passionate, dedicated race fan. These people put their hearts and souls into making the race broadcast as good as it can possibly be, and hopefully better each and every week. They definitely embody the mission statement of ESPN: To server the fans.

Bashing the broadcasters is something that NASCAR fans do as religiously as bashing the drivers they don't like. And there are certainly things that happen during productions that will drive fans nuts. But there is no doubt that ESPN does not spare any expense in trying to bring the very best production they possibly can to the fans each and every week of the 38 weeks that they are on the air during the race season. Can they do some things better? Sure they can. But do they do a pretty darn good job when you get right down to it, you bet they do.

ESPN Facts and Figures:

10 - Number of months ESPN's NASCAR fleet will be on the road (February-November)

13 - Mobile units at each race (including pit studio, mobile office, in-car camera trailer, uplink trucks, ESPN Deportes)

19 - EVS servers for race and studio production (high-speed digital recording)

20 - Miles of video, audio and power cable needed for 1.5-mile track

26 - Tracks ESPN's mobile fleet will visit in 2007

38 - NASCAR events ESPN's mobile fleet will attend in 2007

52 - NASCAR races to be televised live by ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN on ABC in 2007 (full 35-race NASCAR Busch Series season, final 17 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events)

60-75 - HD Cameras used by ESPN to televise a NASCAR race (including in-car cameras)

150 - Hotel rooms needed each event for ESPN personnel

250 - Credentialed ESPN personnel working on NASCAR each week

78,000 - Weight in pounds of ESPN traveling studio for NASCAR Countdown shows

167,340 - Projected combined miles ESPN's core of five mobile units will log in 2007

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



©2000 - 2008 Mike Neff and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Ken in Va.
10/16/2007 03:11 AM

With 75 cameras and 250 people involved, why is it not utilized properly for the viewers? Maybe the director is overwhelmed by all of the choices he has as it seems much of the action is missed. They must use 5 of the cameras for telecasting the race and 70 to keep track of Jr. With the finest and most equipment available giving a sub-par telecast, it appears the problem is with personnel making the decisions as to what will be shown in the brief periods between commercials.

10/16/2007 04:36 AM

Yes, all the best equipment in the world won’t do the job properly if the decisions made by those running it are flawed.

John Park
10/16/2007 05:06 AM

All that, and they still have far and away the lousiest Nascar coverage and reporting of all who cover the sport !!

Mike C
10/16/2007 05:36 AM

This still comes down to the Producer. He made the decision to put these awfull analysts on tv . He decides who the pit reporters pay attention to , and who they ignore . He decides which driver is on the screen and which drivers are ignored . The producers for both networks are solely responsible for the terrible broadcasts , and the sharp decline in viewers .

Margo L
10/16/2007 05:43 AM

The amazing thing is that the networks seem to take no notice at all of the fans’s views about the broadcasts . They , like nascar , could’nt care less what the fans think .” We know what’s best so sit down and shut up “ should be included in the mission statement for both .

Mr. Daly
10/16/2007 05:55 AM

Normally, when a reporter interviews a big organization like ESPN for their NASCAR coverage, they try to get another source of information to help them understand how much of what ESPN is telling them is just simply self-serving. If you would like to stop-by or email me, you could read what thousands of viewers have felt about the ABC coverage and get some of the “other” facts for yourself.

10/16/2007 06:23 AM

I recall, just a few short months ago, my wife and I anticipating the change in coverage from TNT/NBC to ABC/ESPN. The highlight of the TNT coverage was Kyle Petty in the booth. But, knowing he wouldn’t be there full-time, there wasn’t much to look forward to in the broadcasts. Enter ABC/ESPN, or, more appropriately, “A day at the races with Junior”. I have no problem with Junior – I think he’s a great, humble guy who really appreciates and respects his fans, etc. But to spend SOOOOO much time following the 24th-place car around the track when there are SOOO many other stories! Bobby Labonte, riding the colors of “Pink For The Cure”, stayed in the top 10 for most of the race, only to be shown heading into the pits near the end, WITH NO EXPLANATION, only to finish 12th. What happened? Do any of those guys actually watch their monitors? Or are they all too busy watching themselves in the mirror as they “analyze” what they (or the producers) think the fans want to hear? My wife and I have only been serious fans for three years, but we can’t even count on four hands the number of stupid mistakes being made by all the “experts” during the broadcasts. The only light at the end of the tunnel may be DJ retiring so he can replace Rusty Wallace. Love or hate DW, there is simply no comparison to the FOX coverage on TV.

M. B. Voelker
10/16/2007 06:41 AM

This may have clarified some of the reasons that ESPN coverage is so inadequate.

First the “female reporters” and Daugherty:

Wendy Venturini and Krista Voda are reporters who happen to be female. Jamie Little and whats-her-face are “female reporters”. Think about that distinction and the effect on the broadcast should be clear.

As for Daugherty — he’s OK, I suppose. Though I don’t grasp why a former owner is expected to pretend to be “just a fan”. I don’t know what relevance his skin tone and ethnic heritage are suppose to have to anything. If he can contribute unique experience and insight from an owner’s point of view then good. Otherwise he’s a waste of airtime that could be spent on the race itself.

But this seems to me the most revealing line, “Every person that works on the ESPN broadcast is encouraged to think outside the box and change the way things are done.”

IMO, ESPN’s failings in Nascar broadcasting are almost exclusively due to this “we must re-invent the wheel” attitude.

The box is there for a reason. Boxes hold things. They keep them neatly contained in their proper place. Dumping a box on the floor and throwing it away results in a mess.

ESPN could have studied the Fox, TNT, and NBC broadcasts from recent years to identify the best features of each network’s race coverage. They could have adopted those best features from each network and tried to bring them to perfection. They could have built on the solid foundation of what was and created something better — metaphorical chest of drawers or set of bookshelves as an improvement on the box.

Different does not mean better. All the technological wonders in the world are useless in the hands of an organization that has overlooked the fact that their main mission is not to wow us with set design and graphic but to present today’s race as it unfolds.

If anyone is interested, I said a lot more about that here:

Joe Weatherly
10/16/2007 07:21 AM

Ya Right, You can put a wig on a cow and call it Princes Di, But it’s still just a cow. ESPN has runied this years NASCAR coverage. It is un-watchable. Please for God’s sakes pull the plug on ESPN! and just give it to FOX for the year. Fox stinks, but at least they know what their talking about.
Somebody please put Rusty out to pasture and send Mr. Punch home. And stick Draft Track up Rich Feinberg’s butt.
Joe W

Mike C
10/16/2007 07:26 AM

Mr. Daly is certainly an expert on self serving . There is no more useless and irrelevant blog on the internet than his . Nothing could be more unimportant to race fans than a writer who spends all of his time analyzing tv shows that are almost universaly derided by the very fans he is attempting to reach .

Bob Whitehead
10/16/2007 07:52 AM

All that technology is impressive, but then we have Rusty Wallace, the personal Penske reporter. Oh, and all the noise is not eliminated from the cutaway car studio as long as Tim Brewer can be heard talking about “total devastation” and “dead puppies”. I love Technology, but this just proves that it’s the people that make the difference. When does Fox get it back?? Hurry!

10/16/2007 07:59 AM

I just heard people complaining about ESPN’s Monday Night Football coverage. I’m glad the race fans aren’t the only unhappy viewers.

10/16/2007 08:42 AM

70+ cameras, 250 people, and nobody caught Jeff Gordon making the winning pass. Suddenly he was in front of Tony and dropping the hammer. They may be “passionate, dedicated race fans”, but I couldn’t do a poorer job broadcasting it to the fans at home. These 250 people seem to be completely out of their element. From the producer to Rusty to Brad to the blonde girl on pit road.
Why do they give Brewer all that fancy equipment, if all he ever shows is the valve head breaking off of the stem and breaking the piston.
For more information log onto anywhere but and type in keyword “How To Broadcast A Race”!!
As was said before: Technology by itself does not mean better.
Replace Rusty with Dale Jarrett. Replace Punch with Bestwick. Put Berrgren down on pit road. Get rid of Daugherty and Musberger all together. Raid some of the talent from Speed for the balance, and shake up the production staff.
Just my two cents.

10/16/2007 09:00 AM

What the main issue is for race fans is that all the technology and studios and all the extra “stuff” is used in place of the race itself. ESPN could show less commercials if it did not have so much $$$ tied up in all the fluff b.s. Imagine the backlash if they played in game studio outakes during the actual playing of a play in football. I do not care what the infield/pit studio people have to say the anaylst in the booth could do that or eliminate it all together. ESPN tries to do too much which causes the racing to be missed. HERE IS THE PROBLEM, cut back on the garbage and show the race, pertinent pit road reporting, pertinent in race (Cautions) of the studio car, and do commericals 15 laps not 7 laps. You would save about 70 people not being there if the stuff was taken out. Draft track/lock is pointless. It looks exactly the same every week.

10/16/2007 09:06 AM

We wanted a baked potatoe with our steak and they served us Au Gratin; yeah they were potatoes but we ordered a baked potatoe!!

10/16/2007 10:44 AM

Good one, Mike.

The TV coverage isn’t perfect, but man, these whiners are getting out of control.

When TNT gave us nearly uninterrupted coverage of the July Daytona race, I thought it was fantastic. And was amazed that the TV whiners still came out in force.

They pissed and moaned about DW and Larry Mac and counted the days to Jerry Punch. Now that the good doctor is in the house, they hate ESPN.

John Daly’s latest rant is that the LA ABC affiliate, which is in a different time zone, and some other local stations, chose to play the evening local news rather than the pre-race show (wait a minute, don’t the whiners complain about the pre-race shows being too long?). Anyway, the REAL deal that sent Mr. Daly into a squealing conniption hissy-fit was that the LA station sent the viewers back to the race in time to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines,” but…wait for it…WITHOUT ANY WORDS OF TRANSITION.


Come on people. Get a grip.

Little E hosts a great show called “Back in the Day.” Maybe some of these TV bellyachers should watch an episode or two and ponder what it was like back before the races were on TV.

The TV coverage ain’t perfect. But it’s just fine, thank you very much.

10/16/2007 11:19 AM

I go to live races and even though it is a challenge I keep up with whats going on. I cannot see the whole track just the part infront of me. I almost got excited during the last race when they left a race camera on the same backstrech shot for a whole lap. I gave me that I am there perspective. Of course is was short lived and its follow the leader or whom ever is the topic at that time. Raceing is about the whole race and were left only seeing a little bit. ESPN has so many camera’s that they switch them so often its impossible to figure out what the real race is doing. We only see the top 5-7 cars. It’s nuts. They will come back around and we do not need to follow a single small group of cars.
Thats what made the old racing kinda cool. The cameras were set and left you with 3-4 views and you could watch most of the field.
Remember watching R. Gordon in the lead at Talladega? He was (really) until a commercial. When we returned he was gone never to be heard of again until BL touched him and put him in the wall. Still no mention how he came back from last place to seventh. This is the garbage that pisses everyone off. Follow the leader and the chasers (only three now so it should be easy). I really could care less about the guys on TV cause I just ignore them like a baby crying at church. It’s whats on screen that drive me to watch college/pro football.


symphony mike
10/16/2007 11:37 AM

Want to have your cake and eat it also? Turn down the volume control on the TV and tune in the broadcast on MRN/PRN. The radio guys call a great race and usually you can watch action that is not being described on the radio, thereby obtaining a more comprehensive view of the event. It works every time!

Kevin in SoCal
10/16/2007 11:38 AM

I agree with M.B. Voelker. At least 75% and probably 90% of NASCAR fans dont care what color or gender our reportors are, we just want someone who knows NASCAR and can show us on screen how much they know and care about the sport. So far, only Alan Bestwick and Andy Petree have shown that, with Tim Brewer close behind. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace know NASCAR but they dont know how to translate that knowledge effectively onto TV. Brad Daugherty knows how to bring excitement to the broadcast, but he comes across as someone who has been watching NASCAR only this year. I’m hoping they keep him for next year as I do like him because he’s not a yes-man all the time. With a year experience he will be great, as he has shown when he was in the booth for the Busch races a couple weeks ago. Jamie Little and Shannon Spake (the blonde everyone refers to but cant remember her name) both come across as stiff, like they’re not really comfortable on camera. Shannon was great last year with Marty Smith on Speed’s Wednesday night show I cant remember the name (DOH!). And Erik Kuselias on NASCAR Now is just horrible. He’s arrogant, augumentative, and has very little knowledge of the sport he’s talking about.

10/16/2007 11:54 AM

It could be worse. I really wish ESPN would listen to some of these comments though. The production crew needs to stick with the talent calling the race. I hate when Rusty starts talking about some action on the track and the camera’s switch somewhere else.
I like the diversity, I do. I like Daughtry. He actually likes NASCAR. I don’t like Kuselias, he doesn’t care about NASCAR and never has. They might as well get Jim Rome to do NASCAR now.
TNT did a lot of things wrong, but I think the way they did Daytona in JULY is the way to go.
The people who complained about that, well, at least they have a home on the DalyPlanet.
ESPN is trying, lets give them a little more time before we call for their heads.

10/16/2007 11:55 AM

The producers and directors at Fox and ESPN certainly have agendas . Goldburg and Feinberg show us Gordon non stop, along with Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. and if you don’t think so , just use a stop watch sometime and add up all of the on screen time and the amount of time the announcers talk about those three drivers versus all other drivers in the race . And even when Gordon doesn’t qualify well or isn’t even in the top 10 during the race , pit reporters are still stationed in his pit to breathlessly give us every detail from his crew chief and capture his car owner on camera.
This isn’t objective reporting , it isn’t honest jounalism , it isn’t even very smart, because it sure contributes to the decline in viewers .
These two producers get paid by Dupont to show and talk about Gordon , but meanwhile there are many other stories that deserve mention , but those sponsors refuse to pay for what they should get for free if network race coverage was legitimate .

Mike C
10/16/2007 12:14 PM

Here’s an idea if the networks truly want to improve the race broadcasts . Start by eliminating most of the analysts and pit reporters because they are nothing more than background noise . Then replace the remaining analysts with people that the fans actually want to listen to . Allen Bestwick , Dale and Ned Jarret , Wally Dallenbach Jr., Kyle Petty , and only if absolutly necessary DW , though he wears thin pretty quick . They are the only analysts worth having . Then eliminate the technical features and cutaway car because there are very few if any fans who don’t allready know most of that information . That along with decent directing and camera work , and the viewer numbers would start to rise immediatly .

10/16/2007 12:23 PM

Note to future visitors to the ESPN production compound, don’t drink the kool-aid offered by Rich Feinberg.

The ESPN broadcasts should not be judged based on effort, or cost, or the devotion of the staff. Their results speak for themselves – they do a poor job of showing the racing and helping the viewers understand it.

I thought that it couldn’t get worse than DW and LM on Fox . . .
Then I thought that it couldn’t get worse than BW & WD on TNT . . .
Finally along comes ESPN who should be able to provide the whole package, but hasn’t.

I’m Disappointed.

10/16/2007 12:50 PM

OK…they brag about having 2 female pit reporters. Then why not get good ones? You know, like Wendy Venturini from Speed?

Or Put Dr, Jerry back on pit road where he belongs and bring in a good play-by-play announcer like (their own) Alan Bestwick?

And please, or please, put Rusty Wallace somewhere else on race day….like maybe a thousand miles away. Get Dale Jarrett signed for 2008 ASAP!

10/16/2007 04:14 PM

“Brian” Has it right..there is just too much extra garbage that the networks, not just ESPN, feels that we as the race fans need to see. Just because there is the technology doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be used. As pointed out if other sports used as much of the extra’s that is used during the televising of a NASCAR event fans would be heading to the headquarters with pitchforks..can you imagine a World Series game with the network breaking away every 5 minutes to explain what a curveball is in their own network bullpen. I realize that a NASCAR race is a long event but just stick to covering the race..and with someone other than Rusty..well, actally there are a few others come to think of it. We, as fans have many times voiced our opinions on the lack of coverage for any driver that isn’t in the Chase or doesn’t have “Jr.” attached to their names. Perhaps its because of all the extra’s, such as “draft track” that takes away any time that could be used for covering the actual race and all its participants. The extras plus the commercials takes away from alot of the racing coverage..the commercials are a necessary evil,(although they could be timed better), but the extras we could get away with not using. Lets face it, watch a F1 race or IRL..they don’t clutter up the race with all the extras, just the race ma’am, nothing but the race. One last point, do we really need an hour+ coverage for prerace? It probably wouldn’t bother me so much but I’m getting really tired of the lack of post race interviews.

10/16/2007 04:47 PM

Bob Jenkins where are you to save us from this mess.

10/16/2007 05:52 PM

Amen to Bob Jenkins . I also like Bob Varsha ,David Hobbs and Steve Machette from the Formula 1 broadcasts .

paul sparks
10/16/2007 06:33 PM

Is it me or does everyone long for the “old school” CBS and ESPN? (Ned Squier/ Ned Jarrett) I recall Mike Joy going out to the internet and asking for viewers responses after the CBS Talladega debacle (the Irvan-Earnhart wreck, and CBS implemented many of our suggeswtions. My advice to ESPN is to
a) get the cameras that zoom, it seems like the images are more distant on ESPN than the rest (I’m unsure if its my NON-HD TV)
2) return the thru the field segments at least 3 times during the race.
3) Put Dogherty and Brewer in the pitcenter and ditch Kolber. I don’t understand her restating the obvious.

10/16/2007 07:24 PM

So how,with all of this technology, etc. do they still manage to screw it up? I can’t wait until it goes back to ANY OTHER NETWORK!

10/18/2007 10:04 AM

The reason that Gordon, Stewart, and Earnhardt are all that these “reporters” talk about is that they don’t know the sport that they are supposed to be experts covering. By the amount of responses to this, most fans concur. They don’t know the names, or history of any of these drivers! It is obvious. And if that is not the reason, then it is worse. Then they are inept. And ESPN has tried to pawn off inept journalists on us.

10/18/2007 10:08 AM

The best broadcasters covering NASCAR races today are from Speed Channel.

Rick Allen and Phil Parsons are great!! Super knowledgable, relevent talk, on top of the action that is on the track.

Gerry Blachley
10/19/2007 02:17 AM

“Musberger” you must be kidding and the show there is no race just show, DR. P SHUT UP your mouth just drons on and on, ESPN please go broke if you get ride of 90% bs you will not have to have none stop commmmmmercals, oh well I can not spell and you have no idea what you are doing…………


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