The Frontstretch: Where Did The Old ESPN Go? by Mike Neff -- Monday March 5, 2007

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Where Did The Old ESPN Go?

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday March 5, 2007


The enthusiasm surrounding the return of ESPN to the sport this season might be a surprise to new fans, but for those that have been around awhile, expectations were high for good reason. When no one else was clamoring to put NASCAR on TV back in the 1980s, it was ESPN, then a fledgling sports network, who embraced the sport and developed the formula for successfully broadcasting auto races. As ESPN carried NASCAR, the sport grew into a national phenomenon, creating a broadcasting standard that would be hard to reach for those who would attempt to in the future. And the suitors looking to develop NASCAR’s TV future would eventually come in droves; with NASCAR’s success, the sport was a highly sought after property for networks by the end of the 1990s. When the contract ran out for ESPN in 2000, they lost out to NBC and Fox for the rights to continue broadcasting the sport. It took ESPN six years to win those rights back, but they have them once again, earning the right to seventeen Nextel Cup races as well as the entire Busch Series schedule. Unfortunately, it appears that during those years away from broadcasting the sport, they forgot what made them so successful in the first place.

One of the things that made ESPN so good at covering racing what the fact that they did just that; they covered the race. No matter what, the most important thing about the show was always the action on the track. If something happened, you saw it, no matter how deep in the field the action was; if there was a battle going on for 15th place, and it was the best racing on the track, then that was what they showed to the fans. Even when it came to commercials, the race took priority; if a caution flag flew during a break, ESPN would break out and come back to show what was happening on the track every time. It was an automatic.

Well, that devotion to the racing doesn't seem to be a priority anymore. Already, on two separate occasions this year, ESPN has actually gone to commercial as a caution flag was flying on the track. Apparently, the folks who are calling the shots are from the same Columbia School of Broadcasting as the people at NBC and Fox. The focus is no longer on the racing…just like so many of us have seen with the sport itself, the focus is now on the almighty dollar. It’s now become more important to fulfill the sponsor obligations at the exact point that they are scheduled rather than worry about letting the fans see what is going on at a critical point during the race.

Justifiably, NASCAR fans are getting tired of this mindset. The reason the fans watch the races is to see the action on the track, to understand the strategies that are unfolding, and to know both when and why a caution occurs. The fans want to see the action as it unfolds; they don't want to see a tape delay of something that happened while they were being told about natural male enhancement for the fifth time. They'd rather see a pass for the lead than watch Dale, Jr. hocking DirecTV for the 20th time during the race.

It is a simple concept, really, when you think about it: spectators watch racing to see racing. For those watching on television, they want the same thing; show them what is going on and let them see the best action on the track. It would be refreshing to once again see a tight race for 15th instead of a strung out parade at the front of the pack. Surprisingly enough, it’s actually OK to show the frontrunner who was caught back in traffic picking his way through the field instead of talking about the leader and his commitment to the adoption of orphaned dogs or his charitable work.

Bottom line, ESPN needs to do some serious soul searching. They laid the foundation for stock car race coverage in the modern era, and they were the first to do just about everything when it came to the sport of NASCAR. Now that they have it back, the fans deserve to see what they used to see… only better. Give spectators the action, show them who is having the best race on the track, and give them the best product possible…just like they used to receive. This sport is fantastic to watch: it can take so many twists and turns, and the fans should get to see every nuance of the event. ESPN, remember what made you the best at race coverage…give it to us again.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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03/06/2007 08:11 AM

“the focus is now on the almighty dollar”

The almighty $$ is the whole purpose of the broadcast! ESPN broadcasts NASCAR so you will watch the commercials!

You’ve got to remember back when ESPN was showing NASCAR, they probably got a tenth of the advertising revenue as they are getting today. Because of that, the expectations of the sponsors was smaller. Now they pay big $$ for the advertising space, and they want it as scheduled. Just like NASCAR wants a truckload of Almighty $$ for the rights to the broadcast. It sucks for sure. But that’s reality.
03/06/2007 08:31 AM

I wish the sponsors would understand that showing the same ad at every single break during race coverage is actually counter-productive. NASCAR fans are THE most loyal to their sponsors, but after the GM President’s Day commercial ran a zillion times, I never want to see any GM car or truck again — EVER.

03/06/2007 08:56 AM

ESPN is bringing a lot of big issues with them this time. I was thrilled when I heard we were getting them back, only to be so disappointed at what they are doing. It must be true about a statement I heard, the more coverage a certain team gets, the more kickback the station gets. Hm-m-m-m-m! Also, where in the world did Brent Munsberger come from? He is a wonderful football commentator, but PLEASE not NASCAR!!!!!!

M. B. Voelker
03/06/2007 09:09 AM

I have been saying all along that the fans who thought ESPN would be perfect were viewing the past through a rosy haze.

There is almost no difference between ESPN football coverage and Fox football coverage. Why would there be any significant difference in their race coverage?

03/06/2007 09:14 AM

You hit the nail right on the head with this one Mike!!! I, along with all of us that watch Nascar, were happy to see ESPN return. That however was short lived. I finally thought that we would be watching the racing like you said. but no, gotta show those commercials before anything else. I watched the Busch race on Sunday (what’s up with that anyway ), and had to turn the sound down for all the yammering.What’s up with the non stop talking? And Rusty, JUST SHUT UP ALREADY!!! I guess we just have to get used to a little bit of racing interupting the commercials again

Larry Hagerman
03/06/2007 09:24 AM

NASCAR, like every other mainstream sport in America is now a avenue for revenue and not entertainment. Those who dump the bucks in the sport don’t view it as I do. I increasingly getting frustrated on Sundays, but do you really think anything will change?

03/06/2007 09:43 AM

The reason ESPN isn’t what it used to be:
NA$CAR/Bri Bri France/Mike Hellton now control what ESPN puts on the screen and when. I always liked Dr. Jerry Punch but Sunday I was ready to “Punch” him in the mouth..I got so sick of hearing JPM! Be Quiet Already, we know his name!

03/06/2007 10:06 AM

I’ve pretty much given up on NA$CAR and so have alot of my friends. We have been watching and attending races for 20 years+. Brian has urinated away most all of what his predecesors had built. Pure greed sure brings out the best in folks. What people need to realize is that there is other and alot better racing out there. I’ve started following the Dirt (WoO) cars, what a blast! If you want to see real racing then check them out. Folks that want to complain should do it with their wallets. That is the only thing NA$CAR will understand. Remember that ESPN is a casualty of this situation, they do what the big money tells them to do. Just my 2 cents.

Al Torney
03/06/2007 11:09 AM

One thing that didn’t happen when Bob, Ned and Benny were in the booth was additonal attention paid to Dale Jarrett by Ned. I know about the first Daytona 500 win but that was understandable. Why would Rusty’s son command soo much coverage. And the Montoya coverage annoyed me to no end and I like Juan Pablo. I’m tired of the whining about commercials. These networks paid big money for the priviledge to televise these races and they have to recover some of it. The new fans just don’t understand the way it was when there was no coverage of NASCAR on the tv. Be thankful for any that you get now.

03/06/2007 11:28 AM

Maybe now all the NASCAR faithful will realize the good racing is open wheel not the commercial driven NASCAR parade. Why is it every week we get 2 hours of prerace (or more). Couldn’t the commercials be shown at that point instead of seeing less than 50% of the actual race.

ESPN used to show the race as things were. Not candy coated for the sponsors and mission control. There were little frills and filler, just the racing, and they remembered it is after all just another race.

I actually listened to Sundays busch race on ESPN spanish, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to the announcers who absolutely drove me nuts. I finished listening in the car which was kinda exciting!


03/06/2007 12:07 PM

At least the television coverage doesn’t change the race. Last Sunday I attended a college basketball game and the television timeouts nearly ruined the experience for those in the seats.

03/06/2007 01:51 PM

What was up with ESPN showing Juan Montoya’s wife/girlfriend on half the screen for the last two laps? This is maddening and makes me want to turn on the radio and turn off the tube.

03/06/2007 02:34 PM

This is just another example of sports broadcasting today. Anyone who had a chance to see the ESPN of the old with the best Nascar announcer crew ever, got to see something great. But this is no different than the difference of coverage in any other sport. I had a chance to watch some old superbowl games before this years superbowl and it was amazing the difference. There were no “Bigger than the game” announcers and there was so much more on the screen. No million miles an hour graphics everywhere or graphic overlays. Just not what we get anymore. Heck I am in my mid 30s and miss that old coverage. But that is what some exec thinks we need and it allows them to get there revenue. So that is the way it is going to be with whomever is over the broadcasts.

03/06/2007 06:52 PM

I’ll tell you what I remember, a lot of people complaining about ESPN when they had it the first time. It was the best out there because it was the only one out there for quite awhile.

ESPN went to commercials during key points in the races just as much as NBC , TNT, CBS and FOX did. ESPN showed Kim Burton crying her eyes out every time Jeff Burton was leading. ESPN was the first to show a stinking glowing red brake disc for several racing laps during every Bristol and Martinsville race. Of course, a lot of you weren’t on the internet at the time so you didn’t know that you were supposed to get all indignant about it.

I remember people complaining BECAUSE espn would show the drivers that “didn’t matter” like Dick Trickle, Dave Marcis and Buckshot Jones, in the back of the field.

What I’ve seen is that it doesn’t matter who shows the races, there’s always something for someone to complain about if they really want to.

03/06/2007 07:44 PM

I agree with the comments and want to add one more > where did we get the broadcast crew from and what the heck is that on top of Tim Brewer’s head ? I ain;t seen that kind of “do” since espn was a baby…
I despise the announcing crew. I long for Buddy Baker- Eli Gold- Ned Jarrett over a basketball player any day.

Brian France Sucks
03/06/2007 09:30 PM

KW has it right. If you want to watch racing, watch the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. Or the Lucas Oil Series, or the NALMS, or the SAS, or the MACS, or the MARS, or the BoB. All of these are ultra competitive, fun to attend, and feature drivers that do not begin every sentence with a dumb-ass sponsor reference. Two of these series are on Speed T.V. (Lucas Oil and WoO), and the Lucas Oil guys are actually on this week. At least one of the venues these series visit are within driving distance for most people. They race hard, they have personality, and when there is a caution you can be damned sure what caused it and why it was thrown. NA$CAR is a joke, and not worth watching anymore. ESPN is no better than FOX, and is a shell of its former self. The FOX guys are all yes men; you never hear a word of dissent from them about NA$CAR. Bring back Eli Gold and Buddy Baker if you want good announcing; if you like shameless promotion of MIKEY/TOYOTA, stick with DW.

Big Bob
03/07/2007 01:00 AM

Can SOMEONE tell me why Rusty Wallace gets paid to speak about ANYTHING? The man is a tool as well as spiteful and a bit unintelligent. I agree Musberger must go, too but there are a number of great non-race sports anouncers who could do a great job in the sport. That said, WHY is Allen Bestwick not anchoring either Fox or ESPN’s race shows? the man is perfect for the job; poor guy must have a really bad agent.
My opinion; probably doesn’t smell good to anyone but me. Feh.


Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Special Winter Sprint Car Series set for January debut at Cocopah Speedway
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Want to find out more about Mike Neff? Maybe see all the articles he's written here at the Frontstetch? Check out his article archive and bio page then!