The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Poor Commercial Decisions Lowlight of ESPN's "Overkill Coverage" by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday September 28, 2010

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Hello, race fans. It’s that time of the week once again. Welcome to Talking NASCAR TV, where critiquing stock car telecasts are the name of the game around here. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series made their second visits to Dover International Speedway, while the Camping World Truck Series had a standalone race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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On Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series was back in action. However, SPEED’s schedule on Saturday included over seven hours of live coverage from the Barrett-Jackson Auction that also happened to be in Las Vegas. Not only did this scheduling quirk mean there was no televised qualifying, but NCWTS Setup was also excised for the weekend. As a result, Krista Voda was not on air at all.

The Trucks ran under the lights in Vegas, Baby, with SPEED providing solid coverage to go along with it.

Because of the lack of a Setup show, pre-race coverage was very brief. Rick Allen talked viewers through the current point standings, while Ray and Adam previewed the race from down on the grid. There was also a mini-feature on Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday’s classic car collections, a Barrett-Jackson tie-in – as you might expect. The drivers proceeded to talk about their vehicles (how they acquired them, thoughts on them, etc.) that served as the perfect promotional vehicle for SPEED’s other coverage. Their explanations segued into the opening ceremonies, where there were some technical problems with Holly Madison’s command to start engines – but I think that was more on the track’s end than the network’s.

SPEED employed track level cameramen on the outside of Turns 2 and 4 during this race telecast. You could tell, because their camera shots tended to be very disorienting to watch. Either they were panning the cameras too fast, or zoomed in too far. Regardless, it hurt my eyes a little. Rookies need to start somewhere, but it wasn’t a sparkling debut for them.

Aside from the dizzying camera shots, though, SPEED did a very good job of covering this race. There was plenty of side-by-side action, and there were no issues with enthusiasm from the commentators.

However, I do have some thoughts. SPEED is not the best at notifying viewers about what happened to cause certain drivers to retire from the race. For instance, Johanna Long qualified 16th and apparently failed to complete a lap before dropping out due to transmission woes. This team put far too much promotion into their weekend (they actually put out a press release) to start-and-park, and Long is considered an up-and-coming Diversity drive. Her truck did go out and run the pace laps, but we didn’t see any more of her new No. 20 after that on television. Rick Crawford also made his return to the series in the Tagsby Racing No. 73, but dropped out due to overheating problems that were never mentioned. Interviews with both of those drivers should have happened at some point.

Post-race coverage was fairly decent. There were interviews with winner Austin Dillon and crew chief Danny Stockman. In addition, there were comments from Johnny Sauter, along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED left the air. This abrupt departure left me wanting at least a couple more interviews, though, as it didn’t appear that the network was that close on time.

This broadcast was good to watch, but like I said earlier, they need to take some time to give proper updates on drivers who have had problems during the race. Now, I will admit that they did do a good job explaining what happened to Ryan Sieg, but there are plenty of other examples of SPEED simply not doing enough.

Dover 200

Once again, the college football juggernaut threw a wrench into ESPN2’s plans for NASCAR Countdown on Saturday. The Bowling Green-Michigan game, to almost no one’s surprise, ran long (there were seven minutes left at 3:00 PM when NASCAR Countdown was scheduled to start). The decision was made to simply put the pre-race show in a holding pattern rather than move it to ESPN Classic and pre-empt Up Close segments from the late 1990’s.

When the telecast finally came on air, roughly 15 minutes late, there were five interviews, paired with a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on shock setups for Dover. These tidbits were sandwiched around the usual pre-race analysis from the Infield Studio.

Danica, Danica, Danica … wrecked race cars are doing nothing to advance her NASCAR career these days. But that hasn’t stopped ESPN from granting her an interview anytime, under any circumstance, despite a long line of 35th-place finishes.

The more I watch these races, the more I don’t understand why ESPN cannot show more than the first seven to nine laps of a race before going to a commercial. It’s ridiculous. It’s like they’re racing to get to those advertisements. Here, there were two breaks in just the first 24 laps. Same verse, different day, I guess; it’s not the first time we’ve seen that from this network.

During the event, there was a Craftsman Tech Garage feature (via split screen) on shocks, specifically rebound. I’m pretty sure that this explanation was a repeat feature from the Brewer file, but it was still somewhat pertinent to the proceedings.

Since Danica Patrick was back in the field this past weekend, there was quite a bit of coverage of her struggles early on. Danica was still getting substantial coverage despite being two laps down in 34th. However, since I’m talking Danica, I should mention this solid portion of the coverage: ESPN played radio chatter where Danica complained of a vibration in the right front corner of the car. Tony Eury, Jr. basically told her to maintain; but shortly afterwards, the tire blew, put the GoDaddy.com No. 7 hard into the wall and eventually behind it. You should have brought her in, Tony.

On Lap 85, ESPN mentioned that Jeremy Clements’ No. 04 Boudreaux’s Butt Paste Chevrolet was being black-flagged for a stuck valve. This problem allowed fuel to splash out through the small hole where the catch can usually goes. First off, when did excess, leaky fuel become an offense where you can be black-flagged for it? There was a time that Kenny Wallace drove an entire race at Infineon Raceway with that problem. Isn’t the lack of fuel mileage and having to make an extra stop for gas punishment enough? Also, if this issue was happening, why not show Clements’ car so the viewers can see such a rare problem on a race car?

Another issue was when Kevin Harvick’s Chevy filled up with smoke right at the point that Elliott Sadler and Drew Herring had their huge crash exiting Turn 4. But ESPN chose not to touch on this issue until after all the cleanup was complete, the red flag was withdrawn, and pit stops had already been made. Dr. Punch gave an explanation from pit road about the fire inside of the car five laps after the restart. This incident sounded quite serious, yet it basically doesn’t get covered for 15 minutes? Ridiculous.

ESPN also found a way to be in commercial when all four of the yellows came out on Saturday. I’ve never seen this bad luck before. I know it could be argued that they might have caught the big wreck, but it happened while they were still in break.

Post-race coverage was fairly standard. After talking about Kyle Busch’s brand new Nationwide Series record (11 wins in a season), ESPN did post-race interviews with Busch, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson, Trevor Bayne, and Danica Patrick. There was also some wrap-up discussion from the Infield Studio.

This broadcast was not the most engaging race to watch. ESPN showed some side-by-side action, but there was too much focus on Kyle Busch, and way too much on Danica Patrick, even after she returned to the race following her crash. The instances I’ve mentioned above are things that should not be repeated in the future. ESPN, you’re leaving fans in the dark on certain aspects of the race. You cannot do that and hope to maintain a decent audience.

AAA 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to action. The full weekend schedules on ESPN, ESPN2, and SPEED resulted in Happy Hour practice not being aired on television at all. Granted, we still got to see the fireworks in the first Saturday practice, but fans may have been a little in the dark as to who the best contenders would be on Sunday. Let’s just say NASCAR Countdown didn’t exactly do much to alleviate this confusion, choosing to focus on the Chase rather than the race itself. Hard to hold an audience when you’re not advertising the product you’re showing that day…

A substantial amount of Countdown was dedicated to the whole mess surrounding Bowyer and his penalty. This part of the show included a recap of the Sylvania 300, the failed inspection, the consequences, the press conferences from Friday, the Harvick-Hamlin confrontation, Childress interviews, etc. Tim Brewer gave a demonstration of how Bowyer’s car would have looked at the height sticks, using Clint’s quarter theory. Richard Childress did a live interview on air, as did Bowyer. Mike Helton even joined in on the party from the broadcast booth. Yes, it was the big story, but this much? Pure overkill. However, overkill is standard operating procedure for ESPN (see, LeBron James: The Decision).

The Kevin Harvick – Denny Hamlin feud was one of the big stories leading into Sunday’s race; but after nothing failed to develop on-track, questions linger as to whether it was covered too much in the pre-show by ESPN.

There was a feature on Kevin Harvick as well. This segment was basically the five-minute version of what “Riding Shotgun : Kyle Busch” should have been had ESPN not tried to tie it in to Kyle Busch doing the ESPN marathon. Here, Harvick was followed around for the week leading up to the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol. I’ll admit that this portion of the program was interesting to watch, far less ridiculous than the Kyle Busch reality show.

A random occurrence was the appearance of a question to drivers: “If you were in the military, which branch would you choose?” It more or less copied the Bumper to Bumper segments on NCWTS Setup. Of course, since some of the drivers have military sponsorship, some of the answers were obvious, but it was interesting nonetheless to hear what the drivers would say.

In response to recent complaints about constant breaks, I decided to try something new on Sunday. While watching the race, I used the stopwatch function on my iPod Touch to time the length of the commercial breaks during green flag action. I know, this move is a tad ridiculous. It’s the race broadcast equivalent of counting profanities in movies, like what users do at screenit.com. But what I found is that commercial breaks typically run 2:30 to 3:00 in length. Using Jayski’s commercial data, it means that there was just over ten minutes worth of commercials per half hour during the race. This is roughly three more minutes than a typical primetime show.

Race coverage was once again focused on the Chasers. I will say a good amount of time was spent on A.J. Allmendinger when he was leading the race; however, after he was forced to pit with the equivalent of a tack stuck in the right rear tire, his coverage fell off quite a bit.

With all the green flag racing on Sunday, ESPN only did two Up to Speed segments during the event. The first of these did not occur until Lap 283, while the other was a dreaded reminder of what time of year it is. That’s right; the Chaser-only Up to Speed is back in play. I am highly opposed to this concept, as it ignores drivers that are up front and having good runs in favor of those in the Chase.

Speaking of drivers being ignored, there always seems to be one each week that has a great run, but gets minimal coverage. Sunday, that was Paul Menard. Even Matt Kenseth, who is in the Chase, got ignored to a degree. ESPN never really covered the work that was done to his Crown Royal Ford. I was thinking that he was meat after the blown tire; but in the end, he was the first car one lap down in 18th. They just wrote him off for the day without following up.

The most ridiculous thing that viewers will take away from Sunday’s race was the fact that someone at ESPN thought it was a good idea to take a commercial break coming to ten laps to go at a track where laps in the race take roughly 24.5 seconds. What were they thinking? The only reasoning I can come up with is that they needed at least one more break during the race to satisfy sponsor’s needs. This race was relatively quick, so they likely assumed that there would be 35-50 laps to go at this point. The only good thing that I can say about the move is the fact that this break was the shortest one of the race, two minutes in length.

Since the race finished about 4:20 PM on Sunday, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. However, ESPN chose not to fill it all. There were interviews with Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus. In addition, there were comments from Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and A.J. Allmendinger. There was then a check of the all-important Chase points before ESPN left for Sportscenter, 20 minutes early.

Granted, a good chunk of Sportscenter that early on Sunday is dedicated to the race, but it’s just not the same as if the crew already at the track was in charge, rather than Sportscenter anchors in Bristol, CT. They could have easily done more interviews, or broke down the race some more at the track until 5 PM.

That’s all for this week. Next week, the Chase continues with the annual jaunt to Kansas Speedway. The not-so-wide open spaces will play host to the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series this weekend. In addition, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards will race on Thursday evening. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series will have their season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday night. Here’s your listings for the week (all times are in Eastern Daylight Time, please adjust for your time zone):

Thursday, September 30th
Time Telecast Network
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM ARCA Racing Series Kansas Lottery 150 SPEED

Friday, October 1st
Time Telecast Network
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00 – 6:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus
6:00 – 7:00 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED

Saturday, October 2nd
Time Telecast Network
11:30 AM – 9:30 PM American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:30 – 6:30 PM Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300 ESPN2
6:00 – 9:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 Versus
6:30 – 7:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN2*

Sunday, October 3rd
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
1:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 ESPN
7:00 – 8:00 PM The SPEED Report SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 PM NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN2

*Tape-Delayed

Note that there is no coverage of qualifying for the Nationwide Series, nor the first practice session on Saturday for Sprint Cup due to the Petit Le Mans coverage from Road Atlanta, combined with plenty of college football action on the ESPN family of networks.

Next Tuesday, I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts produced by ESPN. The third telecast will be a toss-up between the ARCA race and the Izod IndyCar event; whatever doesn’t make the website will be covered in the Critic’s Annex in our Frontstretch Newsletter.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact the ESPN or SPEED Channels personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

SPEED
ESPN

As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Five Points to Ponder: Kyle Keeping Pace, Who’s Out Of The Chase, And Denny Saving Face
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Dover-Kansas Edition
No Bull: Can The Third Year Be The Charm For Joey Logano?
Which Is Worse: The Chase, Or A Single Dominant Driver?

Contact Phil Allaway

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mikeyfan5599
09/28/2010 07:59 AM
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If NASCAR wishes to understand why their ratings are going south, they need to look no further than ABC/ESPN. What is with this anyway. ABC was running Sunday Afternoon movies instead of the race. NASCAR needs to seriously look at dropping ABC/ESPN and get a partner willing to show the race and put some real coverage into it. Thank goodness for HotPass At least I can watch the race through a drivers windshield, which is better than watching commericals all day and a little bit of the race.

yankeegranny
09/28/2010 08:22 AM
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Thank god for raceview. At least I know my driver is in the race, even if it is a computer program. The regular tb coverage is bad beyond description. I think your comments are way too positive. I would describe the weekend coverage as putting lipstick on a pig, but that would be insulting the pig. I finally hit record and turned over to the NFL to watch the Steeelers. Way better show.

Mike
09/28/2010 09:24 AM
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I believe that as ratings decline, the Networks get less revenue per commercial, so they have to show more commercials to make up for the loss in revenue. It’s a short term gain at the expense of the long term health of the sport.

DoninAjax
09/28/2010 09:27 AM
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Here’s a good indication for the decline in TV audience:

Number of times selected drivers were focused on:
J.J. Yeley – 5
Elliott Sadler – 13
Scott Speed – 19
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 21
Dave Gilliland – 26
Travis Kvapil – 27
Clint Bowyer – 54
Juan Montoya – 65
Joey Logano – 90
Denny Hamlin – 105
Jeff Burton – 120
Kyle Busch – 121
A.J. Allmendinger – 132
Jimmie Johnson (race winner) – 215

The last one says it all.

DoninAjax
09/28/2010 09:33 AM
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Another reason for the commercial overload is the fact that the networks paid wayyyyy too much for the “privilege” of showing the “races.”

Will there be another TV deal at all?

midasmicah
09/28/2010 10:34 AM
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I’m at a loss of words to describe nas$car’s current condition. Let’s just say it’s critical.

Margo
09/28/2010 10:56 AM
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The commercials are simply a fact of life . Thats how the shows get paid for . But promos for up coming shows are very very tiresome . Instead of every single c- break , how about the networks cut down self promotion to two or three times an hour . And since there are fewer and fewer sponsors willing to put money into nascar programming , the few that do get shown over and over and over again . And they aren’t real good quality commercials to begin with . Montel and his scam for instance . And then there are the commercials from a year or two ago that we all got sick of seeing . After a layof , they’re brought back out of mothballs to irritate us again . Great marketing strategy .

Jerry
09/28/2010 11:13 AM
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The way I saw it they went to break with 12 laps to go, not 10.
Just seems if you are going to do a job at least give the correct information. People in the media are just as bad as Nascar is.
And what is the problem with the attention that the 48 got over the other cars? He lead the most laps and won the race. Maybe they should just talk about the 29 who was the points leader going into the Chase and how he is falling apart now. From his fans page it seems to be the crews fault. The same crew that had him in the points lead for how many weeks?
But please, if you are going to give us the facts, at least get them right. Please

Shoeman
09/28/2010 01:39 PM
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Holy crap, I was watching the commercials Sunday afternoon and it must have been a slow day or something because out of nowhere they broke to a Nascar race. WTF?

Phil Allaway
09/28/2010 02:53 PM
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Hi, couple of clarifications. The final break was with 10.5 laps to go. It was two minutes long guaranteed (I timed it).

The races in the Chase (with the exception of Charlotte) were moved to ESPN due to apparent conflict with e/i requirements on the West Coast. Of course, that’s garbage due to the fact that FOX aired the races that started at 1pm Eastern earlier this season.

Michael
09/28/2010 08:48 PM
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DUMP ESPN/ABC. I can’t believe that NASCAR seems to forget that when ESPN starts their coverage NFL is right around the corner, and that’s all you see on ESPN is NFL, look at how many shows they have dedicated to NFL. If NASCAR was smart they would give FOX more races, meaning through the Summer, like through Daytona in July. Then let TNT/NBC take over the rest of the way.

djones
09/29/2010 12:41 AM
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Phil, you were right, it was a track issue when Holly gave the command. We heard nothing in the stands, then the engines started.

My biggest peeve about the CUP race was going to comml with 10 laps to go. WTH? Never should a comml be shown with 10 laps to go regardless where they’re racing.

what the?
09/29/2010 12:55 AM
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hey jerry, you got jj stain on your chin.

Chris
09/29/2010 02:16 PM
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‘I’m at a loss of words to describe nas$car’s current condition. Let’s just say it’s critical.’

Couldn’t agree more midasmicah with disastrous races and disastrous coverage it keeps on swirling around into possible oblivion.

Chris