Race Weekend Central

5 Questions for 2011: Does NASCAR TV Need to Be Fixed?

New points. New pavement. New attitude. As NASCAR heads towards Daytona in 2011, all around the sport are focused on the positive, looking for the perfect season to recapture a nation and get what once seemed like limitless upward momentum jumpstarted again.

Can they do it? As Speedweeks dawn, both the Bud Shootout and 53rd Daytona 500 usher in a long list of questions along with them, the answers to which could define the sport for not just this year but the coming decade. That means it’s time to get the blood pumping and start that 2011 analysis, figuring out just exactly how the controversies, the Earnhardt drama and the NASCAR tweaks both on and off the track will work out.

This week, we’ll get you thinking each day on one of five big questions facing stock car racing in 2011; as we try and find the answers, 10 staff members you know and love will come at you with our usual blend of facts, opinion and most of all… a sense of humor. After all, we’ll all need to laugh if these predictions blow up in our face come November…

Today’s Season Preview Topic: There’s been increasing criticism in recent years over NASCAR’s TV broadcasts. What do you think is the biggest hurdle these broadcasts have been facing, and what network needs to revamp its coverage the most for 2011? How?

Phil Allaway, Senior Editor/Frontstretch NASCAR TV Critic: I’m probably the expert here because of my ranting over the past couple of seasons. In my opinion, there needs to be a back-to-basics movement. Show the fans the action on track, networks! I don’t care whether it’s for the lead or for 36th. Gimme… and don’t give excessive coverage to certain drivers if they don’t warrant it (Danica Patrick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, etc.).

I can’t do anything about the commercials that the fans hate so much. “Side-by-Side” might help, but that just means that instead of 10 minutes of regular commercials per half-hour, you might get 22 minutes of Side-by-Side per half-hour to pay for the coverage since seemingly everyone is losing money on the TV deal. Since very few companies are willing to deal with Side-by-Side commercials for Sprint Cup races, and they’re not making enough money as it is, they need to sell more commercials.

So, I think you’re going to see even more of the dang things this year than last, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Eventually, in my opinion they’re going to have to work out some kind of agreement, similar to soccer, where companies can pay to sponsor segments of the race or the networks can renegotiate the deal altogether.

Online media is a quagmire. TruckBuddy is in for the full Camping World Truck Series season for free. Sweetness. By comparison, Sprint Cup only has the six TNT races, while Nationwide has zippeditty-do-dah. FOX and ESPN despise Turner Sports, who own RaceBuddy (and basically, NASCAR’s Digital rights) so don’t expect much.

Note: For more on the television broadcasts, check out our related story that previews the 2011 lineup for all NASCAR-associated networks from Phil Allaway.

Toni Montgomery, Senior Editor: I think there are two problems. First, as has been the case for a long time, the broadcasts tend to focus on a few pet drivers or those running up front and everyone else may as well not even be there for all the attention they get. Yet those drivers have fans watching the races, too, and some of those drivers are very big names with fans that may be speaking with their remotes.

Second, NASCAR is very determined that fans WILL love the Chase and I often feel like they have enlisted the networks to push that agenda, emphasizing from a sickeningly early time “if the Chase started now” and “if the Chase ended now,” two of the most pointless things they could possibly bore viewers with. To solve that, first they need to make a better effort to cover ALL the drivers. Second, stop trying so hard to sell the Chase.

Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: Ever heard of the KISS principle? Keep It Simple, Stupid! Get rid of all the pre-race crap. Get rid of all the talk, talk, talk about things that no one gives a crap about. Other sports don’t sit there and explain game after game what a “first down” is, or what traveling is, or what “icing” is just on the off chance that someone “new” may be watching. Fans are watching to see racing. If someone new is paying attention, more than likely they are watching it with an already established fan and can ask them for explanations.

The problem with NASCAR and NASCAR-related broadcasts is simply overkill. There are shows ad nauseum about the sport to the point that it is like another fake “reality” show. No one network is to blame here; trust me, they ALL are guilty! So FOX, TNT, SPEED, ESPN… quit focusing on making it a “show” and simply air the “game!” You got to have the fans “wanting more” to get them to tune in or attend a race. Treat the races for what they are; a bonafide sport. Instead, as it stands now NASCAR is being perceived, especially by the casual ADD fan, as nothing more respectable than “professional wrestling.”

Mike Neff, Senior Writer: The only modification to the race broadcasts I’d like to see is increasing the coverage of the entire field instead of focusing on the leaders and a handful of other drivers. The race involves 43 teams that are all working equally hard to try and compete on a weekly basis and they all deserve some air time during the broadcasts. I’d also like to see the pre-race shows cut down to 10-15 minutes from their current form. Honestly, there is no need to have hour-long pre-race shows; all three networks need to look at this issue of oversaturation as it’s hurting the sport.

Garrett Horton, Frontstretch Contributor: Most complaints seem to be directed towards the announcing and amount of commercials. With the exception of Kyle Petty, Rusty Wallace and the Hollywood Hotel, I think each broadcast team is pretty solid. Even Andy Petree has improved lately. The commercials are a necessary evil, but if they could do the Side-by-Side coverage like IndyCar does, it would lower some of the complaints. Unfortunately, this idea has already been floated before, and the advertisers weren’t happy with the split screen.

It also wouldn’t hurt if ESPN stopped talking about points as they run every lap.

Jay Pennell, Senior Editor: A lot has certainly been said about the television coverage over the past few seasons, but to me I feel the networks have to put a concerted effort to improving their coverage in 2011. Judging by the criticism coming from many fans, it seems the networks – especially ESPN – need to move away from the scripted conversations amongst the talking heads in the booth.

Watching older races from the early 1990s, it was clear the broadcasters were calling the race, analyzing the action on the track and not talking about an agenda the producers wanted to push. Commercials are a necessary evil when it comes to television productions, but I would also like to see NASCAR work more closely with their sponsors and television networks to develop a split-screen system used in open-wheel coverage.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: TV or not to TV… that is the question. Peruse many a racing blog or forum, and you will see comments such as, “I put it on mute and listen to it on MRN,” or “God, I wish D.W. would shut up…” And, while I have no beef with the Boogity, something does need to be done to help spice up the broadcasts.

First of all, there should be a Cairo-type riot outside of the Hollywood Hotel, demanding an overthrow of FOX silly montages of drivers hamming it up in boxing rings or dressed like cowboys. A half-hour walk through the garage and pits is more than enough, Mr. David Hill, before the National Anthem and flyover. While FOX’s camera work and coverage is solid, enduring the arduous pre-race propaganda is akin to the interrogation scene from Taken.

NASCAR networks, also please take note of TNT – get some new blood in the booth occasionally, or make Kyle Petty an integral part of every broadcast. ESPN needs to get Allen Bestwick back in the booth, but it appears that will likely never happen… because Marty Reid apparently is the John Madden of motorsports. (No offense, Marty.)

S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: For me, the TV broadcasts for Sprint Cup races have become too polished. Or too familiar. I really like the TNT summer races; they’re great enthusiasm without too much perfection. ESPN is in second place. FOX… besides shooting any rodents, they need to hold back on the hokey sounds they encourage from their booth personalities. Passion for your sport is one thing – making an effort to sound stupid is another. I love hearing the southern drawl, and I know these guys are it, but when they make up words to be funny, I just want to shut it all off. The radio networks have it down! MRN and PRN are excellent.

Summer Dreyer, Frontstretch Contributor: The biggest complaint I see as far as the TV broadcasts is the number of commercials. All three networks have dealt with criticism from fans over the amount of advertising in the race broadcasts, but right now it seems to be just a sign of the times. One option I really hope they consider exploring is Side-by-Side commercials. It seems to work very well in the IndyCar broadcasts, and while I understand the networks can’t ask for the same amount of money for Side-by-Side commercials, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be more of a long-term gain.

Tony Lumbis, Marketing Manager: First, I think what they should not have done is move the start times back during football season. I’m not a TV expert, but if someone wasn’t going to choose a race over the NFL at the start of both events, why would they do so when they are already deeply involved in the second quarter of their football game?

The things that they should do (or continue to do) in 2011 is reduce the amount of commercials and focus more on the racing. Also, I’m still not sure why NASCAR can’t get sponsors to agree to a Side-by-Side format like IndyCar does.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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