Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ESPN's Sorry Race Coverage

Most NASCAR fans have tolerated the ESPN coverage of racing since their re-entry into the sport. The complaints, however, have grown from a slight buzz to an overwhelming roar. NASCAR fans are the edge of revolt. Uniformly, they agree something needs to be done with ESPN's presentation of the sport and perhaps even the people presenting each race.

The clear majority of fans would like someone - anyone, at this point - to take the play-by-play role from Dr. Jerry Punch. In just 2 races, he has made fans pine for Ralph Sheheen, Mike Joy, and even Bill Weber. Most of these fans would like to see Allen Bestwick, regarded as one of the best in the business, moved back to the booth. Bestwick excels in whatever role is given to him, so that works. I'm fine with Bestwick going back there. I also think that the Andy Petree experiment needs to come to an end. This is ESPN's third year with the sport, but Petree, in my opinion, still sounds nervous at times and the broadcast doesn't flow as well as it should. Maybe that's not the way everyone feels, but the chemistry isn't there the way it is with the FOX and TNT teams.

ESPN has been at the sports broadcasting business long enough that they have a certain way of presenting their broadcasts. The problem with that is NASCAR broadcasts don't follow the same flow of stick-and-ball sports. ESPN wants their play-by-play guy to ask questions of and solicit comments from the analysts while they call the action. With Punch, he overloads the first part of that and as a result we end up watching a four-hour interview. Jarrett and Petree both do more calling of on-track action than Punch. Why is this?

As a quick aside, Punch used to be able to do play-by-play. I've been fortunate enough to get some cool DVDs over the years, and Punch has done play-by-play. He did the Winston 500 at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt's last Cup win. The booth consisted of Punch, the late Benny Parsons, and Ned Jarrett. The calling was excellent. The broadcast was excellent. I was on the edge of my seat knowing the outcome beforehand.

Punch used to be a competent play-by-play man. He isn't anymore.

Going back to the ESPN way (ESPNification), their other broadcasts make use of a pre-game, halftime, and post-race show. In much the same way of the race broadcast, analysts are asked questions, they answer, and maybe we learn something new. This also doesn't translate into their vision of the races. We get Bestwick, Rusty Wallace, Ray Evernham, and Brad Daugherty from the pit studio at random times, often while the green flag is out. Then at other random points, Tim Brewer appears to give a 10-second description of something that Petree, Evernham, or a trained dog could answer. FOX and TNT have usually been much more judicious in their use of the pit studio. TNT excels in this, as Larry Mac is able to run to a car, talk to the booth, or handle things just fine on his own.

The pit reporters have their good and bad moments, particularly bad for Vince Welch and Shannon Spake this past weekend. Dave Burns is able as is Mike Massaro. All in all, they are less noticeable by comparison.

So, what's the solution? It isn't just moving people around to new places. That would be a start, but as John Daly points out in a way few can, it's the overall race presentation that has been horribly done. Somehow, as fans, we've got to make sure ESPN hears us and gives us a broadcast we can watch. Otherwise, the folks at MRN and PRN will call the rest of our races as we listen in to them in our driveways.

3 comments:

Stephanie said...

I agree. Love DJ though, want him to stay. They need Bestwick in the booth Big TIME!

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