Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Buying Out SPEED Yet Another Potential NASCAR Blunder

As reported in the Sports Business Journal by Tripp Mickle & John Ourand, it appears that FOX has been discussing with NASCAR the possibility of moving a few of their Sprint Cup races over to SPEED. There’s also a bit of a buzz about NASCAR buying into SPEED, essentially creating their own racing network.

Besides having to search the programming guide a bit more often to find our weekly race, what do we feel about these potential maneuvers? Well, it puts a few uncomfortable worms in my stomach.

My first reaction to the idea of more races on SPEED is a good one. I like the less formal, unconstructed coverage that the B-team of commentators brings to an afternoon of cars going in circles. There’s a few more shouts, exclamations and even a bit of impromptu enjoyment to be seen from the booth. Yes, the camera work and production teams are also from the A-ball leagues, but much can be forgiven when honest statements like, “And don’t ask me to show you the debris,” are heard over the airwaves.

Watching SPEED is like leaving Big Brother out of sight. You get the impression that nobody is going to lose their job over an utterance that the viewing audience is thinking, but the big networks would never say.

However, the report on the informal discussions between NASCAR and FOX didn’t say anything about abandoning the premiere racing series to a less than top-notch broadcast team. The idea is to boost the marketability of SPEED and pull a few more dollars out of the cable-viewing public’s pockets. Ew. We should have known. I’d get the DW and Larry Mac show on a different channel and likely see my bill go up. That’s all. Definitely not an improvement over the current FOX offerings.

Then there’s the whisper of NASCAR buying into SPEED. Granted MLB, the NFL, NBA and NHL all have their own networks while also providing a consistent product across multiple broadcast networks. And if we believe the whispers, NASCAR is every bit as big as the other BIG four. So, why shouldn’t they plunk down the money and take over?

See, that’s where the ugliness starts to eat away at the possibilities that a huge amount of archived footage, a sport replete with history and already well trained corporate commentators would bring to a company network. While FOX, ESPN and TNT all play ball according to the NASCAR rulebook, there is always the opportunity to bring hard journalism to the plate when something out of whack occurs. Should the merger take place, instead of spontaneous coverage, we’d be treated to even more of the timely PR releases, as NASCAR would see fit.

NASCAR likes to play the game close to their chest, while offering up a seemingly open policy regarding media access. But when they start running the broadcasts, as well as waving the flags and enforcing an unseen collection of policies, we lose yet another layer of transparency the governing body appears to lack on a consistent basis. Mythical debris would become even more difficult to document, speeding penalties would revert to the days of “It just looked fast” and post-race spats between drivers? Well, I wouldn’t be too sure that cameras would be pointed in the other direction even more often than they are now.

Left blind, it would be doubtful the TV audience would ever know the difference, if it wasn’t for the remaining writers, photographers and local news personalities that descend on the track every week.

As long time fans of the sport, it is easy for us to deem that there is a giant downward spiral in attendance and rabid must-have’s surrounding our sporting venues. Thus, it almost makes sense on the surface to shuttle coverage of Cup races off to a second-tier cable channel. However, the reality remains that NASCAR is a monster, a very wealthy one at that. They are toying with the idea of growing little monsters out of a merger, gaining even more control over the massive web of competitors, track owners, media and yes, even lil ol’ me’s money.

It might make good business sense, when you study the bottom line. But this convoluted attempt to improve the marketability of a smallish sports channel by slapping the familiar rainbow-colored logo on it would go a long way to further exile the core fan following of NASCAR that still believe hard work, grease, honesty and a lot of heart are the way into the winner’s circle. By taking even more control of everything branded NASCAR, Brian France and Co. will be forfeiting the last vestiges of any appearance at a fair and consistent sport.

I would suggest that before the men in suits pass the papers around the table and sign on the dotted line, it would be best for NASCAR to pull their thumb out of the pie, leave the shell game of which races appear where to the networks and let me keep my wavering trust in the powers that be as it is. As a fan, I don’t think I’d survive a corporate takeover. They always bring in new carpeting and polish the brass, making it harder to see the dents earned through years of triumph and disappointment.

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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