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Motorsports TV Critic John Daly
Dishes the Dirt on NASCAR Coverage
September 13, 2007
John Daly, a 25-year sports television veteran now working as a media consultant and journalist, has created quite a stir this year with his website "The Daly Planet" . Daly offers ongoing review and analysis of NASCAR television coverage with a knowledgeable, take-no-prisoners approach that has race fans buzzing. Whether trumpeting or trouncing the networks and media personalities that bring us NASCAR coverage on TV each week, John's insights and opinions are guaranteed to keep readers entertained and informed.
Daly began his career in sports television with ESPN in 1980 working as a nightshift clerk in the videotape library. Coincidentally, the clerk who relieved John each morning in the entry level job was George Bodenheimer, now President of ESPN.
John soon moved on to SportsCenter and worked in TV production with Chris Berman, Greg Gumbel, and Bob Ley in the old ESPN studios. "As a NASCAR fan, I provided the correct pronunciations of the drivers' names to the announcers and also helped them to understand what was going on in the races," said Daly. "Chris Berman had absolutely no racing knowledge, and we always had a quick 'NASCAR language' session before SportsCenter on Sunday nights."
Daly's next position took him on the road as an Associate Director for ESPN, covering many live sports including NASCAR. "At that time, so many things were brand new that we were just creating the systems needed to put NASCAR races on the air," John recalls. "Everyone had ideas and ESPN was a great place for a young person to accept as much responsibility as they wanted." He later moved in-house to manage the network's on-air operations - a job which Daly says was a huge challenge.
After almost ten years at ESPN, John moved to Houston and became the Director of Production and Operations for Prime Network, which created and aired "This Week in NASCAR with Eli Gold." During his tenure, the network also originated a weekly hour of motorcycle racing called "Cycle World" and an hour of auto racing of all kinds called the "Chevy Motorsports Hour." Prime Network was sold to Fox Cable Networks and became FoxSportsNet.
Moving on to Sunbelt Video in Charlotte, North Carolina, Daly served as Vice President of Production and helped the company focus on changing to a digital environment before it was sold to NASCAR, becoming NASCAR Images. He then became a consultant working in program development, network operations, and production planning. One of John's biggest projects was helping to put SpeedVision on the air when the network first started in Stamford, Connecticut.
John now lives in South Florida, where he balances working in his local community with managing "The Daly Planet," an Internet media project started in February of 2007. "The name of the site is a tribute to my father and grandfather, who were both newspaper editors," said John. "As you may remember, The Daily Planet is the newspaper in Metropolis in the Superman comic books and movies."
Given his long association with NASCAR, I asked John about the biggest changes he's witnessed in the sport over the years. "The sport has changed entirely in twenty years," said John. "The new national profile for the sport has been the primary catalyst for growth. Change always comes at the expense of tradition, and NASCAR is no exception. Exposing new areas of the country to the sport has been great, but eliminating Darlington on Labor Day weekend, dropping Rockingham from the schedule, and ending the season in Florida is still a bit tough for veteran fans."
Daly notes that the advent of multimedia technology has completely changed the way fans follow the sport and the way NASCAR interacts with viewers. "DirecTV's Hot Pass, internet TV, and high definition television are driving the changes in NASCAR's TV exposure. Many fans use a combination of AM/FM radio, satellite radio, personal computer, HDTV, and standard cable TV to view races. Fans now have many choices including hand-held devices to pick the way they 'consume' a race."
But despite all the gizmos and gadgets, many fans are still glued to their home TVs for NASCAR coverage, particularly on race day. Complaining about the race broadcasts is practically a national pastime (guilty as charged), and I asked John about that phenomenon and whether he feels fans will every truly be satisfied. "NASCAR fans deserve the same level of TV production on NEXTEL Cup races that we see in NFL Monday Night Football games and the World Series," he asserted. "Fans complain not because of complicated TV issues, but because of very basic ones - missing a restart, following the leader and not the racing action, focusing on one driver and ignoring the rest of the field. It always comes back to this one 'basics' issue. Fans watching on TV want to see and know the same things a fan at the track can see and know. It's really very simple."
Elaborating on that point, Daly identified three areas that he sees as the biggest problems with the way NASCAR is being covered on TV today:
1. "The TV coverage focusing on the race leader and not the best racing on the track. This began several years ago with Fox Sports and continues today. Fans want to watch the best racing on the track until the final fuel run of the race, and not follow the leader as the only car on their TV screen for four hours unless someone wrecks."
2. "The TV coverage is different from the radio broadcast. How can two sets of announcers be at the same race and calling two different events? Often the radio broadcast is deep into exciting racing, and the TV coverage is running a special feature or talking about a car they have chosen to feature. Fans want reality, not the TV network's version of it."
3. "TNT's summer NEXTEL Cup TV package was a disaster. In this first year of a new TV contract, TNT really killed the momentum Fox Sports had built-up for the NEXTEL Cup Series. What TNT delivered to ESPN was upset viewers who had flooded NASCAR and media outlets nationwide with outrage over poor coverage and endless TNT promotional announcements. Is there anyone who can forget the mess at Sonoma, the rain delay at Pocono, or those endless Bill Engvall promos?
Indeed, of the various networks and cable outlets that cover NASCAR racing, Daly says TNT has been the biggest disappointment. "The kink in the NEXTEL Cup package is TNT. The network's clear intent during their six races was to load as many commercials and TNT promos as possible in the air time, and then 'run when done.' One week after their last race almost every trace of NASCAR was erased from their website. NASCAR and the fans got used. NASCAR on Fox is a franchise, and will remain that way with some small changes for next season. ESPN has the firepower to produce great racing and is simply struggling with trying to put ten pounds of hype and glitz in NASCAR's five-pound bag of racing."
One of my pet peeves is hearing non-NASCAR broadcasters reporting on NASCAR events during a race or on an ancillary racing show, and I asked John for his take on this annoying trend. "The phenomenon of announcers not familiar with racing being assigned to the sport is relatively new to NASCAR. Several faces including Chris Fowler and Brent Musburger came and went before ESPN decided on Suzy Kolber for the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show. Two radio guys were originally assigned the hosting duties for NASCAR Now. One was quietly fired, and the other continues to read a script every day while the show itself slowly sinks in the west. TNT assigned a baseball-oriented studio announcer to their pre-race show and Bill Weber made it clear in every broadcast he did not like that at all."
"The issue is an easy one to understand," he continued. "The choice is to select someone who knows the sport, or someone who knows the network. Since the networks did the picking, they chose someone who knows the network. Kolber is the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football, Erik Kuselias is a veteran ESPN Sports Radio host, and Marc Fein is an in-house announcer for Turner Baseball. When NASCAR is not actively involved in their own TV coverage, this is what you get."
And that issue, according to John Daly, is at the core of all of NASCAR's TV-related problems. "It is clearly time for NASCAR to step up and take active control of their TV destiny," he stated. "They need to consider a stand-alone TV network and internet TV site. This would project the sport in the same professional manner as the NFL network has done. Imagine - the entire NFL season runs less than half of the NASCAR season and that sport has a fulltime cable TV network flourishing. Even if most of the races continued on the current NASCAR TV partners, a NASCAR network would serve a wide variety of functions for both the sport and the fans."
Sounds like a solution to me. What say you, race fans?
Note: In addition to his blog, John appears as a featured guest on Dave Moody's Sirius Speedway show discussing NASCAR-related television topics.
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