Who knew that Texas Motor Speedway's new big-screen television along the backstretch would generate such hate from Keith Olbermann?
The television host, now back with ESPN, named Eddie Gossage, the president of TMS, his "Worst Person in Sports" for one of last week's shows. The "Worst People in the World" segment is a carryover from when Olbermann had his own show on MSNBC and routinely lampooned world and political figures.
Gossage garnered the dubious distinction because of the track's recent unveiling of the "Big Hoss" screen along the backstretch. It's the largest HD screen in the world and will be in use for Texas' spring race on April 6.
"Here's the problem, you know what they show on it?" Olbermann asked in his trademark sarcastic tone. "Auto racing. Because seeing faceless guys in helmets and visors driving for a few hours can't really be appreciated unless you see them on a giant television two-thirds the length of a football field with you guys staring up at it like the way devil worshipers stare at fires."
A shot at auto racing. How original. But was that a subtle reference to the Tennessee woman stabbing her husband for worshiping the Bristol race? I doubt it, but if so, that deserves some props.
Come on Olbermann, what the heck are you trying to accomplish here? Yeah, sure, Texas Motor Speedway gave the screen a very Texas-like name, but that's the schtick of Texas Motor Speedway. Nothing can be done without a name full of rhetoric.
The speedway is far from the first sporting venue to install a monstrous video board; look at AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play and Darrell K. Royal Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns to stay in the state. And it's not even the first NASCAR track. Charlotte Motor Speedway installed one in 2010, which was the largest HDTV at the time.
NASCAR is fighting the same battles that other sports are when it comes to attendance. While attending a NASCAR race in person can be a thrilling experience, it's also one that's much harder to keep track of from the grandstands than on the couch. You can only see so much of a 1.5 mile track at a time, and without the benefit of a scanner to pick up radio traffic or race commentary, you can easily lose the storylines of a race.
Large video boards give another avenue to show the running order and provide close-up views of the racing and instant replays. Much like what happens at football, baseball, basketball and hockey venues around the country.
Hardly something to get angry over, right? Ah, but what likely pushed it over the top for Olbermann was the showing of "Duck Dynasty" on the screen at the official unveiling. In an important detail that he fails to mention in his segment, the April 6 race is the Duck Commander 500. You know, the company of the Robertson family, the stars of the show.
As you know, Phil Robertson was temporarily suspended from the show after he made anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ. The comments drew the ire of many, including, presumably, Olbermann, and ratings for the show's fifth season have dropped significantly from where they were in the fourth season.
But the show still has a loyal fanbase and it doesn't take much of a stretch to realize that fanbase likely overlaps with a large segment of the NASCAR fanbase. And as ridiculous as the "Duck Commander 500" and subsequent Robertson overkill on race day could be to many, isn't that the point of sponsorship? To identify your target market and appeal to them?
Plus, Texas is no stranger to controversial sponsorships. Last year's spring race was the NRA 500, a race sponsorship that led NASCAR to say that it would take a closer look at each potential sponsor deal.
If Olbermann has an issue with the sponsorship, which was announced a little less than two months after Robertson's quotes were published, then that's one thing. But to take it out on a television screen that will enhance the race experience for fans all along the frontstretch is petty, cheap and misguided. Plus it makes Olbermann seem out of touch.
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(This post originally said the show aired on Monday, March 24. The YouTube clip was posted March 21. We apologize for the mixup.)