Sunday's broadcast of the Coca-Cola 600 ended Fox's tenth year broadcasting Sprint Cup races. Oh wait, you already knew that if you watched the race because Fox repeatedly bashed us over the head with that fact. Sorry.
The network package that Fox and NBC/TNT signed with NASCAR for the 2001 season helped -- along with that unfortunate moment in that season's Daytona 500 -- put NASCAR on the national scene, something that the sport was still struggling to do when it's races were being shuffled around multiple cable networks.
In those 10 years, Fox has turned Darrell Waltrip from a guy known for his great driving career to the guy known as the broadcaster that says "Boogity boogity boogity." And if you follow NASCAR on Twitter, you know that Darrell has taken a liking to twitter lately -- hilariously sans spaces between words and punctuation marks at times -- and recently he had this to say.
read today that fox needed to make some changes,we do races for everyone,not just a few that seem to think they know everything about tv !!
Now, I don't know if that statement includes people like yours truly. I don't profess to know everything about television, but I do know that Fox does need to make some tweaks to their broadcasts.
My esteemed colleague at Racin' Today, Larry Woody, wrote Wednesday that Fox has done a great job with their broadcasts. Sorry Larry, I must respectfully disagree.
I’ve seen all the “thank-goodness-they’re-gone” comments that have flooded some other websites and the blogosphere regarding Fox’s exit. Some viewers think the boys in the booth have become too stale and predictable during their 10-year run. They think Darrell’s too cutesy, McReynolds too vanilla, Mike too much of a NASCAR homer.
I disagree on all counts.
Waltrip has become a caricature of himself, and while his goofiness is appreciated and appropriate at times, he's gone too far over the edge with the shtick. He and Michael Waltrip are great broadcasters -- to a certain extent. They both have great observations, but Darrell in particular has realized this and tried to make too many of them immediately instead of waiting for a replay and then offering an opinion. Plus, as we've mentioned before, he and McReynolds have become the kings of flip flopping, praising or disliking strategies immediately, and then changing their tune based on the results.
Granted, they could occasionally benefit from some fresh one-liners, but with all the air time they have to fill its hard not to be redundant at times. Overall I think they do a good job of staying fresh and sharp.
Another criticism is that they “talk down” to viewers, explaining basic information that every race fan already knows. It would be like an NFL broadcast team explaining what a field goal is before each kick.
But remember, there are thousands and thousands of relatively new NASCAR fans tuning into each telecast who don’t know what “push” or “loose” means, or why pit-road speed limits are necessary.
The broadcasters have to strike a balance between informing the newcomers about what’s going on without boring their veteran viewers. Again, they’re not perfect, but I think they do a pretty good job of it.
NASCAR television ratings are on a steady decline. The ratings were terrible for Sunday's race, and in fact, it was the lowest rated non-rain delayed 600 since the race was on TBS in 2000.
Are the networks all to blame for this? Of course not, but it's obvious that NASCAR isn't drawing many, if any, new fans on a consistent weekly basis, and if they are, they're coming at the expense of the fans that would schedule their weekends around NASCAR races.
Those fans are the bread and butter of NASCAR, and while I always take fan comments like "I can't watch this anymore!" with a grain of salt, the television ratings are giving credence to the notion that fans are turning off races in droves.
That balance that Fox has struck has gone too far to the beginner. Race after race we're told about the differences between push and loose and how the high line gets a car more horsepower on the straightaways. 95% of NASCAR fans know that. Is it worth repeating that information ad nauseum to try and educate the new viewers while risking annoying the crap out of the die-hard fans?
I wouldn't even think to go as far as to eliminate Waltrip, Joy and McReynolds from the coverage, but just nicely suggest that they tone it down and talk up to the audience. The only member of the crew that needs to be changed is Chris Myers. Myers is the consummate Fox employee, working NASCAR, the NFL and college football. However, it's become painfully obvious that Myers' NASCAR knowledge is still well below average. After 10 years, one would imagine that Myers would be fully in tune with the inner workings of the garage and its characters, but that's not the case.
The racing in the Sprint Cup Series is better than it's ever been -- dominance by Hendrick and Gibbs aside -- and to think that the racing is the sole reason that fans are turning off their televisions in droves is absurd. The racing "back in the day" stunk. No ifs ands or buts about it. It's one of the most absurd arguments I've ever heard. 20 years ago, it wasn't unheard of for the winner to lap the field. How is that better than what we're watching now?
Sure, the mid-portion of races can be rather boring and the final 50 laps have become chaotic with double file restarts, but races of 400 and 500 miles have always been that way and always will be. (The argument to shorten races is another topic for another day)
TNT, who picks up the schedule this week, has the deck automatically stacked against them for their debut because it's Pocono, the worst track on the circuit. Quite frankly, TNT is the only network that can make Pocono bearable, and if the production quality and on-air talent is anything like it was last year for TNT, Fox (and ESPN) could sure take some pointers.