NASCAR Chairman: ESPN Should Be "A Better Partner"

Brian France, the chairman and CEO of NASCAR, confesses in an interview that ESPN, the broadcast partner that carries the annual season-ending "Chase" series of races, could be "a better partner," especially since the sport is "under-covered" when compared to other sports.

Recently, Broadcasting and Cable’s Ben Grossman did an extensive interview with Brian France, the chairman and CEO of NASCAR.

Among other topics, Grossman appeared to have hit a nerve when he asked France: What do you want from your TV partners?

“We are always the sport that is under-covered given the ratings and size of the events,” France says of NASCAR. “In particular, ESPN. They just have so many platforms.” ESPN carries NASCAR races during the third leg of the traditional season, including the entire ten-race “Chase” championship tourney, including selected races on sister broadcast network ABC if they are scheduled for a Saturday night. These races are available through the “WatchESPN” smartphone app. Additionally, ESPN2 has carried Nationwide races, and “NASCAR Now” airs year-round between ESPN and ESPN2.

But that’s apparently not enough for Brian France.

“We are pushing real hard with them to have a more integrated approach,” he continues in the B&C piece. “We have hired people to service them better, so we can help them accomplish that… We are going to work to make them a better partner.”

To this observer, ESPN appears to be doing a commendable job with its NASCAR presentations on the surface. Clearly, NASCAR expects nothing less since they’ve been given the keys to the Chase… although there was a forgettable snafu during one of the prerace shows in the 2011 season (nobody’s perfect). Speaking of, give ESPN credit for taking a former NBA all-star (Brad Daugherty, who is now a co-owner of a racing team) and a beauty queen (Nicole Briscoe, who’s married to IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe) and hiring them to co-host a comprehensive racing show airing prior to NASCAR races, and making it work.

As NASCAR enters the 2012 season, it is approaching the proverbial “turn 4” in their eight-year mega-contract with FOX, and its sister cable network SPEED, plus TNT, in addition to ESPN/ABC. France also disclosed to B&C that “we are having conversations” with the networks on their future with NASCAR after the current deal expires. At this point, France wants to know if all three of the sport’s broadcast partners will be viable candidates to continue carrying its races after 2014. Perhaps, of the three entities, France is least impressed by ESPN, and maybe his comments in the B&C interview might light a fire under the Worldwide Leader, so that they could undertake the “more integrated approach” that France seeks from them. (By the way, the identity of the “people” NASCAR hired “to service them better” has not been disclosed.)

In addition to how ESPN will superserve NASCAR across its many platforms, there may also be an on-air talent change or two. You may recall last year that Lindsay Czarniak, who had been the host of TNT’s prerace show, “Countdown To Green,” had joined ESPN last July, coinciding with the conclusion of TNT’s portion of NASCAR coverage for the year. (Czarniak also left WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., where she had worked under the tutelage of the late sports anchor George Michael.) At the moment, she currently serves as an anchor for ESPNews, as well as the occasional edition of “SportsCenter” on ESPN. But given her experience covering NASCAR for TNT, you have to wonder if she’ll make another “pit” stop on ESPN. (This is not meant to slight the current NASCAR prerace crew on ESPN that I had just praised a few paragraphs ago; it’s simply speculation.)

Indeed, it will be interesting to see if ESPN makes any adjustments or improvements as the next few NASCAR seasons unfold.

If they strive to remain a NASCAR broadcast partner, they’d “better.”

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