SBD/Issue 40/Sports Media

Move Of End Of Sprint Cup Race From ABC To ESPN2 Questioned

Last 39 Laps Of Sprint Cup Race Moved To 
ESPN2 To Maintain ABC Primetime Schedule
ABC's broadcast of yesterday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix Int'l Raceway -- the penultimate race in the Chase for the Cup -- became NASCAR's "version of the infamous 'Heidi Game,'" as the race was moved from ABC to ESPN2 with 39 laps remaining so ABC could show "America's Funniest Home Videos," according to Bruce Martin of SI.com. ABC had "warned viewers beforehand that it [was] switching the telecast over to ESPN2, and the move only affected viewers in the Eastern and Central Time Zones." The move "was made to align ABC's Sunday night television lineup." But Martin wrote, "What does the switch really say about how NASCAR's own television partner views The Chase? Apparently, not much." ABC "slapped the organization with a dose of reality; that in the big picture the sport doesn't compare to 'America's Funniest Home Videos' and 'Desperate Housewives' in terms of ratings and advertising dollars." Martin: "It's absolutely ludicrous to think that a TV network would pull the plug during a telecast of a playoff game" (SI.com, 11/9). In a statement, ESPN/ABC said of the move, "After two red flags, rain in Phoenix and 4 1/2 hours on ABC, we were still 34 minutes from the end of the telecast as it turned out. ... ABC's entertainment viewers and NASCAR fans were both well served in a tough spot." But in Virginia, Dustin Long wrote, "Now for the real reason. Remember, November is sweeps period." After the move, fans have to "feel good that people getting hit in the groin is better than NASCAR." NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray: "I can't imagine being a race fan and being on the East Coast and trying to watch this and then going to that (show). I mean, maybe if the President was going to talk, maybe if something big had happened, but I can't believe that 'America's Funniest Home Videos' would take priority over us." Long wrote, "You do wonder if it was an NFL game that went long (or went into overtime) if ABC would do the same thing" (HAMPTONROADS.com, 11/9).

WRONG TURN: YAHOO SPORTS' Bob Margolis wrote the move was "a real slap in the face to race fans and a measure of the lack of respect that the ABC/ESPN network has for NASCAR" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/9). In Orlando, Matt Humphrey wrote if ABC "wants to bill itself as the home to NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, it should show this race to the finish on the main network." Humphrey: "What a bush-league move by ABC" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 11/9). Hendrick Motorsports Owner Rick Hendrick said of the switch, "It doesn't say very much" (K.C. STAR, 11/10). NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson: "To go to 'America's Funniest Home Videos?' Man, that hurts" (WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 11/10).

LACKING STAR APPEAL? Johnson won yesterday's race and leads by 141 points in the Sprint Cup standings, and YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote Johnson's "brilliance should be enough to lift the entire circuit's relevancy, exciting not just core fans" but also "drawing in casual viewers who appreciate greatness and history." Wetzel: "Instead, neither has happened." For Johnson, the core issue is the "corporate personality he projects. It's so polished and vanilla many seem incapable of caring much about him. At this point, wide-spread hate would be preferred. At least it would be something." NASCAR is "in a lot of trouble and not even a champion of epic proportions can help it." If driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. were "making a mockery of the competition," there is "no question ABC would have shelved" "America's Funniest Home Videos" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/9).

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