Friday, 26 February 2010

UK NASCAR Coverage Proves We Matter

It has been a worrying winter to be a NASCAR fan living in the UK.

The Murdoch family owned Sky TV had carried live coverage of a vast majority of races for the previous two years. They had a trio of a presenter and two experts in a dedicated studio which they would cut to during many of the American breaks.

It was, as those of you who have read anything on NASCAR by me over the last two years, far from perfect broadcasting.

However, it was better than nothing.

It was better than doing damage to my eyes by squinting at slightly fuzzy streamed images on computer.

But this year we were faced with nothing. The presenter Sky used – Kieth Huewen – broke the news on his own website that Sky had not picked up live coverage for 2010.

Unfortunately I am only able to speculate as to why. It may have something to do with the fact that when they picked up the coverage ahead of the 2008 season Scot Dario Franchitti was looking to move to the series, as were other names more familiar to a UK audience – most notably Jacques Villeneuve.

However, given that 2010 sees Juan Montoya further forward than ever, Danica Patrick on NASCAR’s doorstep and ex-F1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. making steps in the series I doubt that was ever the real reason.

The problem is I don’t know how much Sky were paying for the rights, and I don’t know how many people were watching the coverage – though there are claims that the number never bettered 50,000.

The fact the coverage was sponsored by Current TV – another channel carried by Sky – smacked of subsidy and an inability to find an actual product to sponsor the coverage – compare that to Sky’s live NFL shows which are sponsored by Dominoes Pizza.

We were faced with no live coverage of the Daytona 500 with only the NASCAR edited highlights package on Monday night.

An edit which is legendarily appalling.

If Sky’s 2008-09 coverage wasn’t perfect the highlight package makes you want to hurl your TV out the window in frustration of deep-fry your own eye-balls as the coverage jumps to a restart without any mention of ever being under caution.

But then on the Friday before Daytona (Feb. 12) stories emerged that there would, after all, be coverage of the Daytona 500.


On Sky.

Why, had this happened?

Had Sky bowed to a slew of angry emails from NASCAR lovers about the dropped coverage? Probably not, given the rumoured viewing figures they probably got about the same number of emails about NASCAR as they do complaining about the lack of coverage of the Estonian National Lesbian Mud Wrestling Championships. In fact with that description, NASCAR probably generated less emails.

What had happened, I will bet my left hand, is that NASCAR were so desperate to get their big showpiece event to the biggest possible audience that they lowered the price to a level where Sky simply couldn’t refuse.

We were back with the normal trio in the normal studio, not that they cost much as only one of the three – one time Craftsman Truck driver John Mickel – only appears on their NASCAR coverage.

We got the 500. We got all of it – it having overrun by some two hours by the time the brief post race interviews had been completed.

Then nothing. We were back to the ham-fisted highlights for Fontana.

However, the latest twist came yesterday when a channel called ‘Open Access 3’ declared it would be showing live NASCAR, starting this weekend.

This backs up the idea that NASCAR are desperate to get their coverage in the UK. There is no way OA3 would be able to do battle with the bids of Sky, ESPN UK or anyone else. Put simply this deal must have been dirt cheap or come with a massive sweetener from somewhere.

Just so you get an idea OA3 is channel no.190 on Sky Digital, only a few ‘+ channel’ buttons from the delights of programs trying to covert you to one cause or another, including the delightfully named ‘Contraversial TV’ and ‘Unexplained’.

Now, I am a little sceptical about the coverage we’ll see on Sunday. From the times the channel boasts it looks like we have a full hour of pre-race material and the full race, the total program running from 7pm UK time to 1am.

This is doubtless going to be a direct taking of the American coverage, who knows we might even get your ads.

There will be no studio team in the UK.

The will be no studio in the UK.

But it proves that someone is listening to NASCAR fans in the UK.

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