In the life span of NASCAR, broadcast partners have come and gone. Some have even come back and left again. If you’ve watched NASCAR over the past 10 years you’ve seen ESPN, FOX, FS1, NBC, NBCSN, SPEED Channel/TV and TNT, all have taken their shot at covering the sport and entertaining the fans.
For me, FOX Sports has a special place in my heart because of my days of contributing on the SPEED TV web site. You might remember SPEED TV, it was a trusted source for all things racing and even when I look back at those years, I still believe the reporters and personalities went above and beyond to provide fans with the best racing coverage possible.
When SPEED TV died – and yes, it was killed…I remember thinking how different the NASCAR coverage would be moving forward. And while I was wrong on the level of change (I was thinking FS1 would greatly reduce their NASCAR coverage), I believe the death day of SPEED TV marked a moment in time when NASCAR truly started their downward slide, especially with fan retention.
I’m not blaming NASCAR’s woes on the cancellation of SPEED TV – I just find the timing interesting. Maybe the executives at FOX Sports saw the writing on the wall (of NASCAR’s decline) and adjusted their format wisely. For them it worked out. For the rest of us, time will tell.
A common practice that happens in sports broadcasting is the moving around of on-air talent. You may remember a lot of those SPEED TV personalities stayed with FS1, at least until NBC was once again a NASCAR partner during the 2015 season. Today, I would submit we have within the two current NASCAR broadcast partners the best crop of on-air talent we’ve seen in history. Granted back in the day we had several great announcers, but today it’s truly a healthy group of talent.
The question we’re challenged with is…which group (network) is more trustworthy?
Let me be clear – I’m not asking which network delivers the best entertainment or technology. They both do a fine job. I’m not asking for the better pit road reporters or I’m not comparing Mike Joy to Rick Allen and vice versa. I’m a huge fan of all of these professionals. I want to know which network is worthy of our trust – when absorbing information from those opinion makers hired by FOX and NBC.
In my opinion, to be trustworthy is to be honest and balanced. I tend to trust those opinion makers who have a history of telling us the truth and will share both their positive and critical thinking. If someone is honest but will never spout a critical thought about the sport they cover, I tend to not trust that person. Same is true if the person is always critical with no positive opinions.
Using this as my measurement, I believe 99.9% of NASCAR opinion makers on FOX and NBC are honest people with integrity. Where they fall short of not having my trust is their inability to balance opinions. From my cheap seat I find too many with an agenda or they simply don’t want to challenge NASCAR or teams for whatever reason.
I can identify one reason and it’s an issue that’s been hurting the NASCAR industry for years. In corporate America it’s called conflict of interest. The definition of conflict of interest is “a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.”
Do I believe a NASCAR on-air opinion maker is deriving a personal benefit from their position? I believe it’s happened, but with today’s broadcast partners I certainly hope not – especially not a financial benefit. But I do believe several of them form opinions based on a job position they had or currently hold within the sport? Yes, yes I do.
I remember back in February 2014, former NASCAR team owner and former Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Ray Evernham, left his on-air position with ESPN to rejoin Hendrick Motorsports as a consultant. At the time Evernham said, “Not doing ESPN will allow me to be involved in some of the management and some of the things they’re doing at Hendrick Motorsports. The best way to avoid a conflict of interest is to choose one or the other.” This is the model of how to handle the situation and Evernham gained my respect and trust for making that decision.
Using Evernham’s example, Jeff Gordon is a current owner in Cup and has a major on-air position with FOX. This is an easy question – will he truthfully provide an opinion about Hendrick Motorsports? I would hope so but the conflict must give us pause about his opinions. This isn’t a judgement on the quality of his on-air work because I think he is doing a fantastic job. He just can’t be fully trusted with information or non-information about Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet or any sponsor tied to Hendrick. This hurts FOX.
To be fair, NBC’s Steve Letarte is also a Hendrick alumni but the difference is he isn’t a current owner/employee of a team. Is he too loyal to Hendrick or Dale Earnhardt Jr., to be fully honest with the fans or can he truly separate himself from them to be balanced? These are fair questions and you’ll have to decide the level of trust you give him…but for me I’ve been impressed with how he’s distanced himself from his former employer.
Letarte gives us a good feel for his mindset with a recent opinion on driver rivalries. NBC’s Nate Ryan wrote a column called ‘Steve Letarte on Pro Athlete Socializing in Pregame’ – which I recommend reading. Letarte calls out a practice that hurts rivalries and to his credit the drivers of his former employer are guilty of this practice. This balanced opinion benefits NBC.
In my opinion, two of the most trusted on-air personalities are FOX’s Larry McReynolds and NBC’s Dale Jarrett. Both are honest brokers and are normally very positive towards NASCAR. But when an issue arises where dissent is needed, Jarrett and McReynolds will speak up and provide balanced opinions. When these two speak – we listen. They are highly respected and trustworthy.
RaceTalkRadio.com’s Dennis Michelsen spotlights a recent Jarrett opinion in his column ‘Dale Jarrett Didn’t Get NASCAR’s Memo’ and it’s an example of how Jarrett will go against NASCAR when needed.
For Larry Mac, I may not agree with him at times (I say Gig’em Aggies) but his opinions are genuine and sincere. I believe he is one of the hardest working on-air personalities in the business. FOX made a huge mistake removing him from the booth, but they saved themselves by keeping him on-air.
This is strictly my opinion – my beloved FOX has done a good job hiring popular personalities. But sadly, I see too many conflicts and McReynolds isn’t enough to make them fully balanced. When you examine all of the opinion makers from each network, NBC has brought more balance to the table.
Your turn – who do you trust more, FOX or NBC? (Move down and leave your response)
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