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Tuesday, February 13
NASCAR calls it "a bump in the road"
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The leaders at Fox Sports promise more unexpected twists for their first telecast of the Daytona 500. The folks at NASCAR hope the surprises don't have anything to do with their precious advertisers.
After some harried negotiating with NASCAR on Tuesday, Fox decided its telecast of the Daytona 500 will include the advertising logos that were left off the graphics during the Budweiser Shootout last Sunday.
The agreement appears to have ended the short tiff between NASCAR and the network that, combined with NBC and Turner Sports, paid $2.8 billion to telecast Winston Cup races for the next six years.
Still, Fox's unexpected decision to hit NASCAR where it lives -- with its advertisers -- was surely more than the mild "tempest in a carburetor," that Fox Sports Chairman David Hill claimed it was.
"We had an interesting set of meetings with the NASCAR folks," Hill said. "They revealed the amount of angst this has caused, and also the fact that this relationship is a marathon, not a sprint. We're in longterm relationship."
As the network introduced the drivers for the exhibition race last Sunday, and each time it showed the top-10 standings, it displayed graphics featuring pictures of the driver's cars. Absent were the logos of the companies that didn't buy advertising time for the telecast.
"Obviously, we were trying to give an added bonus for sponsors who had invested in the future of NASCAR on Fox," Hill said.
It meant Tony Stewart's car, sponsored by The Home Depot, looked normal, but Dale Jarrett's car, sponsored by UPS, appeared strangely blank. Hill and executive producer Ed Goren claimed they got no feedback from racing fans. Sponsors and NASCAR reacted differently.
"Not showing the sponsor in NASCAR racing would be like not mentioning the teams and players in a football game," said Don Parkinson, brand manager for Chevrolet Monte Carlo, whose logos were left off some of the Fox graphics. "We applaud their decision to continue showing graphics as they reflect the cars on the racetrack."
NASCAR senior vice president Brian France said some of the car owners were disappointed with the absence of logos Sunday. Still, he and Hill both described the relationship between drivers, owners and networks as excellent, and Goren claimed he was receiving unprecedented cooperation from the crews and drivers.
"You can't have a relationship as big as this one is without having a bump in the road here or there," France said. "The big thing is that they are great partners that want to understand our issues."
All are interested to see whether Fox can keep its promise to jazz up NASCAR telecasts, and they want to know if the 17 percent increase in overnight ratings for last Sunday's race over last year's Bud Shootout is for real.
"I'd have to say that I'd reserve comment on the total package until I see how it's presented to the public," driver Kyle Petty said.
Fox will use 30 cameras to cover the race, including the "robotic ring," an arrangement of cameras mounted around the walls of the raceway.
As part of an improved audio package, the network will use scanners available to fans at the racetrack to air snippets of conversations between crews and drivers.
"It's not wildly opening live mikes all the time," race producer Neil Goldberg said. "We have the ability to record and play back valued information and do it in a way that makes sense over the telecast."
Remember the glowing puck from the network's hockey telecasts? Fox is tinkering with the idea of highlighting the lead car using similar technology.
Among the most noticeable changes will be Fox's use of a crawl across the top of the screen with constant updates of race statistics. Some critics thought it was distracting in the Budweiser Shootout telecast.
"I say wait for three weeks -- everyone got used to Fox Box," Hill said of the omnipresent score graphic the network introduced when it landed the NFL contract seven years ago. It's now a staple of almost all sports telecasts.
Mike Joy, formerly of CBS, will call the race with former crew chief Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip, who retired as a driver last year.
Fox Sports Net, the cable outlet for Fox, will televise the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races live Thursday afternoon, a change from CBS' traditional tape-delayed telecasts on Saturdays.
Hill said the network needs as many chances to air live action as it can before the Daytona 500, even though a Thursday-afternoon telecast would seem to go against the goal of drawing more casual fans.
"This is the most difficult launch in the history of Fox Sports," he said. "It's like launching an Olympics for the first time."
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