Monday, March 21, 2011

ESPN's/ABC's Coverage of the American Le Mans Series

John Marine | 3/21/2011 01:59:00 AM | | |
ESPN is the new TV home of American Le Mans Series racing. Races are streamed live on and in two-hour highlight shows on ESPN. ESPN/ABC will share the load in providing two-hour highlights all season long as part of a new deal. The action is all live... but only if you have an online connection and love being on ESPN3. Many think this is a disconnect with fans of the ALMS. Is it? Has the ALMS hurt itself or will hurt itself in the long term? My blog post on this topic is coming your way with my own personal comments and views. Strap in!

This is one blog post in a series of three different blog posts related to television coverage of certain programs and events. The first was on coverage of the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament (March Madness), the second one concerned NewsFix, and this one is about coverage of the ALMS on ESPN/ABC. Before I begin, here is an important point I want you to remember as you read this:

IMPORTANT NOTE: I was unable to see video highlights of the ESPN highlight package, nor did I see a single bit of coverage on ESPN3. I relied on Facebook and Twitter for my updates on the 2011 24 Hours of Sebring.

(UPDATED: April 17, 2011) If you want to keep tabs on ALMS racing on ESPN3, please visit: Watch Live Streaming ALMS Auto racing Online - ESPN3 Or, you may keep tabs on live races by checking out the American Le Mans Series' radio feed by going to

Now, let's begin.

--- ALMS Coverage in Retrospective ---
I have an emotional attachment to coverage of sportscar racing. You may remember my thoughts on seeing sportscar racing if you have seen my blog post entitled "A Forgotten Time." It expressed how much I love sportscar racing and how proud I was when the American Le Mans Series was televised on TV. If you want to read about my thoughts on seeing sportscar racing televised, here is some recommended reading for you:

Recommended Reading:

* "A Forgotten Time (John's Blog Space)"
* "NEW BROADCAST PLATFORM GIVES FANS GREAT OPTIONS" - four ways to watch the American Le Mans Series
* American Le Mans Series' schedule for 2011

That sets the mood.

--- The New ALMS Coverage ---
In an attempt to cater to newer trends and styles in coverage, the American Le Mans Series signed a multi-year deal for its races to be shown on ESPN and ABC. Scott Atherton, the CEO of the American Le Mans Series, noted in Facebook video regarding why the series went with this brand-new package. Among the many reasons are the ideas of streaming media as well as 3D and digital coverage. A lot of ALMS fans were curious as to what prompted the changes that the ALMS has made. The way the plan was described by Scott Atherton was done so in a convincing way. However, it still didn't convince many people that going from Speed Channel to ESPN/ABC as a happy and welcome change.

Here is how Scott Atherton describes this new deal between ESPN/ABC and with representation from Intersport:

from January 3, 2011:

"...a here-and-now benchmark example of how fans will be able to access their favorite sports programming whenever and however they wish. It combines a core conventional television component, a live digital web delivery component, an on-demand option and potential other methods of viewing that they are being embraced by our ever-growing 18-34 demographic."

-Scott Atherton, President and CEO of the American Le Mans Series

Agree/Disagree at will. For now, though, here are more thoughts to share.

From Speed Channel...

The biggest reason to do such a thing is to attract a bigger audience. Whether you like ESPN or not, more people care about sports news from ESPN than they do FOX Sports or some other deal. The American Le Mans Series is both a sport and a business. As a business, you need to find more ways to push your product in a positive direction. I know people don't want to read sentences like the previous one, but it's the truth.

Speed Channel is a channel that cares about racing when there's actual racing going on. It has been the go-to source for racing news even in the Speedvision days. Who honestly does a better job of racing coverage from any non-FOX network? Since NASCAR and other forms of Americana racing basically took over the airwaves on (then) Speedvision, the channel has been downgraded for the most part. With the arrival of more reality-type shoes, its value became even more downgraded. Still paramount to Speed Channel is racing coverage. No one can argue that the racing coverage is solid, unless you believe more kinds of racing be featured more often than oval racing. I will happily watch live coverage of an American Le Mans Series race from start to finish on Speed Channel. If I can't do that, then I will at least do what I can to catch as much as possible. There have been quite a few races I've seen from start to finish on Speed Channel covered live. ESPN/ABC.

Now, ALMS coverage is on the ESPN/ABC networks. I said on GTPlanet that ESPN/ABC will need to "step the hell up" with its coverage of the American Le Mans Series in taking over from Speed Channel. There is definitely a bright spot that still remains with ESPN/ABC coverage- the beautiful young Jamie Howe (remember her from my "Women in Motorsport" blog post?) calling pit action.

The real things I've heard about this package is live online streaming of ALMS racing along with the prospect of seeing races in this new age of 3D. So basically, this is the dumbing down of ALMS races just to make them cooler on TV and to make them more entertaining to all of you. Rather than live races on TV, it's live racing STREAMING ONLINE followed by highlight shows that air on ESPN/ABC a day or so later.

Does this sound like a win to you? For a number of people, this is a fail.

--- The New ALMS Coverage: a Raw Deal For the Fans? ---
American Le Mans Series ALMS
^ from: - Has the American Le Mans Series created its own great void with the new ESPN/ABC programming package? Has it created its own disconnect between the series and its fans?

"For the Fans" has long been the mantra of the American Le Mans Series. By making THIS move, however, a number of people feel this is a raw deal. A number of fans have been disappointed that the ALMS would make THIS move and basically take away from seeing live races live on TV rather than enjoy it on television. Even I would like to follow the 24 Hours of Le Mans often times with Radio Le Mans rather than just see Speed Channel (though I have absolutely NO problem with Le Mans coverage on Speed Channel). But still, even in this day and age, there's still nothing like seeing races live on TV.

What Does the American Le Mans Series Mean to Fans?

That leads to a major problem I have with this package- does the racing fan care about seeing live races on TV anymore? Don't answer this question to me... think about that question being answered in the eyes of TV companies. Let's look at the ALMS in comparison to the 800-pound motorsports gorilla known as NASCAR. Everything from the invocation and National Anthem to the race itself (and some of the post-race commentary) fill the airwaves. Look at most other American sports, though. Hardly ever do you see EVERYTHING on TV from the displaying of colors, invocation, and National Anthem in most other American sports. You do in NASCAR. All the laps and such in NASCAR are shown live in their entirety.

Let me put it to you this way. How would you feel if the Daytona 500 can only be seen online? What about the Indy 500? What about the U.S. Nationals (NHRA drag racing)? What about every race of the Formula 1 World Championship? The reason why I'm so upset is that this is Sebring- a major race. Major races (I'm sorry) like this should NOT have to be seen only online. Even in postmodern times and where many people turn to modern technology to view and use certain things, a race like the 12 Hours of Sebring should absolutely NOT be only available in streaming media. ESPN's hands were obviously tied here- the NCAA Division 1 Women's Basketball Tournament started up. There were probably some other sporting events, so ESPN couldn't possibly air this on any other ESPN channel. As a positive- you don't have to worry about Speed Channel having to have any *important* NASCAR updates on TV to break into the live action, as if the motorsports world revolves around NASCAR. Something has to be so disregarded on American/Canadian television that the ONLY place to see it [live] is online. I've watched many different tape-delay races of the ALMS for a long time. The World Series is live and on TV. The Super Bowl is live and on TV. The BCS National Championship is live and on TV. The World Cup is live and on TV. The Daytona 500, Indy 500, and Coca-Cola 600 (among many other races) are live and on TV. Why not Sebring?

What is it- not many people care seeing the American Le Mans Series live on TV? Not as many people care about one more historic race? Bad enough, this was the start of a rather exciting concept- the first of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup races. Over 60 entries at Sebring... yet, you've only seen this race live if you're online. It's really a damned shame to be honest. Thankfully, Speed Channel (because hardly any other station even knows or cares about sportscar racing quite like Speed Channel) picked up the slack and shown Sebring 2011 highlights with Adam Alexander talking about it along with analysis by Bob Varsha.

Programming Package Comparison.

How does this ALMS programming package compare to another programming package? Get ready for a classic "apples and oranges" argument:

You may have read my blog post regarding television coverage of NCAA March Madness across four different cable networks. This is a television package that works because you could see any match live in its entirety ON CABLE TV. You may even see streaming TV of every match on your mobile device. Thing is... you aren't relegated to media other than TV as you are with this ALMS package. Yes, you can still see ALMS races on TV, but in these highlight packages and documentary-style shows.

ESPN3 is not free (unless you are watching on a college campus or a military base). If it means you have to pay some more just to enjoy ALMS racing, many people will empty their pockets to see ALMS racing, even if it has to be streaming media. I don't trust being able to view a major sporting event through an online connection to see what I could probably enjoy more on my TV. I know there are people who probably have HD monitors that can also used as PC monitors, but not everyone has such luxuries or money for an online channel just to see a nine or ten race season played out live online. It is innovative to have a sports series or sporting event all-online. Don't however, neglect the average TV-watching fan! It is most disappointing to have coverage like this. Not unacceptable, but surely unsatisfactory.

--- Personal Thoughts ---
This weekend, I've never been more disappointed as a sportscar racing fan. I didn't go anywhere this weekend. This usually would have been a great chance to see the 12 Hours of Sebring on Speed Channel. Instead, I've had to mostly rely on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates. No- I did not want to view streaming video. To me, being relegated to having to see material online is a way of saying that nobody cares to see something on TV, so you have to see it online. I know times have changed to where you can catch up with programs away from TV and radio. Still, I do find it saddening that the Super Bowl of the ALMS (besides Petit Le Mans) be shown only online. Think about if you could only see the World Cup final online. You'd be pissed to see a major event or major game/race be played out live online as opposed to seeing things on TV.

Certain ALMS fans are even disappointed that this new TV package (or lack thereof) even came about. Especially people in Canada are disappointed since ESPN3 is not offered in Canada. It may likely be worse for Canadian ALMS fans since the ALMS will make their usual stop later this year at Mosport. The ALMS, while in its attempts to innovate and expand, may be creating a disconnect between the fans and coverage of its great racing series with this new TV package.

I don't make the marketing decisions or handle public relations, but I would know better than to have live action played out online as opposed to seeing it all on regular/cable/satellite TV. For most racing series or sporting leagues, you don't exclusively put live material online unless it's something that is not expected to be viewed by fans, or something that likely isn't all that important to the greater viewing audience. Doing this to Sebring is an absolute slap to the face of sportscar racing fans. And in the case of certain fans who think the ESPN/ABC highlight package of Sebring (which I have NOT seen as of the posting of this blog entry) was horrid, then a great disconnect between the ALMS fans and media coverage is in the works (if not already happening).

You can't be "For the Fans" to have this deal acted out this way. Is the American Le Mans Series TV coverage somehow not profitable enough to some that it warrants having live races exclusively online? The feeling I endured is that I'm glad the 12 Hours of Sebring is happening. Sadly, you have to watch it all live online. If you actually saw the race online and want to relive the best moments, you can always watch the race on ESPN/ABC in highlight packages. When the race could have been seen live on TV, you choose to move live TV footage to the Internet. You know what that says? At least to me, this is a way of saying that the ALMS, with its great races and drivers, is somehow not worth watching live on TV anymore. At least the ALMS is something different from the garden variety of NASCAR shows. Part of the reason why I love the ALMS is because I love sportscar racing and (most importantly) with races on cable/satellite and even local TV. Even if the local TV stations air races in tape delays, at least you're getting the racing action you want to see. I just want to enjoy racing; not just have some sort of "show" looking at what happened during a race. If I wanted to see a documentary or something on some race, I can always look to some highlight videos. One has to wonder if even if the ALMS is devaluing coverage of its own series by putting forth the product they've created. Think about it- live coverage of EVERYTHING (including the race itself) online and only online. It may result in getting more online support from those who watch a lot of online media, but you're hurting a more critical base- the regular TV-watching fanbase. Do you REALLY want this? Do you only want to treat the fanbase who watch races online on an online network while offering such tough luck to those who don't want to watch live sports exclusively online? Then congratulations- you are diminishing your own fanbase.

I guess I may well just look at streaming media from elsewhere if this is how the ALMS wants to *exclusively* cover its live events. At least I know I don't have to exclusively be on Radio Le Mans to enjoy the 24 Hours of Le Mans when it comes time for Le Mans. And of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans isn't a round of the ALMS.

More Personal Thoughts (added: APR. 17, 2011).

I saw the coverage of the ALMS round at Long Beach on ESPN2. It's the first on-TV coverage I was able to see, and to say the least... wow. Great action soiled by pathetic commentary. The real saving grace was the beautiful young Jamie Howe covering pit action very well. I don't know... the play-by-play commentary was substandard. I've already tend to miss the tandem of Diffey/Schroder/Fish for Speed channel (or Neville or Till/Schroder/Fish). This was a very poor commentary performance.

I even glanced at the Facebook fan page of the American Le Mans Series, and even some of those fans were disappointed even as the Long Beach round wrapped up. Want more Facebook reaction? Read the next section!

--- Facebook Reaction ---
Take a look at what people have said on Facebook in regards to the ESPN/ABC coverage. Names are undisclosed to protectt privacy. Everything provided for educational and discussion purposes:

"The ABC recap is well produced, I hope this will go a long way to easing through the transition to the new format. To be honest though I would much rather hear John Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw, announce it, was not overly impressed by the announcers, but to be fair the whole radio le mans crew sets the bar so high it is hard to hit. They just bring so much passion to the races, and have the ability to create even more excitement."

"ALMS shot themselves in the foot with the media coverage....good race but like some others said....bonehead move with the TV deal."

"so far not impressed with the 'highlighted' coverage what a huge let down ..."

"I scroll thru over 1000 channels on my Directv system. Seriously full of crap channels with crap shows that NOONE watches yet somehow THEY get on TV but ALMS can't? It's embarrassing for you. I can watch a guy paint landscapes 7 days a week but you guys can't get it together to get your product on the air? 24 hours a day I can watch shows for ab machines and magical shammies but ALMS can't figure out how to get on TV?

You really need to fire someone over there . . ."

"I have read many posts on this new broadcast/streaming deal. There are those that like it and those that hate it and there are many out there that did not seem to even know that ALMS was not on commercial TV this year. One thing for sure, is what you see is what you get, because of contracts with ABS/ESPN. I watched the race yesterday on and have absolutely no complaints, but I know I am not in the majority. What I would like to see is ALMS step up and admit, that they dropped the ball with the late news that the video feed would not be on their site for those with in the US 50 states. Also that all cable/ISP providers cannot provide the need bandwidth, there for many that did receive the broadcast had bad video feed and buffering with frame freeze. If they do that and show improvements for Long Beach, they will make a lot of fans happy. I also believe that they will lose long time fans (most likely not the loyal hardcore fans) no matter what they do."

"No live coverage. Unless you have a tech kid in the house. ABC coverage poor. Maybe NASCAR fans will watch. You had every wreck that happened. And yellow flags. You made a bad deal Atherton. Maybe you were not paying attention, but they lost Indycar because they would prefer to show rythmic gymnastics. ALMS will remain the biggest secret in motorsports. I WILL NOT BE WATCHING!!"

"I agree w/ most of my race fan, Facebook pals. The ABC/ESPN coverage coverage is really gonna hurt ALMS. Deja Vu from last year & NBC."

"So instead of watching ALMS i get to watch the Paris Open of tennis. ABC seriously screwed the series! If you guys were worried about it last year because of pack of competitors, you better watch out for a lack of fans this year!" (I think this person meant "lack of competitors" rather than "pack of competitors." -JM)

"Thank you very much for the awesome coverage on ESPN 3!!! SO much better than SPEED, because there was no 3-4 hr interruption to go cover NASCAR Craftsman Truck series QUALIFYING......*sheesh what a load of crap SPEED*, Anyway, Thanks again and I hope all the races work out this well... :)"

"I'm extremely disappointed in this nonsense. I've paid dearly for two HDTV's in my house and I have to watch premier car racing in front of my computer...or I have to hook a computer and get not-even-close to a HD quality broadcast? Hell, even the rednecks in NASCAR have a TV deal...and this is supposed to be gentleman racing? How do you expect to get more followers with lame after the fact day after coverage that shows mainly crashes?"

You now know how some people feel about this. Many others have either voiced their own approval or disapproval depending on who you ask or what you read.

For the record, I have NOT watched ESPN3 or of the ESPN/ABC footage of the Sebring event as of this blog post. I already have somewhat an idea of what the coverage must have been like if I am just going on what others have said on this race. I still love the ALMS. I still root on teams like Houston-based Risi Competizione, Flying Lizard, BMW Motorsport, Highcroft Racing, and many other teams. I just disagree and disapprove of this new TV package.

In Case You're Interested...

If you want to see another other blogger's view on this new TV deal, I invite you to read this Wordpress blog post called
"Breaking News: ALMS Announces New TV Deal, All Live Coverage is Online ONLY!". I hope you've enjoyed my blog post. If so, please subscribe to my blog and even share my content online, because more people reading (and hopefully enjoying) my stuff is ALWAYS cool! :)

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