OK, NASCAR fans, before you even start.
Fox Sports tried to keep everybody happy Saturday afternoon and evening and wound up pleasing nobody. The people who work for the network will be the first to tell you things didn’t turn out as Fox hoped it would when a rain delay pushed the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox baseball game back into the start of the Subway Fresh Fit 500 from Phoenix International Raceway.
Fox was actually trying to do the right thing. I know how NASCAR fans are, believing that a race – including the prerace – should take precedence over any other sport being broadcast. But that’s just not how things work in the real world.
The Yankees-Red Sox game was on in the afternoon and the Sox led 4-3 in the top of the eighth. Alex Rodriguez was coming up with a chance to tie the game or put the Yankees ahead, but the rain got there first. Two hours later, the tarp came off and the game was about to resume.
Fox had actually switched to the race at Phoenix at 7:45 p.m. Eastern, 15 minutes early, when coverage of the other baseball game it had on was complete. But word came that the Yankees and Red Sox would resume about 8:25 p.m.
NASCAR agreed to push the start of the Phoenix race back from 8:45 p.m. to 8:53 p.m. to try to allow Fox to show the conclusion of a game that a lot of people have an interest in.
Yes, it’s April and early in the baseball season. But even the most ardent NASCAR-or-nothing fan has to understand the New York-Boston baseball rivalry is special.
The game actually didn’t resume until right at 8:30. The Sox got A-Rod out and held the lead, and then were in the process of completing the win in the top of the ninth. With two outs and a 3-2 count on Robinson Cano kept fouling off Jonathan Papelbon pitches and extending the game.
Fox’s contract with NASCAR required it to show the race from the start. NASCAR tried to help, dallying until 8:55 p.m. Eastern time, but a moment after the green flag flew Fox switched from baseball to the race with cars coming up to speed on the first lap.
Now when the baseball game came back on, announcer Joe Buck told fans the game was also being shown on FX cable and that the Fox network feed would have to switch to racing at 8:53 p.m., leaving the baseball game on FX only. Two pitches after the switch was made, Cano grounded out and the baseball game ended.
Fox wanted to show the end of the baseball game and the start of the race to everybody on the network. What it wound up doing was showing neither. You could be cynical about it and say the network was trying to have the best of both worlds, hoarding as many viewers as possible for its network ratings by going for a gamble that failed.
Or, you could say Fox’s heart was in the right place as it tried to give everybody what they wanted and they just got unlucky.
Fans on both sides of the fence were irate.
The New York Daily News compared the decision to switch to NASCAR to the famous “Heidi” incident in1968 when NBC switched from a football game to show a movie version of “Heidi” only to miss a furious late-game rally.
Some NASCAR fans, typically, had zero perspective on the spot Fox found itself in. Some fans actually complained they didn’t get to see the national anthem, flyover and prerace command to fire engines. They didn’t feel baseball should be even allowed to infringe for a moment on the race telecast.
Turn that around. What if a race had started at 3 p.m. and, after a two-hour rain delay, had been resumed. Then, because of contractual obligations, a network would have had to switch away from the final two laps of a race to show the first pitch of a baseball game? Wouldn’t that have sent race fans into a tizzy? Sure it would have.
Fox’s mistake, in hindsight, was putting the baseball game back on Fox to start with. The network should have merely put a crawl across the screen saying the baseball game had resumed and was being shown on FX, and the NASCAR commentators could have mentioned that, too. It would have avoided the awkward, last-second switching that satisfied nobody.
But, to the network’s credit, the effort that was made was one of trying to serve viewers. It didn’t work out like Fox or the viewers would have wanted it to, but shouldn’t there be some credit for even trying?
Monday, April 14, 2008
OK, NASCAR fans, before you even start.