By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 13, 2001
NBC wants NASCAR fans to know it is listening, and not just to the Nielsen folks who said Saturday's broadcast of the Pepsi 400 was the highest-rated prime time Winston Cup race in history.
The numbers notwithstanding -- NBC's own figures estimate 25-million people tuned in to at least part of the race, and it garnered a 6.1 national rating -- the network is well aware the first broadcast under its six-year deal with NASCAR didn't impress the media or, for the most part, the fans.
Close to 100 readers e-mailed the Times, a majority of them sick of commercials, livid about the technical glitches and unhappy with the trio of announcers (Allen Bestwick, Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach).
The first two complaints might resolve themselves Sunday. NBC dug itself a hole by going without a commercial for the first 20 minutes of the race, then threw in more ads later in an effort to catch up. That meant fans didn't get to see many pit stops, which are especially key late in the race.
The problem seemed worse midway through the race when, for 10 minutes, NBC had to keep going to commercials while resolving technical problems that left viewers either with a green screen or telephone quality audio. Also, said communications director Kevin Sullivan, there may have been more commercials because NBC sold all its spots and the race was in prime time. "Even though it was the same inventory (ad) load as Fox, that's not to say they used them all all the time," Sullivan said. A larger problem might prove to be the voices in the booth. The chemistry producer Sam Flood boasted about last week was not evident during the race. Bestwick and Parsons are solid announcers, but there was little give and take between them. Rookie Dallenbach made a few relevant points, but he barely chimed in.
And while the three did a good job putting Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory into perspective after the fact, for most of the race -- in which Dale Jr. clearly had the superior car -- there was almost no talk about what a great story it would be if he won. It was all facts; not much fun.
"Some people have said it was lacking," Parsons said Thursday. "If that is a fact, we need to work together. I think the talent is there."
Sullivan said NBC will be placing more of an emphasis on its pit reporters -- a smart move, because they clearly are the strength of the broadcast team. Lead pit reporter Bill Weber will have an increased role.
OOPS:Since the Times' second Great Tampa Bay TV/Radio Survey ballot went to press Tuesday, there are a couple things we wish we could change. Most notably, we shouldn't have included Nick Charles in the category for best national anchor. Charles, one of CNN's original employees, left quietly when his contract expired in February. Also, we wanted to note Rays announcer Charlie Slowes, like boothmate Paul Olden, is a play-by-play specialist.
You can participate in the survey by visiting www.tampabay.com/tvsurvey by July 23.
FINE TUNING: Monday's WNBA All-Star Game in Orlando will be televised in 168 countries in 23 languages by 37 announcing teams. Stateside, the game will be aired at 8 p.m. on ESPN. ... ESPN will have 12 hours of live first- and second-round coverage of the British Open, beginning at 8 a.m. each day. The network also will preview the tournament Wednesday at 5 p.m. ... CBS will air coverage of the HP Women's Challenge, a 688.1-mile race billed as the women's answer to the Tour de France, Saturday at 4 p.m. ... HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (Monday, 10 p.m.) will profile 18-year-old central Florida basketball star Amare Stoudemire, a senior who this fall will enroll in his sixth high school and already is considered a top prospect for the 2002 NBA draft.