Monday, November 10, 2008

ESPN: Chase the Heidi Game II

By Bobby

The Heidi Game has reared its ugly head again on ESPN, and once again, during a NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase race does the incident struck -- the second.

Prior to ESPN acquiring the NASCAR second-half contract, NASCAR featured the "Jamie McMurray Rule," where any event that started late because of a weather or incident would stay on the broadcast network and not moved to cable once the race passed 7 PM. (It does not affect post-race shows.) The rule is named for the winner of the 2002 UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the first race where the precedent was set when NBC did not move the race to TNT at 7 PM, allowing a network television audience see the upset win of the Missouri driver, who, in his second race substituting for an injured Sterling Marin, winning his first race.

When ESPN acquired the second half of the Sprint Cup Series contract starting in 2007, despite ABC's 2004 and ESPN's 2007 treatment of the Indianapolis 500 where the races were shown on ABC and the ESPN Broadcast Network (note the change in title made in September 2006) and ran past prime-time to shortened finishes, the saloons were not entitled to the same treatment as the IRL (the Indianapolis 500 stays on the ESPN Broadcast Network as are four other big races, and do not move to Versus in 2009). Last year at Kansas, the LifeLock 400 (Playoff Race 3) was the victim of ESPN's actions, moving from the ESPN Broadcast Network to ESPN2 after a Lap 148 rain delay (they raced 62 more laps). A controversial finish ensued with Greg Biffle winning despite being passed by others for not keeping with safety car speed during the final laps under caution. The ESPN Broadcast Network had to flip to ABC to air the season premieres of their primetime schedule, including Desperate Housewives.

Well, it happened again. Sunday, during the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 in Avondale, AZ, a 44-minute rain storm and then a 19-minute red flag caused by a crash led to a decision by the ESPN Broadcast Network (which had scheduled 30 minutes of runover into 7:30) to tell the Sprint Cup cars that on Lap 275, with 37 laps remaining (turned out to be 38 because of penultimate lap safety car rules), they had to leave the broadcast network and again switch to ESPN2 only on the Eastern and Central time zones so sweeps America's Funniest Home Videos, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Desperate Housewives, and Brothers & Sisters could air. Once again, the raunchy women of Wisteria Lane were able to bump out a saloon playoff event with less than 100 miles remaining.

There's a difference between a forced shift caused by time-buy arrangements (NBC's 2007 Stanley Cup playoff game between Buffalo and Ottawa, Game 6 bumped to Versus because of the Preakness Stakes) against a rights-fee event. But NASCAR has been victimised again by a playoff bump to cable when the playoffs were set to be a network television event and a rights-fee event.

I set the DVR for the race knowing that I would miss most of it after the start because I had a 2-hour drive to a Point of Grace concert (one of the few pop groups I would attend a concert; this dates back to my college days before I began taking voice lessons years after graduation for fun). Imagine my outrage when I checked the DVR after recording what I thought was the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, and only to see with 37 laps remaining I was watching something else. Many East Coast fans who had set the DVR to record the event finish after evening church services were angry.

Imagine rain in Miami causing the entire championship race to be moved to ESPN2. That's the attitude they have on the ESPN Broadcast Network.

It seems ESPN's attitude is they do not believe in the idea broadcast networks should show the finish of any event, but instead believes they should just cut off the event in order to appease raunchy women.

But remember that men no longer are an important demographic; as we saw in the Presidential election, men's votes no longer matter. In 1996 (Clinton) and 2008 (Obama), the winning Democrat lost the men's vote, but easily made up for it by carrying women, thereby making men irrelevant. Once again, we saw men being irrelevant by having a Sprint Cup playoff race moved to cable in order to protect one popular show among women -- and that is the raunchy women of Wisteria Lane.

Oh, by the way: Here is a long of what East Coast viewers missed from the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500:

Lap 278: Restart, Top Five 48-Johnson, 2-Kurt Busch, 26-McMurray, 99-Edwards, 88-Earnhardt Jr - Caution was 5 Laps and 19 minute red flag.

Lap 282: A 3-wide race for 7th between Childress teammates 29-Harvick and 31-Burton along Gibbs Racing's 18-Kyle Busch.

Lap 283: Safety car, 41-Reed Sorenson hit wall after flat tire and contact with 18-Kyle Busch, as 17-Matt Kenseth earns the freebie.

Lap 285: Pit stops by 16-Biffle and 20-Stewart.

Lap 288: Restart. Leaders 48, 2, 26, 99, 88. Caution was 6 laps long. (Note caution lap includes lap before official start, since the caution lap count officially starts when the cars cross the start-finish line. The caution starts officially at the moment of caution, not when the line is crossed.)

Lap 291: 48-Johnson up by .6 seconds over 2-Kurt Busch.

Lap 292: Safety car, debris, 8-Mark Martin earns freebie.

Lap 296: Restart. Leaders 48, 2, 26, 99, 88. Caution was 4 laps long.

Lap 305: Safety car. 20-Stewart, 17-Kenseth, 7-Robby Gordon, 10-Allmendinger collide. No freebie (under 10 laps).

Lap 311: Under safety car. Two laps upon restart.

Lap 312: Restart. 48, 2, 26, 99, 11-Hamlin. 7-lap caution. Race must end with two consecutive laps of green or first safety car after final restart.

Lap 313: Jimmie Johnson wins the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, with Kurt Busch second, Jamie McMurray third, Carl Edwards fourth, and Denny Hamlin fifth. Johnson, who now has won seven races, needs only to score 55 points (36th without bonuses) at the Ford 400 in Homestead, Florida to win his third consecutive championship. A ten-car crash takes place when a vengeful Matt Kenseth goes after AJ Allmendinger at the finish. That should be a trip to the Oval Office.

It seems the only demographic necessary to draw on prime-time television is the younger women. ABC's philosophy is that as they treat the Academy Awards as the biggest advertising event for women. Bumping out a Sprint Cup playoff event to protect the time of Desperate Housewives is absurd, considering CBS bumps 60 Minutes until after the late NFL game ends, and Fox has a "buffer hour" called The OT on NFL broadcasts, and does not bump NASCAR races if they run long. Of course, the identity of the affiliate changes from ESPN to ABC, so that could be the other factor.

But this may have shown what type of demographic matters now in society. Men no longer matter in elections as we saw in how women gave Obama the election, and either on television, as Disney showed in pulling a Heidi Game on another Sprint Cup playoff event in order to protect primetime, most notably Desperate Housewives.

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