There are many fans out there in the world like myself—those who absolutely love all that is racing, but usually cannot attend a live event. Because of this minor inconvenience, we are forced to go elsewhere to experience any particular race we want to see. Two obvious examples of this are to watch a race on T.V. or, if need be, to listen to one on the radio. There are times, however, when neither of these is available, so we are left to go online to follow twitter updates or to patiently wait until the race is over so that we can get some sort of recap of what has happened.
Nevertheless, fans such as myself would like to have every opportunity to watch a live broadcast of a race– especially our personal favorites. It’s no secret that I find sports car racing, such as the American Le Mans Series, to be some of the best racing in the world. Every year, I look forward to the three “great” American sports car races (24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and the 10 Hour Petite Le Mans) along with the pinnacle sports car race of the year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. One of those great races, the 12 Hours of Sebring, happened last weekend. Unlike in years past, this year they only broadcast live on ESPN3.com and the official ALMS website (but not in the United States). The next day, they replayed the race on ABC. This move was very ambitious by the series and on the outside, the switch appeared smooth and problem-free.
By the time the race had started, however, fans were in an uproar. There are many ALMS fans in the U.S. who do not have ESPN3 and, just by virtue of being in the U.S., can’t receive the website’s feed. What are they to do? They were left with very few options. This type of move may have been better received if it was not one of the biggest North American sports car races of the year. The problems were not limited to ESPN3.com; my stream in Canada cut around the 5-hour mark and didn’t come back on for a while. All in all, the switch to an online stream of the race was not necessarily a good one.
This brings up a whole other issue: should motorsports in general get better broadcasting? Yes. What happened this weekend made me ask this question over and over. I’ve been asking it for years, but now that it seems to have happened to the pinnacle sports car series in America, this question is once again raised. There are two series in North America that get more than enough coverage: Formula One and NASCAR. NASCAR, I argue, gets way too much coverage. SPEED Channel, America’s only station dedicated to, well, SPEED, used to be known as Speedvision. All those who watched Speedvision will claim that it was far better than the current SPEED Channel. As someone who watched Speedvision with a passion, I agree with this common belief. Speedvision was a channel with most of its emphasis on racing. Similar to today, it had shows about NASCAR, shows about Formula One and some racing in the two series (again, like today, with the exception of the Busch Series and Winston Cup races), Grand-am racing, the American LeMans series, and the occasional ARCA or Sprint Car races (such as the World of Outlaws). Along with these, Speedvision also offered some live American Open-Wheel races (IRL and the CCWS).
One thing that I remember that stood out above these listed were the lesser series that actually got some air-time, such as the SCCA Trans-am series. This was one of my favourite series to watch. Like many fans in 2005, I was disappointed to hear of its closure. In 2009, the series got some sponsorship from Muscle Milk and re-opened. Unfortunately, this did not mean that it was going to be re-broadcast on the SPEED Channel. Many fans don’t even know of this series’ current existence because SPEED never even seems to mention it. This is a problem not limited to the Trans-Am Series. Before, there would be a show that played every week called Motorsport Mundial (as far as I know this show is still in existence, but not on the SPEED Channel). This show would recap various motorsports around the world, such as Rallycross, the V8 Supercar Series, DTM and even FIA Truck Racing! On top of this, Speedvision would replay various Touring Car Series from Australia, Europe and North America. Finally, the biggest tragedy with the current SPEED Channel is the lack of World Rally Championship coverage. Although it is quite difficult to film racing of this magnitude live, Speedvision used to replay each stage not long after the actual race took place. Along with many good things Speedvision had to offer, the WRC on SPEED has gone out of existence.
Instead, today on SPEED Channel there are many pointless shows on that really aren’t interesting to racing fans. Is there a need to show 8-hour coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile auction? Is there a need to have various different NASCAR shows that viewers don’t watch, such as the game show Pass Time? Is there a need to show a 2-hour NASCAR pre-race show before the NASCAR pre-race? There is too much junk and too much NASCAR (yes “junk” and NASCAR are kept separate because I quite like NASCAR). Not many people in North America are aware of the various series around the world unless they go online and follow them that way. There are great races from the FIA GT series, DTM, WTCC, BTCC, V8 Supercars and WRC that are getting absolutely no coverage.
Last year, the SPEED Channel proposed the idea of SPEED2, which would be an online channel (much like ESPN3) that would show these events. Since the proposal of this channel about a year ago, I haven’t heard anything about it. There is no question that the SPEED Channel needs to step up its game. Race fans don’t want to see many of the shows that are broadcast and even NASCAR fans, such as myself, find many of the NASCAR-geared shows rather useless and time-wasting. I remember SPEED used to broadcast classic races. Even that would be a large step-up from what is shown today.
In my opinion, the transformation from what the SPEED Channel is today to an ideal motorsports channel is nearly impossible and will take a long time. In the meantime, however, SPEED needs to get its online channel running (hey, at this point online is better than non-existent), put some focus back on some lesser-known North American series, such as the SCCA Trans-Am series, and at least give the ALMS some well-deserved coverage. Racing needs to be accessible again for the average fan. With the way things are going, more and more series will fall by the wayside.