So that was race one of the 2013 Indycar season, and what an intense, action packed, nerve shredding one it was. The race was won for the first time in his Indycar career, James Hinchcliffe, a result that has pleased a lot of fans with his off track charisma often on full show. But this gave us the first opportunity to evaluate the new TV deal we have in the UK, moving from Sky Sports to ESPN.
The writing had been on the wall for some time, and general gut feeling was that, despite having its most entertaining season in years, Sky was going to drop their coverage, and so they did, the deal saw ESPN take over the broadcasting rights, many were worried about this and the effect it would have on their ability to keep watching on TV.
Other blogs and comments have covered this, so now to what we actually saw. The programme previous (live Rugby Union) over ran by just over five minutes, hmm, good start. Even better was Mark Durden-Smith introducing the race being from St Pitsburg (a nod to previous Eurosport commentators). Eventually this led us to the opening titles; well title would be a better description - An American flag with ‘Indycar Series Live from St Petersburg’ on display. We jumped straight to the track, and an Australian announcer, unknown to the causal or untrained fan, Leigh Diffey. Then bang, straight to a break.
Then back after a few moments to NBCSN features taking us up to another break. Basically a cut’n’paste job to fill the gaps until the live race coverage began. At this point, we are at the mercy of NBC, with no UK studio coverage.
Something that will be an annoyance to British viewers who are not used to the American style of sports broadcasting... Commercial breaks, and plenty of them, sadly with no studio, we had them... And, a lot of them! From this point it is out of ESPN’s control, we cannot really lambast them, as much as some would like to.
A quick word about the race coverage itself, it was the first time I heard Leigh Diffey call any races, and in one word, impressive! Good knowledge, enthusiastic, great interaction with his co-commentators and when something exciting was happening on track, he made sure we knew about it. NBCSN is often applauded for their Indycar coverage, and again they did not disappoint. Good work also from the rearranged pit reporting crew for this season, in particular Jon Beekhuis, who is a must follow on twitter, Townshend Bell has moved up to the commentary box for this season.
In summary, it is basically what we expected from ESPN, no UK studio or presentation, a direct feed from America with plenty of commercial breaks. But, credit where it is due. The programme was due to end at 7pm, but due to the number of caution periods (and length!) the show was over running by around 5 mins until the expected end of the race. To mine and many others surprise ESPN
stayed with the coverage, including post race ceremonies and interviews until 7:20pm, a welcome sight. Sadly I do feel this was a case of deal or no deal, the pre and post race content sorely misses some cohesion which we had from Keith Huewen and his studio guests. The next race is at Barber, AL, and is shown ‘as live’. I can only hope the quality of this race will convince them that the quality of on track product is up with the best in the world and deserves to be show live. The Indy Lights highlights are also being shown by ESPN (Friday @ 11am) fans of Jack Hawksworth and Pippa Mann should tune in!
A final thought, always remember to record the programme after or alter your series link record time to run over, some sky plus viewers race ended on lap...109/110...