Sunday, September 19, 2010


It would be nice to say the Chase got the kind of Saturn V launch the sport this format was created to challenge, the NFL, had for the start of its season. (Just look at football's TV ratings.)

Sorry, but that would not be true.

We're told changes are coming to NASCAR's playoff format, but this we already can say for sure: The air has gone out of the balloon as far as the pre-Chase hypefest is concerned. Last week's gathering of the 12 championship contenders in New York City resulted in the least amount of media buzz since this tradition began in 2004. It's not NASCAR's fault the Letterman show wasn't in production last week, for example, but the overall results did not justify the time, effort or resources expended and was yet another fast-blinking yellow light for the sanction's new (as yet unnamed) Chief Communications Officer (see last week's blog) and his/her team.

Two years ago, as a cost-cutting move, NASCAR and the Chase tracks did away with individual media gatherings in those 10 locales -- the highlight of which was a satellite TV interview with three drivers. I said at the time this was a mistake because it erased the valuable opportunity for one-on-one relationship building with journalists. Last season, a webcast was put into place, with the explanation it would make things more convenient for reporters. Unless I missed something, even that went by the board this time around.

The 2010 Chase "kickoff" was more than a disappointment. It was a near dud. (If I didn't know better I'd think this was an IndyCar production.) Requiring the Chasers to come to New York so they could be interviewed on Sirius radio? Please . . . That, given a good cell phone connection, was doable from anywhere. (Ask Paul Tracy his location when I made him do a live radio talk at CART's 1995 Cleveland Grand Prix.)

With Most Popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of Chase contention -- again -- and not much drama surrounding the final positions, there simply wasn't much chatter to help build interest (let alone excitement) going into New Hampshire. Jim Utter wrote about all of this well the other day and I'll just provide the link here because I agree with him:

Every last detail of Drum-Beating-for-the-Chase needs to have a good, long, hard, HONEST, comprehensive rethink. Another example: Ryan Newman has been assigned to go to Phoenix in a couple of weeks to publicize PIR's November race. No disrespect to Newman, who did win at the Arizona oval earlier this season, but HE's NOT IN THE CHASE AND THE EVENT IS ROUTINELY HYPED AS BEING THE "CHASE SEMIFINAL." Someone please tell me how tasking a non-Chase driver to promote the Chase semifinal makes any sense? While such decisions are made well-in-advance, for scheduling purposes, NASCAR MUST be more nimble when it becomes obvious which drivers are going to be in-or-out of the playoffs.

Since NASCAR is about to completely recast its communications operation, here's a thought: Use the example of your own Fan Council, and create a professional PR Advisory Panel. Be sure to have a meaningful representation from outside the Cup garage area. If you wonder why I say that, well, ponder this: I've been contributing to the Arizona Republic's racing coverage since the fall of 2007, but it was only recently that two of the participating automakers' publicists got around to putting me on their news release distribution list. (!) I've said for years one of the biggest errors committed by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it's soon-to-no-longer-be-called-IRL was an "Indiana only" mindset in terms of ideas-generating hires. NASCAR's new CCO, very likely to come from outside the sport, will certainly need to listen to the garage insiders -- but balance that against the concepts of those who actually can see the landscape beyond whatever speedway is being occupied on any given weekend.

And, if NASCAR would benefit from such a PR Advisory Panel, just imagine how badly IMS, IRL, NHRA, ALMS and Grand-Am needs such a group.

I mentioned above, and did so last week, and have done so many times, the absolute golden value of true one-on-one-relationship building. Well, I've finally gotten around to something I've wanted to do for awhile -- read President Ronald Reagan's The Reagan Diaries -- and historian/editor Douglas Brinkley notes this in his introduction (bold emphasis mine):

"While Reagan was always guarded in his attitude toward the Soviets, he believed that progress would be made if he could communicate directly with them -- by letter, telephone, or in person. And he was right."

Please note, all who think pressing "send" on the keyboard or putting 140 characters on Twitter constitutes legitimate relationship building.

I'm always glad when someone tweaks one of the media elites, and it happened last week to Bill O'Reilly. During his opening "Talking Points Memo," O'Reilly said it would not be "prudent" for him to comment on the bizarre dustup created when Fox News Channel (and George W. Bush political strategist) Karl Rove dumped all-over Delaware senate primary winner (and Tea Party favorite) Christine O'Donnell. O'Reilly's first guest was none other than O'Donnell supporter Sarah Palin, who said of course it wouldn't be "prudent" for her to comment -- "but I'll do it anyway."

Meanwhile, over at last-place CBS Evening News, Katie Couric was smiling as she read the results of a CBS poll that claimed people believe Gov. Palin is more interested in promoting herself than in serving the country. Here's the poll I'd like to see CBS commission: Do you think Couric is more interested in being a serious journalist, or more interested in being a rich celebrity?

On the flap regarding the female TV reporter and the New York Jets: It says here that, while there's never an excuse for bad behavior, the NFL itself shares in the responsibility. If the League had shut-down the outrageous nonsense that has long gone on at Super Bowl Media Day, and insisted on proper and professional conduct by both its players and media types, this latest incident might not have happened because there wouldn't have been an atmosphere for it. The NFL itself has been an enabler of such behavior.

Here's a link to my September "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on -- "NHRA did what it had to do":

RIP, the press release?

[ more next Monday . . . ]