It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. For months now it’s been common knowledge that SPEED Channel was going to become Fox Sports 1. It would be the opening volley of an attempt to break the domination of America’s premier sporting network, ESPN. Founded in 1979, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network has become the gold standard for sports news and coverage. However, Fox was going to streamline its resources and set themselves up as a serious challenger to “the Mother Ship” as Dan Patrick calls it. With contracts to air baseball, (American) football, soccer (football), UFC, NASCAR and sports car racing among others, they certainly had the goods but where to start? So that’s how SPEED is now Fox Sports 1, Fuel TV is now Fox Sports 2 – but why are fans crying?
Races are still being broadcast on either Fox Sports 1 or 2. The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race in Kansas aired live on Fox Sports 2 (according to RACER) and on a delayed Fox Sports 1 broadcast the next day. It was announced that there will be a five-year deal to air the Unified Sports Car Racing (USCR) series starting in 2014. There we thought that the only thing we were losing this year was the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). However, it looks like every single car-related show that called SPEED Channel their home is gone. The only survivors are NASCAR Race Hub, NASCAR Race Day and NASCAR Victory Lane. (You see what’s going on?)
Personally I’m not sorry to see RU You Faster Than a Redneck? shuffled off this mortal coil; but the loss of SPEED Center is palpable. Unlike all the other news shows on sports networks, only SPEED Center focused on racing. It was also clear that its presenter, Adam Alexander and the on-screen team genuinely love racing. Whether they were talking about NASCAR, World Rally Championship (WRC), IndyCar, Formula 1, TORC, Sprint Car, Sports Cars, MotoGP, MotoCross or Pikes Peak; every race was well-covered within the time allowed. I’d even hazard a guess that they probably had a hard time keeping it under an hour. SPEED Center also had current race car drivers serve as analysts. Sam Hornish Jr. and James Hinchcliffe, were both part of the final episode, while the latter had his own segment following IndyCar races. For the most part, they were able to give honest insights without getting into too much hot water with their bosses and/or sponsors, as far as we know.
When news hit that SPEED Center was getting cancelled, Alexander was asked via Twitter about his future with Fox Sports 1. I couldn’t have been the only one who blinked when he responded that he was going be calling college football. Wait, if he’s not covering non-NASCAR racing then who? According to the promo for Fox Sports 1’s signature program (directly competing against ESPN’s Sportscenter), Fox Sports Live – nobody. Oh wait no, former NFL player, Ephraim Salaam said that he’s a NASCAR fan. Too bad for the rest of motorsports, eh?
Fox Sports Live is a one hour show that airs all night long. During its premiere episode, NASCAR got no more than 5 seconds coverage. Other than that, it was a continuous stream of baseball, (American) football, soccer (football) and UFC all night long. Every post by Fox Sports 1 on their official Facebook page was roasted to ashes by angry racing fans – of all kinds of racing. I know because I threw in a few barbs myself and no, I’m not sorry about it. UFC fans were the first to strike back (no pun intended) because they were happy that their sport was getting prime coverage. Honestly I’m happy for them too, but it looks like everything has been thrown out with the bath water; and the NASCAR baby is holding on for dear life.
The next day my own grief was assuaged by the sight of Bob Varsha co-hosting the MotoGP race at Indy. Just seeing him made me feel like all wasn’t lost, although it’s pretty clear that he along with the rest of SPEED’s analysts are now the B-Team, after more than a decade of being the A-Team. That can’t be easy and you could feel their sadness during remarks on the last episode of Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain. I think they’re just happy to have a job and doing the best that they can. We’ve all been there and if you haven’t, then you’re truly blessed.
Now brace yourself for what you’re about to read because it comes with a disclaimer. If you know just one thing about me, it’s that I’m a total sports chick. I watch The Dan Patrick Show and mostly bounce around from one sports network to another for most of the day. I’m actually enjoying Fox Sports 1 albeit begrudgingly. Their anchors Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole make me laugh (no really). Although the women are dolled up to maximum levels, they’re very smart and can hold their own with the guys. Speaking of the guys, they’re great. They know their stuff and I’m looking forward to the (American) football shows. Recently, I’ve started paying attention to MMA and there’s boxing on Monday nights which has always been my jam.
Since the premiere, there has been a very slight increase of racing coverage; but it’s obvious that neither Jay nor Dan know how to call it properly; and the panel’s not discussing it either. The furor on their Facebook page has degenerated into an all-out war of words between racing fans and everybody else. Emotions are running high and when arguments get emotional – nobody really wins. Truth be told, the Fox Sports 1 presenters shouldn’t bear the blame for executive decisions made by their bosses; but, racing fans have been slighted, so Fox Sports 1’s emphasis on fun – salts and peppers our wounds. Until right is done by us, we’ll always mourn the loss of SPEED Channel. In the meantime, to the internet we go, which should make the bosses behind websites like RACER and Motorsport very, very happy.
I heartily recommend that you read this article published on Car and Driver by the folks who knew SPEED Channel best and will bear its loss much more heavily than we ever could: http://www.caranddriver.com/features/voices-of-speed-reflections-on-the-demise-of-the-speed-channel-feature