NHRA's move from ESPN to Fox Sports 1 with 16 live events is great for the sport, but there will be issues that need to be worked out, sooner rather than later.
Lost in the discussion of NHRA’s move from the ESPN family of networks to rival FOX’s network and its cable operations is the discussion of production. When announced as the new president of drag racing’s most prominent sanctioning body last week, Peter Clifford stated NHRA would be moving its television production in-house.
On the face of it, that would seem to be a costly move, as production means (to me anyway) that NHRA would be responsible for on- and off-air talent, machinery used to produce the events and schlepping all of the above to 24 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events every year. Would FOX and its cable operatives provide air time only during this agreement or would NHRA share costs with its new broadcast partner?
In touting its new television arrangement this week, NHRA boasted of 450 hours dedicated to its shows in 2016, including a minimum of 16 races that will be shown live each year, four of them on the FOX network, not its sports derivatives. ESPN currently shows six live Sunday eliminations for its final, 2015 season. The tape-delay broadcasts have been moved around regularly and are often pre-empted, which is likely one of the reasons NHRA made these changes.
One big, big issue of live shows is the prospect of a blow-up and subsequent oil-down, something that can happen in any class, amateur and professional. The amount of time needed for the exceptionally effective Safety Safari to clean up such messes can vary - and manages to knock schedules off-kilter on many, if not most race weekends. It’s highly unlikely NHRA will immediately find new ways to lessen this problem but it can and should, in the future, lower the time it takes to clean up catastrophic mechanical failures.
Another question that remains about the prospect of changing television production values, who will be either behind or in front of the cameras and how these entertaining shows can best be produced. NHRA currently owns most of the still cameras and lenses its on-site photographers use; will the series also put up the money to purchase video cameras (and ancillary equipment) that are appropriate for over-the-air and cable broadcasting?
Because NHRA is a private company, we don’t know exactly how much of this equipment it already owns and how much will be co-opted from the broadcast partner starting with next year’s new partnership. None of that has been explained yet.
So we’ll have to wait and see the future for the estimable Mike Dunn, Dave Rieff, Gary Gerould and the pit crew folks, in addition to the people that mann all the cameras that ESPN used. Much of the start-line shots are now done without a human (except to clean the lens, a necessary evil in this sport), but the fact remains that assuming production in-house can be a can of worms.