At Indy, interest is fueled by Patrick


May 26, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

With any big sporting event these days, it seems a discussion of the broadcast includes a mention of the many "platforms" available to consumers for viewing or receiving information.

This was the case during a conference call this week for ABC's coverage of Sunday's Indianapolis 500 (noon, WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7).

Sure, you can just watch on ABC, but there are also many presentations beyond the telecast -'s RaceCast, Mobile ESPN, video blogs, podcasts.

But here's part of the deal: Nothing will drive this race - and Indy racing - across whatever platforms you want to pick as much as a strong showing by Danica Patrick.

She was the subject of some of the first questions on the conference call. Race analyst Scott Goodyear, asked how important it was for Patrick to do well, responded: "It's important for Danica."

But Goodyear, a former Indy driver, didn't deny her appeal to the audience.

"For her to win an event ... would raise awareness of the sport," he said. " ... Will she win a race? I absolutely think she will. Will it be this year? I don't know."

Rusty Wallace, the former NASCAR star and rookie announcer, told of driving with Patrick at the Daytona 24-hour race earlier this year and how she put the team's car into third place.

"She's the real thing," Wallace said.

Wallace also stressed the other story lines at Indy - Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti - along with "a new television team that's passionate. That's going to drive ratings."

(Perhaps, though somehow I don't expect Wallace will be the featured subject of a pictorial in a men's magazine anytime soon.)

ABC obviously was looking to drive the ratings with the addition of Wallace, a popular stock car driver but an open-wheel rookie. Does his different background matter?

Goodyear acknowledged initially he "was a little concerned. How do you take someone from NASCAR? ... But racing is racing."

ABC/ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said: "We're looking to tell stories and tell viewers what it's like. ... He'll bring a level of different perspective."

Goodyear, who took to calling Wallace "Tin Top" for his experience in stock cars, said the Indy series could learn from NASCAR.

"We're in the entertainment business," he said, "and this is something NASCAR understands."

Next year, ABC and ESPN will carry NASCAR, and Williamson said the networks hope to see the more popular circuit help raise the profile of the Indy Racing League.

"We're going to take an approach to open-wheel and NASCAR that's complementary," he said. " ... In a lot of research we've done, race fans are race fans."

The lineup

In addition to Goodyear and Wallace, ABC's announcing crew includes host Brent Musburger and anchor Marty Reid, along with a team of reporters in the pits. ... ABC will show national commercials in split screen, allowing viewers to keep track of the race while contemplating the benefits of purchasing various goods and services. ...

If racing is indeed racing, you could watch it all day Sunday. Fox carries the Nextel Cup's Coca-Cola 600 starting at 5 p.m. (WBBF/Channel 45 and WTTG/Channel 5). That's 1,100 miles in one day. Better get your couch rotated.

Can't get close to you

In the aftermath of Saturday's Preakness, while Pimlico officials were trying to get injured Barbaro treated, they also didn't want the media getting too close of a look.

During the local coverage on WBAL, Channel 11's Stan Stovall was stationed near the barns. His reports mainly consisted of saying how police and security had pushed the media away from the barn where Barbaro was taken before he left in an equine ambulance. At one point, Stovall said he and his crew had been threatened with arrest three times.

Now, if only that had been someone other than Stovall, to whom I am favorably disposed. Then I could have said the police were going to charge him with impersonating a news anchor.

College knowledge

ABC/ESPN said this week how it will deploy its college football announcers. Some of the key moves: Musburger will be teamed with Bob Davie and Kirk Herbstreit on ABC's Saturday night games; Paul Maguire, displaced from ESPN's Sunday night NFL games, joins Brad Nessler and Bob Griese on ABC telecasts; Mike Patrick, Maguire's former Sunday night colleague, teams with Todd Blackledge for ESPN Saturday nights; Dan Fouts, a longtime analyst, moves to play-by-play on ABC, challenged by his pairing with Tim Brant.

Having connections

If you're WJZ, there are times you should be really glad your sports anchor has a radio show. Such as this week, when Channel 13's Mark Viviano brought his colleague, Denise Koch, on to his WJFK radio show to talk up her interview with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, which aired on WJZ's evening news. Feel the synergy.

TV Highlights

Matrimony: Mike & Mike in the Morning's win-a-wedding winners will get married this morning at 9 on ESPN2. It's the "Ultimate Sports Wedding," we're told, taking place at ESPN. And if things don't work out, maybe we can see the "Ultimate Sports Divorce" in a few years.

Golf: CBS profiles legendary - and, in this case, the word actually applies - Ben Hogan tomorrow at 2 p.m. (WJZ/Channel 13 and WUSA/Channel 9) in "Ben Hogan: The Quest for Perfection."

Tennis: They'll get down and dirty in the clay of Roland Garros for two weeks, starting Sunday (taped coverage, ESPN2, noon). If you want to see American men, you'd better watch the first week.

[Compiled by Ray Frager]

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