OP-Ed – The 90 Minutes of Sebring

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This past weekend, we here at OpenPaddock were blessed to have the ALMSChicks, Heidi and Brie covering the season opener for the American Le Mans Series and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup 12 Hours of Sebring, and to have Ken Poe providing additional photos. Had it not been for them, we would have been in the dark when it comes to this most historic American sports car endurance race.

This season, the series switched broadcast partners from the conglomeration of SpeedTV, NBC, and others to ABC/ESPN. Unfortunately, the deal doesn’t allow for live TV coverage, but instead all of the events will be tape-delayed highlight shows. The races instead by shown live and in their entirety on-line at ESPN3.com. The fact that all the races were going to be available live in any format had some people excited and enthusiastic. Personally, I was skeptical and wanted to see the product actually at work before I made up my mind.

Well, I still don’t have any data since I wasn’t able to watch any of the coverage, but I DO have an opinion! ESPN3 is not an option for me as the phone company in my small town in Missouri doesn’t have an agreement with ESPN. Even if I had been able to watch on-line, the quality and connectivity was poor by many reports including from Todd McCandless of Formula1Blog.com who has bandwidth out the wazzoo! What I did get to see was the 90-minute highlight show on Sunday, the day after the race.

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My experience with the much reduced 90 Minutes of Sebring was better than most in that I actually got to see it. Many were reporting that the time-buy (yes, ALMS paid to have their races on TV) was pushed aside to show a tennis match instead. The commentary was fine, as was the camera work, but dang it, this is the 12 HOURS of Sebring, not the 90 Minutes of Sebring, and condensing all of the drama and racing action of a 12 hour endurance race to a 90 minute highlight reel caused the race to lose a lot of its flavor and excitement. Case in point: One of the most dramatic moments of any endurance race is the transition from day to night. There was nothing on the sunset transition, which is a real shame. Not only is a dramatic time in the race, but it also makes for some incredible scenes like the one shown in the photo to the left.

As for me, I’ll watch the highlight reel when I can, but I’m not going out of my way to watch it, and I absolutely won’t worry about trying to find ways around the ESPN3 thing. This season, I’m returning to an old-school method of enjoying the races by listening to Shaw and Hindy call the race live at RadioLeMans.com. ALMS has to be feeling like Lando Calrissian right now. They should just be glad that ABC isn’t making them wear clown shoes and race unicycles.

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6 Thoughts to “OP-Ed – The 90 Minutes of Sebring

  1. Mac

    I have to agree with you. I was really disappointed in the 90 min coverage of the 12 Hours. It seemed to be nothing but a disjointed set of highlights; it didn’t tell the story of the race. In essence it went from a factory Peugeot leading to the Oreca Peugeot leading and Highcroft in second without telling us how it happened. I felt cheated after watching it because I don’t have access to internet to watch or listen 3 weekends out of each month.

  2. Mac, I think you struck on exactly why it was so disappointing, and I’m going to use your words for our podcast tonight. The broadcast didn’t tell a story! Perfect way to sum up the failure. -n9pkn

  3. JP

    I missed the technical aspects of the race: gearboxes being changed, brake changes all those long pit stop items that happen in a 12 or 24 hour race – none of it was covered. To me that is the fascinating and unique part of these endurance events and none of it was covered in the highlights. I told a nephew to watch because I thought he might be fascinated by that part of the race and all he got to see were soome 1 – 2 lap sequences where the field was bunched up after a restart. As he is a regular nascar fan, he doesn’t squeal in a high pitch when cars touch so the racing was “eh?” to him in those moments. As for the mechanical, there were some images where cars drove to the garage, but you had no idea what they were doing once they got back there.

    The number of classes relative to the 90 minutes was overwhelming also. Strikes me that they should have ~30 minutes per class covered to do all the aspects of the race justice. While that would not be spread evenly across the classes, it would give them enough time to do 10 – 15 minutes on the challenge classes and then really blow out the big classes.

    Another thing that puzzles me, how is it that 12 hours of Sebring has a 90 minute highlight show, while the “just shy of 3 hours or Long Beach” will have a 2 hour show?

    Everyone talks about how streaming is a way to “increase and reach out to fans” BS. Streaming of anything is for the hard core fan who wants to see the nuances of a race weekend or who refuse to pop cash for the sport they “Love”. Races are the top of the fan funnel, access to those should be as wide as possible and as high quality as possible. ALMS has settled for two models here, neither particularly good. Streaming, which equiptment issues aside, still only reaches 60% of households (those who have a big pipe and no fair usage restrictions) so the best version of the race can only bee seen by the few. Then the highlight broadcast that can be seen by many was poor in quality due to an overly tight time slot and poor editorial choices.

  4. jeremy walker

    Overall the recap was decent, having watched the full race on espn3.com the recap got as much as they could in the allotted time. Do not forget this is a 12 hour race, and they have to squeeze all the action into such a time slot. There had been many complaints with the previous years docudramas, and I think ALMS listened and made the changes, it is not a docudrama. The announcers were so so, but how can you compete with the Radio le mans crew, who announced the full race on espn3.com? For the time slot allotted, I think it was fairly good. I would have definitely had some disclaimer on the screen about it being a previous recording, as they didnt make it readily apparent., and neither did the announcers. The coming weeks with the shorter races should be better suited for this format though.

  5. Agreed Jeremy. Did not watch the highlight show, but the ESPN3 coverage was fine by me. ALMS also had it streaming on their web page too. For those who do not have internet on a regular basis, I sympathize. This arrangement does not really work out, as well as those who got hit with not being able to pull it up (Doug). That is something that needs fixed. Doug, maybe next time try the ALMS homepage? Not sure if that will help at all.

    I liked the ESPN3 coverage a lot. It was really easy to get at and view. The picture was not amazing, but I was willing to let it slide a bit cause it was on the internet. I did miss the mechanical aspect of it as a previous comment said, and that did suck a little bit. But all in all I thought it was a good first shot. I look forward to seeing what happens with the Long Beach coverage.

  6. Two sets of thoughts:
    1) The online streaming was pretty good, at least for me. I enjoyed the Radio Le Mans team immensely (who wouldn’t?), and the quality of the picture was pretty good. Not HD quality, but about as good as regular over the air TV. I know a lot of people had problems, but luckily I wasn’t one of them. That’s the good part.

    2) The 90 minute recap show was pretty awful. I’ve been threatening for the last two days now to do a full run down of what we got in those 90 minutes with a stopwatch for my site, but my basic impression is that we got: about 20 minutes of commercials, about 8 minutes of pre-race, about 8 minutes of post-race, about 8-10 minutes of in-race informercials (one for Porsche, one or two for GM/Corvette, at least two for Michelin, all clocking in between 1 and 2 minutes each), and then the time buy apparently ran out at the 88 minute mark (they had to run 2 minutes of commercials before running off to tennis). By my extremely rough estimate, that leaves about 42-44 minutes worth of a 12 hour race, meaning that they missed all but the most major incidents (the Flying Lizard/Corvette/ESM Ferrari crash and the Audi/Peugeot crash being the most obvious) and subsequent restarts, only spent maybe 2-3 minutes each on LMP2, LMPC and GTC, and delivered zero of the technical nuance that is the series’ calling card (well, unless you count those infomercials; “Doug Fehan! Tell us about how the Corvette Racing program brings us technology to our street cars!” “Well, check this out! It’s a carbon fiber wing mirror!”). I’m sure the sprint races will be better, since they’ll be able to slice out less stuff, but even with this being the crown jewel of the entire series, I can’t imagine that they hooked more than a few hundred new viewers with the coverage package that we got. Not so good, ALMS.

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