Risi Competizione Calls Out ALMS For Lack Of Live TV Coverage

Risi Competizione Calls Out ALMS For Lack Of Live TV Coverage

One of the leading teams in the American Le Mans Series has published a tactful but strongly worded essay taking the ALMS to task for failing to secure a proper live television deal for the 2011 season, when the race series has previously been able to secure such a contract.

For this season, ALMS shifted to a largely digital broadcast format, with races being shown live on ESPN3.com, and then aired later on ABC. Due to a scheduling conflict, ABC was unable to air the 12 Hours of Sebring broadcast on the West Coast, a significant market for motorsports.

On its official website, Risi Competizione posted a lengthy, but eloquent essay, taking the ALMS to task for what it argues is a retrograde movement in securing coverage for its race series. Risi also notes that the high cost of sports car racing, and the need for significant sponsorship exposure makes the broadcast deal look unprofessional.

While ALMS boss Scott Atherton posted a defense of the new media deal 4 days before Risi’s own blog, Risi seems to have been feeling unfulfilled by the arrangement, and their public criticism of the ALMS management is surprising.

We asked a spokesman from Chevrolet to comment on whether Corvette Racing shares the same sentiments. In an email, he stated “No, I don’t think we share that exact same opinion. Though yes, we’re sensitive to the concerns of fans and we of course want the best broadcast coverage possible for fans.”

We highly suggest checking out both Risi’s post (linked below) and the ALMS official statement. Both of these primary documents must be read to gain a solid grounding in the issues, but we would love to hear what you think. As motorsports fans ourselves, it’s safe to say we are fairly invested in this story.

[Source: Risi Competizione]

  • phoenix

    The link for the original article is now 404. Any chance you can repost the text from Risi’s site?

  • Janet Polasek

    Thank you Risi Competizione for taking a stand about the lack of TV coverage. We are huge ALMS fans and attend all the races we can afford.

    You are losing new fans with no widely received TV broadcasts. Those of us who are not available for 12 hours of racing from Sebring cannot rewind, pause or replay coverage. And I used my monthly allotment of internet hours just watching the race.

    I’m sure the team sponsors are not pleased with this new ‘coverage’.

    Janet Polasek from Ontario, Canada

  • Colum Wood

    Very interesting. It appears as though Risi has taken down the article.
    We copied some of it earlier, but not all of it.

    Here’s what it said:
    “Thinking about media and its impact is something of no small importance in professional level sporting activities. Professional level implies a high degree of proficiency–theoretically in all areas of the sport–and excellence is expensive, in any endeavor. Professional sport is a message on multiple levels: there is the competition message; the interpersonal message; the dramatic message; the communications message and, increasingly the commercial message.

    So it is with sports car racing, which has a very high commitment and financial burn rate for the participants that should be matched by a similar level of commitment and investment on the part of the promoting and sanctioning bodies. Together, we’ll reach the top, should be the attitude.

    This has the appearance of not being the case with the ALMS . And it possibly seemed more apparent with this past weekend’s non-media telecast of the 12 Hours of Sebring.”

  • Colum Wood

    Here’s the full text of the article:

    Marshall McLuhan, the brilliant professor, media sage and pop culture icon, pegged it correctly in the sixties when he pointed out that when content is communicated via media, two messages are actually sent. The first message is the content itself–news, sports, drama, data–and the second message is the medium through which this content is transmitted to the market and/or audience. McLuhan believed that the selection of the medium is actually just as important or more important than the message itself.

    All communications is a combination of content and context: in other words, what you say and how you say it. Sometimes, the content is brilliant but the context in which it is presented is not and, of course, frequently the opposite is true–a brilliant context but lacking in content. The best communications has both, i.e. The Taschen book on Muhammed Ali that is bigger than life; the simple but frightfully competent premise of the iPod; the great Kubrick film 2001; Philip Johnson’s austere but complex Glass House; Ryan Shaw’s screaming, sweating, hip-shaking version of “Searching for a Love”. You get the idea: good stuff done right.

    Thinking about media and its impact is something of no small importance in professional level sporting activities. Professional level implies a high degree of proficiency–theoretically in all areas of the sport–and excellence is expensive, in any endeavor. Professional sport is a message on multiple levels: there is the competition message; the interpersonal message; the dramatic message; the communications message and, increasingly the commercial message.

    So it is with sports car racing, which has a very high commitment and financial burn rate for the participants that should be matched by a similar level of commitment and investment on the part of the promoting and sanctioning bodies. Together, we’ll reach the top, should be the attitude.

    This has the appearance of not being the case with the ALMS . And it possibly seemed more apparent with this past weekend’s non-media telecast of the 12 Hours of Sebring.

    The major international race of the American Le Mans Series was not telecast live on broadcast television (cable, satellite, over-the-air, major network, minor network, two-guys-and-a-cooler-with-a-handicam network). It was nowhere to be found on your cable box, gone, disappeared, adioski. On Saturday morning, The Racing Bunker phone lines were jammed with fans asking, basically, “Where’s the beef?”, i.e. what channel is the race telecast on?

    I had the distinctly unpleasant duty of informing our fans that, well, gosh, the ALMS, out-in-front-of-racing trends with Green Racing and pitching the idea of a Tech Savy series to sponsors…well, they don’t have a “real” TV deal this year. But you can catch the 12 Hours of Sebring, our crown jewel, on the Internet, at ESPN3.Com. Oh, and one other thing–the highlight reel is on the Alphabet Network (ABC), the same network that brought us the wonderful “Wide World of Sports” series and Roone Arledge and the isolated camera and instant reply, all of which is great and mega and trend-setting, but it’s on Sunday afternoon, after the race is won and done that situation is not great, mega or trend-setting. The Sebring telecast on ABC (and yet another replay on ESPN2) was an hour and a half. The race was 12 hours. Do the math and you understand, yet again, how the medium is the message and the message, this year is that the ALMS is now disappearing from the mainstream sports landscape.

    There will be plenty of people who will say the streaming internet coverage of Sebring was just fine and, technically, it was just fine. Just. Fine. And invisible. And small. And diminished in grandeur and scale and importance.

    There is nothing wrong with internet television coverage as an element of a cohesive media strategy and it may very well be the way all television is delivered in five or ten years. But there is something very, very wrong with internet being the only form of live coverage for this race and this series. It is a demotion and a very public one.

    At this stage in the development of the new world of digital communications, the internet should be the bonus round, additional coverage that augments the main television broadcast. It’s an add-on, but it is not yet a strong enough medium to be the ONLY channel. And, if your ISP doesn’t offer up ESPN3.com, you are out of luck. Last year, I applauded the forward thinking of adding internet coverage to the weekend’s media coverage menu, and particularly liked having qualifying coverage available over the internet, which made it very easy to catch sitting at your office desk. But I viewed those initiatives as an add-on, not main stream because an internet telecast just doesn’t send the right message to enough people to really make an impact.

    A look at the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron Schedule of coverage reveals the 2011 media strategy:

    Qualifying is available on ESPN3.com for each ALMS race. That’s good.

    Live race coverage is available on ESPN3.com. That’s not so good.

    Broadcast race coverage is time delayed for each race, broadcast either via ABC or ESPN2 (both networks are owned by Disney) and while the ALMS may rejoice in the brand names that are covering the series, the key problem is that’s it all after-the-fact coverage. The results will be known, the drama ended. News and sports events are at their most powerful and relevant when broadcast live. Do you want to see the NCAA Final 4 live or via tape delay? The time-delay sports broadcast is an also ran, especially to the enthusiast.

    “Sports on television is live television, it is history in the making, it is being “up close and personal” (again, thanks to ABC) as possibly momentous events unfold. To thrill in the victory of a favorite, to join the excitment of the moment in an exhilarating game or to learn more about the teams, players or games on television are among possible satisfactions that are obviously specific to sports on television.”

    –From an article on Sports and Television, written by Stanley J. Baran, from Museum of Modern Broadcasting web site.

    Last year, ALMS had a commendably adventurous broadcast media strategy. They brought the internet into play for qualifying. Good move. They had radio deals with Satellite radio and over the internet with Le Mans radio. Another good move. They had same day coverage of most races with Speed and for those that they didn’t broadcast live, they took a creative chance and brought in a top documentary team (the group that did the great Audi documentary on Le Mans, Truth in 24) and pushed around the edges of the sport a little bit, turning the time-delay coverage into more of a feature and less of a highlight film. That was all good and I enthusiastically endorsed the strategy and the risk-taking behind it. They made the best of a difficult situation.

    I don’t see that happening this year, as the number of channels of race coverage have been diminished by precisely 50% and there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for innovation in the way races are covered. Famed broadcaster Eric Severeid once said that “Dealing with television executives is like being nibbled to death by ducks”, so maybe it’s harder to strike a great deal than ever before, but how can that be, with so many channels available and so little original programming to fill them?

    Importantly, one of the major non-tv channels cut from this year’s media program was the only truly mobile one: satellite radio. Wi-Fi will certainly one day make it possible for you to take your sports coverage–audio or video– with you but it’s just not there yet. Fans on the road during races loved to listen to live Satellite coverage of the races but that opportunity will not, to my knowledge, be available this year.

    Against the shrinking media presence of the American Le Mans Series lies another giant problem: sponsorship visibility. Start, first, with the disappearance of live race day coverage on broadcast TV (defined for the purposes of this article as television via cable, satellite, or over-the-air terrestrial broadcast). The medium is the message and the message to sponsors and advertisers is…..let’s get small. You have a big brand but it’s being showcased not through a broadcast TV pipe but a laptop straw. As a brand manager, you paid big money for exposure; maybe track presence and next-day coverage is going to be OK with you. But perhaps not, and if not, you can expect sponsors and advertisers to vote with their checkbooks. Without that same day live broadcast coverage, things just don’t look pro, do they?

    Team owners and managers may also be counted amongst the disgruntled. Sports car racing is brutally expensive and even when you bring your “A” game to the track, race after race, there is no guarantee that someone won’t take you out of the race early on, as happened with the Extreme Sports Ferrari 458 at Sebring. Exposure is one of the key benefits of the sport and there is a message in when and via what medium that exposure is accessed. The race experience, at the track, in the pits, will remain huge and unique and involving, but the reach of live competition is shorter now, the drama evacuated from the race, via time shifting for broadcast TV and video compression down to internet broadcast requirements for online.

    The announcers for the internet TV coverage and radio coverage were good, the direction of the show was professional, but the audience was just too small. Fans and manufacturers and sponsors want a bigger, more dynamic stage. There is always the possibility that the current ALMS media program will prove a huge winner, that the demographics will be great, and that the tape-delay broadcasting highlight films will draw an even bigger audience than did last year’s telecasts on Speed, although that possibility took a huge hit when ABC’s next day coverage disappeared from the West Coast TV schedule. The ALMS feels all is well and just released a press notice that said that viewership was three times larger than last year, but the release was without breakouts per channel and no one knows whether it was the same audience watching the same thing three times, or people checking in and out of the online stream, with each checkin counted as a “unique visitor”.

    Sports is based on competition and this competition is extant at every level: on the field, between players and coaches and owners and teams and leagues. So how competitive is the ALMS in the modern era? Has the series truly raised its profile vis a vis the competition?

    In 2005, NASCAR signed an eight year broadcasting deal with Fox/Speed Channel, ABC/ESPN, and TNT to cover the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

    The value of the contract is $4.8 billion. In other words, The Big Time.

    IndyCar (now the Izod IndyCar series) has a major deal with Versus, the sports network for Comcast (which now owns NBC). This deal will provide IndyCar with a solid broadcast platform with 10 races broadcast live this year (plus the Indy 500, which currently runs on ABC). After a lot of searching, I was able to put a number to the value of the IndyCar TV deal, which was signed in 2008: $40 million over 10 years. That number will probably rise as media sports values typically go up over time. Versus is owned by Comcast, which owns NBC, so it will only be a matter of time before Versus becomes the NBC Sports Channel or something like it, an ESPN competitor, which will bring increased exposure and big-network prestige. Lurking around the corner for IndyCar are the same issues facing ALMS –ratings or the lack thereof–but at least IndyCar has something to build ratings on (for the TV ratings enthusiasts out there, a rating of 1.0 would be very good for most racing shows and IndyCar has pulled ratings inthe .3 or .4 range. By contrast, NASCAR delivers ratings in the 4.0 range: the most recent Daytona 500 race delivered a 5.3 overnight, up 6% from last year).

    In short, the lack of a live telecast partner is not a good sign for the ALMS brand. The series is going backwards in terms of media exposure at precisely the wrong time. Is ALMS management up to the task of making the type of big time business and media deals that can revitalize the public presence and image of the series? They’re going to have be a lot more aggressive and think a lot more creatively to do so … and we support them and do hope so.

  • SteveL

    Looks like I’ll be watching on ESPN3 this year… It seems to me, that AMLS has shot themselves in the foot. How long before they disappear onto the Versus channel, where racing series go to die??

  • Jack Tipton

    I was able to read the Risi essay early yesterday before it disappeared. I applaud them for standing up not only for their interest, but also the fans. I happen to be one of the lucky ones that receive ESPN3.com and I had no issues with the broadcast of Sebring. I was one of the more vocal fans on the ALMS Facebook site when this was first announced. This was an ill conceived plan and not well thought out. They are going to lose more fans then they will gain. I do not believe the numbers that ALMS have posted that the viewership was three time higher than last year. If those numbers are correct, it is most likely due to viewers logging in multiple times. Most web sites if not all use hit counters and that would be why the numbers are high. I am an ALMS fan and will continue to follow all of the races on my pc, but that does not mean I like it. It would be interesting to find out why the essay from Risi was removed from thier site.

  • DC

    The ALMS is blowing smoke up people’s rear ends with this deal. Guess what? ESPN3.com IS NOT AVAILABLE in many major markets. Here in the northeast, Cablevision doesn’t allow live streaming! So now my ONLY option is to view clips directly from ALMS.com days after the fact. Shockingly, contrary to what people were promised, live streaming of Sebring was not shown on ALMS.com. That left ESPN3 for those who could get it.

    I’ve been an ALMS fan since nearly the beginning and this deal infuriates me. The ABC/ESPN tape delayed/condensed/after-the-fact programming is pure garbage and NOT what fans of this series want to see at all.

    The fact that Mr. Atherton keeps saying this is a great deal for the series and the fans is a flat out lie. It’s either that or he’s completely delusional. You cannot grow a racing series without a live TV deal. Period.

  • Nick

    I believe the ESPN3.com deal will ultimately kill the ALMS. Sponsors won’t wait for next season to pull support, they’ll just start doing it. As far as I’m concerned, the ALMS has been living on borrowed time after Audi and Porsche pulled their factory teams anyways. Hope you like Grand Am, because you won’t have a choice soon enough. Atherton isn’t smart enough to save this series.

  • Jack

    I’ll give ALMS 2 years; at the most before all of the TV fans and 1/2 of the others fans are gone. I follow the Corvette and made 9 races last year and for them to “have no comment” I have more respect for the Risi team for having the bal** to say what needed to be said. Well, that’s what happens when greed and money comes first and fans come second!!!

  • John Mackey

    Look!….I have a 42 inch Tv which I would like to watch ALMS and other car racing series. I just plain don’t want to watch it on my small computer screen. It’s as simple as that!! ALMS..you really screwed your fans and as I said in my email to Scott Atherton…why should I spend $80.00 to attend your race at Mosport in July when it will be the only race I see all year. ESPN.com is not available where I live…I also refuse to hook my computer to my TV and listen to sound from my computer…ridiculous! I am a long standing fan of the ALMS but since the Sebring race, which I didn’t see, I no longer visit their website, I refuse to go to Mosport this year…that’s it for me…I shall look for a new series to follow.

  • m.p.

    Was really enjoying the direction the ALMS was taking , until this unbelievable move by the brain trust, or lack there of. Have not been able to watch any bloody coverage!! Congrats to Risi for raising the alarm. Its not to late to save the series, this year is definitely shot. The other teams should definitely follow Risi’s lead and let the series know!!

  • J.Harris

    When I found out I couldn’t watch ALMS races on my 40″ HD TV this year I just wrote the series off. I don’t watch races on a ‘stick and ball’ network computer feed. When they get back on the racing networks like SPEED and FOX I’ll watch my Corvette team race again.

  • Brad

    I have gone to the Petite LeMans almost every year and watched all the races on TV. This year I only watched the 24 hrs of LeMans. I don’t have ESPN3 and shouldn’t have to beg for it just to watch races on a 12″ computer screen. I have my ticket for the Petite LeMans this year but if next year is the same coverage then I think ALMS lost a fan.

  • atom feeds

    I could not agree with you more..

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