In a simpler, quainter time in sports television, maybe 20 or so years ago, the event itself was king and the status of the competition provided a clue to the relative heft and talent of the announcer.
That was then. Now, the home viewer can get a pretty good clue about how important a network considers an event by the level of the announcer assigned to it. When was the last time, say, Dick Vitale or Billy Packer worked a game with two lower Division I teams involved? Think there's much of a chance that Pat Summerall and John Madden would do an Arizona-Tampa Bay non-playoff game?
The latest test of the theory comes during CBS' coverage of Sunday's Daytona 500. On its own, the race, and NASCAR racing in general, has grown in stature to the point where it outdrew the Triple Crown, all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the Stanley Cup finals and regular-season baseball and NBA games.
But the network is adding Greg Gumbel, its lead NFL play-by-play man and the host of its NCAA men's basketball tournament coverage, to its Daytona announcer lineup as co-host to let all of us know that the race has gravity and consequence.
"One of the reasons Greg is here is to lend his presence and to increase the bigness of the event," said race producer Eric Mann.
That may be true, but the credibility of the announcer for that particular event has to be factored in, too. After all, while Gumbel certainly narrated race highlights during his days as a "SportsCenter" anchor, he really hasn't had much contact with stock car racing, a sport whose fans are quite demanding.
"I think I do a decent job of directing traffic," Gumbel said. "I don't think we're pretending I'm any great racing expert. For that we have people like Ned Jarrett, Mike Joy and Buddy Baker. These are the people on whom we will be looking for expert commentary from."
Eleven drivers, including last year's Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, will carry cameras on their cars Sunday (Channel 13, noon) and director Bob Fishman pledges that he'll provide more shots from cameras at low angles to give viewers a better perspective of the speed of the race.
The network will also provide coverage of tomorrow's NAPA 300 (Channel 13, noon), followed by tape coverage of the twin qualifying 125-mile races that took place yesterday. ESPN will make use of "SportsCenter" anchor Kenny Mayne and defending Daytona champion Dale Earnhardt this weekend.
Finally, in a related development, NBC has hired veteran race announcer Allen Bestwick to call its November telecast of the Miami 400, the network's initial foray into NASCAR.
ABC figure skating analyst Dick Button, who won Olympic gold medals in 1948 and 1952, says the heart of the current Olympic scandal is far removed from the athletes.
"What it is is simply a matter of control and a certain amount of arrogance on the part of those running things," Button said this week. "The athletes are still doing their thing. This is the sad part of it. This is riding what the commercial world wants."
Still, the scandal is bound to place something of a pall over this weekend's national figure skating championships from Salt Lake City, the site of the 2002 Winter Games.
Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. promises to explore the scandal and its repercussions during its telecasts tomorrow. The men's free skate and dance programs will air at 4 p.m., and the women's free skate goes off at 9 p.m., both live and on Channel 2. Meanwhile, ESPN will air the men's and women's short programs tonight at 8: 30.
Around the dial
We should get a pretty good indication of how solid the NBA's return is with this weekend's slate of nationally televised games, beginning with the San Antonio-Philadelphia match tonight on TNT at 8. Bob Costas' interview with Pacers coach Larry Bird is the highlight of Sunday's "NBA Showtime," which conveniently serves as the lead-in to the Indiana-Los Angeles Lakers game, with all the festivities beginning at 5 p.m., all on NBC (Channel 11).
It's a veritable cornucopia of events from ESPN and ESPN2 this weekend, including Sunday's telecast of a soccer match pitting the United States women's team against a group of World All-Stars, on ESPN2 at 8 p.m.. At halftime, the draw for this year's women's World Cup will be announced. The "Deuce" will also carry the final hockey game from Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens tomorrow at 6: 30 p.m. between the Maple Leafs and Chicago.
Over on ESPN, hurdler Edwin Moses will be profiled as the 47th top athlete of the century tonight at 10: 30. Our long, long national ESPY nightmare comes to a merciful end Monday night with a pre-show telecast at 7: 30 and the actual awards show right after.
Pub Date: 2/12/99