It may not have reached the level of the infamous “Heidi Game” of 1968, but Saturday night’s broadcast of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway left millions of NASCAR fans in a lurch. The race was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET, but that didn’t happen. Instead of seeing the prerace NASCAR Countdown show on ABC, fans tuned in to see a college football game between Baylor and TCU in the fourth quarter with 12 minutes left to play.
In the past when such live events bleed over, ESPN, whose parent company is ABC has several other channels to choose from and will direct fans via an alert crawl where to tune in to catch the race. That didn’t happen Saturday. As the game progressed, and it was a good one, NASCAR fans took to Twitter in an attempt to find coverage. Near panic set in, as the race’s scheduled green flag time approached.
With no further information from either network, Twitter lit up with fans and media tweeting that the race would be on first ESPN News, than ESPN 3. On ESPN News however, a preseason NBA game was in overtime; there was no alerts pertaining to NASCAR coverage. Fans on Twitter began saying that ESPN 3 was not showing the race and as the green flag fell still with no TV coverage, soon the hashtag #ABCHatesNASCARFans began trending on Twitter.
The football game ended (Baylor did score an exciting comeback to win 61-58), after the race had started. Instead of cutting directly to the race, ABC stayed and completed post game interviews . The race was joined in progress on lap 26 just as the field came to a competition caution. The snub left many NASCAR fans with a bad taste. NASCAR also didn’t seem too happy about what had happened.
“We are disappointed that our fans were unable to see the start of tonight’s race. We do all we can with the networks to avoid delays when live sports run late,” NASCAR said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the passion of our fans and are thankful to those now watching on ABC.”
ESPN later released a statement, but no apology, something some fans hoped for.
“We started the race on ESPN3, which is available to 95 million homes,” ESPN said in its statement. “We’re fortunate to have multiple TV networks available, but tonight there were live events on all of them, including an epic football game on ABC and an overtime NBA game on ESPNEWS. We joined the race on ABC at lap 26.”
ESPN/ABC are in the final year of their TV contract with NASCAR. NASCAR coverage will be spilt among FOX and NBC starting in 2015.