We reached a new low in sports broadcasting over the weekend with the presentation of the finish of the Indianapolis 500. After several laps of back-and-forth action featuring Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves passing each other for the lead, it appeared the finish was going to set up as a possible side-by-side sprint to the checkered flag. That is when ABC/ESPN decided to go "double box" and show us the reaction of Hunter-Reay's wife as one of the closest finishes in the race's history is given to viewers in a format filling less than a fifth of their screens.
As you might expect, racing fans (and casual sports fans as well) were not pleased. Many took to Twitter to vent their frustration over someone not even involved in the race getting equal exposure during the most pivotal moment of the competition. And they have every right to be upset--because in that one shot, ABC/ESPN basically told its viewers that what is going on on the track really isn't that important. If the final few hundred feet of the crown jewel in American open wheel racing was that important, it would have been shown on the full screen with no graphics, no sponsored border and definitely not with any reaction shots of a racer's wife. You see, to ABC/ESPN, Sunday's broadcast was not a sporting event--it was a "story"--and Ryan Hunter-Reay's wife (and all of her emotion) needed to share equal billing with the cars screaming across the finish line.
I can guarantee that the director and the producer in the ABC/ESPN truck were slapping each other on the back and telling everyone in the control center that they had just done a "great job". They likely imagined happy race fans--and spouses of race fans--sitting on the couch at home saying "Wow, I am really happy for that racer's wife that her husband won! Look at how happy she is! I can't wait to watch next week's race and see how that winner's wife reacts!"
The reason televised sports pulls in such huge ratings--and is coveted so much by all of the networks--is that you usually don't need to "produce" the drama. The action on the field, ice and track is unscripted and unpredictable--without scriptwriters, special effects or season finale cliffhangers. So please, ABC/ESPN, CBS, FOX and NBC, just let what's going on between the lines be the star from now on--and let whatever happens happen--on the full 36, 48 or 60-inches of TV screen that we purchased.