ESPN Made The Right Call

For years, I have been moaning about the IndyCar coverage on ABC/ESPN. The object of most of my rants was usually lap-by-lap announcer Marty Reid. On Sunday, we learned that ESPN parted ways with Marty. Upon hearing the news, I posted on Twitter that it was the best IndyCar news I’ve heard all season.

On Monday, our friend Pressdog returned to the blogosphere to chastise those that seemed to be taking great pleasure in other’s misfortunes. I couldn’t agree more.

By now, you’re probably now asking “Huh? Isn’t that what you were doing with that tweet, George?” No, it was not. I’ll explain.

In my day job, I am a Career Coach. I work one-on one with individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It is my job to listen and learn of their situations and work with them throughout their job search. In short, I understand the plight of those that have lost their jobs. To bring it even closer to home – my wife lost her job in January and is still feverishly looking for a new position in her field. So, believe me when I say I would not take pleasure in anyone getting fired from their chosen profession – unless, of course, it’s Lane Kiffen.

No, my joy came in spite of knowing that Marty Reid has suffered the embarrassment of losing his job. Looking at the big picture, this is a big plus for IndyCar.

Many have duly noted that Marty was a complete professional and extremely compassionate on the air, when Dan Wheldon was fatally injured two years ago at Las Vegas. That is totally correct and I noted it at the time.

But should the IndyCar Series and its fans be subjected to continually sub-par broadcasting, just because he showed compassion that dark day? Regardless of how he shined during that terrible moment, it should not be held up against years of mediocrity before and since then.

I have never called Marty Reid’s integrity into question. Over the years, I’ve come across him a few times in the Media Center at Indianapolis. He always seemed to treat his co-workers with decency and respect. He didn’t come off as arrogant. In fact, he seemed more humble than anything. But being a nice guy at work is not one of the key ingredients to being a successful broadcaster. From what I’ve heard, many of the most respected and biggest names among mainstream sportscasters are complete and total jerks away from the cameras. Such is the nature of some very talented people.

Being a broadcaster is hard work. It’s a tough job. I don’t pretend to think that I could do it. I could not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know the difference between good broadcasting and bad broadcasting – and of course, my opinion is just one of many. And it’s just that – an opinion.

My biggest beef with Marty Reid was simple. He was boring – very boring. He had the ability to take an exciting race and his delivery gave it the full appeal of a three-day insurance seminar. What made Marty boring was that he didn’t come across as having a genuine passion for the sport. You can’t fake passion with a plastic smile and raising your voice an octave. To come off as believable, it has to come from the heart. To me, Marty’s heart didn’t seem to fully be into it. There were several races where I got the feeling that Marty would rather be somewhere else.

We are constantly debating about how to bring new fans to the sport. Just last week on this site, there was discussion in the comment section whether or not TV coverage mattered in bringing new fans into the sport. If we’re talking about TV coverage for this week’s Houston race (NBCSN) or the oval race in Iowa (ABC/ESPN); probably not. But if we’re talking about the Indianapolis 500, it most definitely matters.

It’s the casual fan that IndyCar covets. They have the die-hards and they know it. We’ll watch no matter who is broadcasting the race. Non-fans will always remain just that – non-fans. The casual fans are already sports fans that have the potential to be converted into hard-core fans. They just need something to pull them in.

If there is one race that a sports fan is going to watch each year, it’s the Indianapolis 500. It’s the one they’ve heard of all of their lives. There aren’t just tons of sports to watch on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend. There are lots of potential eyes out there that may be looking for something to watch while being a slug in the midst of a holiday weekend. Chances are, they will land on ABC at some point.

The right announcer can make the most boring event sound exciting. Consequently, some announcers can make outstanding events sound dull. To be blunt – the wrong announcer can kill a sporting event.

IndyCar is beyond desperate in its need for new fans. They cannot afford to have their showcase event broadcast by a voice that sounds more suited for a weather report. They need to have an announcer that exudes passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport and the event itself. The right announcer can make a mediocre race seem good, a good race seem great and a great race come off as an instant classic. The viewer is convinced how lucky they were to be watching it live. Lately, even the most epic Indianapolis 500’s seemed rather ho-hum when I went back and watched what I had witnessed in person.

Some will say it was because I was there and no broadcast could compare with actually being there. That’s true to some extent, but I can remember watching qualifying in 2011 with Bob Jenkins doing the broadcasting, after having been there. I felt just as much excitement with that crew as I did by being there that day.

I feel sorry for Marty Reid today. I really do. Being fired is a traumatic and humiliating experience, no matter if you’re talking about the guy that sweeps the floor at ESPN or one of the top on-air talents. It’s tough to deal with on all levels, and I wish Marty nothing but the best for his future. But to quote Michael Corleone, “It’s not personal, it’s just business”. As much as I feel for Marty Reid right now, it’s best for the IndyCar Series that he is no longer calling the races.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “ESPN Made The Right Call”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Boring, dispassionate and essentially unctuous …. Uncertain how or why MR was ever pressed into service to call a race/s he clearly knew little about…. Regarding his job loss, let’s just say that there is a vast difference for obvious economic reasons when someone like MR who is paid handsomely for what passed for calling a race at ABC and the guy who sweeps the floor at ABC…

  2. Well said, George. I attempted to write a reply to Pressdog but after spending about two hours carefully choosing my words and putting it together, my computer crapped it into the ether. In short, it said much the same as you have said herein with one exception: Back in my much younger days I spent a brief period of time in radio, both live and in production. There is a term in broadcasting for using the inflection of your voice to make it sound more mature, excited, “with it,” or whatever you choose. That term is “puking” your voice. It is what Marty used to try and give his broadcast more excitement and it often comes across as phony, enough so that even Mrs. SkipinSC and several of my friends noticed it. Repeatedly.

    It says volumes about ABC’s attention (or lack thereof) toward their production that no one ever said anything like, “Hey, Marty, tone it down a notch.”

    In spite of his mis-calls and mispronunciation, Bob Jenkins had this part of broadcasting down to a science, which is one reason why so many respected Bob’s work in all forms of racing. Same with Paul Page, who learned at the feet of the master, Sid Collins.

    I suspect that we will learn a lot about ABC/ESPN’s future with IndyCar by whom they select to replace Marty. The fact that they saw a need to replace Marty tells me that Disney has visions of continuing their relationship with IndyCar beyond 2015, when NBC becomes the network(s) of auto racing.

    Finally, I have never met Marty Reid. He may be a great guy. But it’s sad that his greatest legacy in motorsport may be his handling of a tragedy.

    • billytheskink Says:

      It’s sad in that Reid’s best moment goes hand-in-hand with a tragedy, but that in itself does not reflect poorly on one’s broadcasting skill.

      Perhaps Jim McKay’s most memorable moment on television was his reporting of the terrible events from Munich in 1972.

  3. They could all learn something from the Indy radio network. Those guys have always been outstanding. The excitement explodes out of the radio and the way they keep everyone straight as they go from announcer to announcer when something happens on the track is amazing. I hope we never lose that.

  4. I am a bit surprised because when ESPN decided not to continue with NASCAR my thought was that they were going to let their motorsports broadcasts die on the vine. Let’s see who they get.

  5. Wow! That is a lot of words to basically say you are happy to see someone get fired. I had no problem with Marty’s approach to calling races and I wish him well.

    It is unlikely that any TV viewer who does not currently watch races will begin to do so due to who the announcer is.

    With regard to the many reasons for IndyCar’s declining fan base, who the race announcers are is way, way, way down on the list IMHO.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I actually thought Reid did a fair, if unspectacular, job post-Indy, Texas excluded. It was unfortunate that Indycar’s biggest race was usually his first or second, as it always seemed to take him a couple races to get comfortable calling a series he only calls 5-6 times a year.
    Reid was better on the NASCAR broadcasts and, especially, the NHRA. It is odd that he was let go before the conclusion of the NASCAR season, it makes it seem as if there is an untold story to this firing.

    ESPN can certainly do better, but I don’t think it would surprise anyone if they did worse. I’m certainly curious to see who his replacement will be.

    After Kanaan and Hinchcliffe’s (potential) moves, Reid’s replacement may be the biggest story of silly season…

  7. Reid was boring? Bob Jenkins was boring! What purpose did firing him with a hand full of races left serve? ESPN like Pat Haden, come across as incompetent jerks.

  8. I haven’t been happy with the broadcast team since Chris Schenkel and Chris Economaki stopped doing it. I still miss Paul Page.

  9. Marty Reid won’t do any more races for IndyCar and NASCAR

  10. red5ninja Says:

    Bring back Paul Page! The excitement level in Indy broadcasts has not been the same since Paul Page stopped calling the races.

  11. I just don’t feel that Mr. Reid did his best work with IndyCar the last couple of years. I will be curious to see who replaces him. Hopefully, someone both knowledgeable and engaging. There needs to be real chemistry between the booth cast. The NBC Sports team work well together and all seem to be truly interested in the race and can impart that enthusiasm to the viewers. It would be great to not dread the ABC broadcasts weekends.

    Kudos to Mark Miles for signing a major network to broadcast the road course. It could give a good jump start to the month of May. I’ll be watching!

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