With a sigh, I will humor these madmen. I’ll actually pause to consider their outrageous idea, which must come from watching too many dystopian movies. Me, I’m thinking about how to get off the planet, but let’s assume hundreds of baseball players would abandon families amid our apocalyptic anguish, isolate like lab rats for months in the Arizona desert and embrace a bleak, twilight-zone, coronavirus-sheltered existence.
They’d play in spectator-less ballparks, immediately return to antiseptic quarters and do little else, trying to salvage an inconsequential major-league season by sleeping, bathing, eating, drinking (frequently) and testing for the virus in quarantined lockdown while having contact only with teammates and team personnel. Gee, owners even could sell naming rights to their vast bubble of TV studios. The Purell Dome? The Hydroxychloroquine Hut?
The Donald J. Trump Supertent?
And somehow, they would ignore the overwhelming pall: that Covid-19 is a vile and unshakeable monster, capable of boomeranging in bigger and more destructive waves with no vaccine near. And the impossible challenge: that maintaining social-distancing inside such a bubble is impractical. And the chilling peril: that players would return home and risk spreading the virus to loved ones and others when, so far, only one percent of the U.S. population has been tested. And finally, the bare, inconvenient truth: that restarting sports inevitably will lead to deaths.
Got it? Play ball!
I’d prefer, though, not to dabble in absurd desperation from sports leagues prioritizing lost billions over common pandemic sense. If it’s not safe for fans to watch events in person, why it it safe for athletes to proceed? Rather than risk more lives and waste scarce medical resources best utilized inside hospitals during a DEADLY GLOBAL CRISIS, for God sakes, I would like the gasping, heaving, $200 billion sports industry — and the TV rightsholders panting like starving dogs — to shut down indefinitely. You know, start saying “if’’ and not “when’’ about the resumption of games. It’s becoming a sport in itself: the persistent rush to kickstart the sports economy vs. the sensibility and decency of waiting until, oh, I don’t know, people stop dying? The crisis is far from over, but every time a smidgen of hope surfaces, leagues are in our faces with new contingency plans. Insensitive … galling … pick the word.
Let’s hope one robust example of resistance leads to a surge of sanity. Some 2,800 miles from a chaotic, mixed-message-fraught White House, a voice of reason emerged when Gavin Newsom, governor of California, pressured ESPN to shut down the brazen Ultimate Fighting Championship. Yes, a network desperate for eyeballs, revenues and tourniquets had been all-in for a pay-per-view show, UFC 249, at a California casino resort on tribal land. ESPN didn’t see much wrong with the event … until Newsom did. Targeting ESPN’s parent, California-based DIsney Company, and UFC bossman Dana White — the most delusional of the sports entrepreneurs — Newsom triggered a cancellation after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a statement, accused UFC of defying the state’s shelter-in-place order.
“This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential,’’ wrote Feinstein, adding, “… at best, this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.’’
Said a whimpering White, who had vowed to stage his freak show on ESPN+: “Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN. The powers-that-be there asked me to stand down and not do this event.’’ White says he’ll now promote events on a private island outside the U.S., expecting ESPN to air the fights. He thinks coronavirus is someone else’s problem, in oddball lockstep with WWE’s Vince McMahon, who is resuming three live, fan-less shows this week on Fox and USA Network despite the recent positive test of an an-air, non-ring-performing employee.
As for ESPN? “Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do,’’ the network said in a statement, “but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons.’’
Such as: Newsom called top Disney honchos, including executive chairman Bob Iger, and urged them to stop the lunacy. If he wants to be President of the United States someday, and not just a bro-dude governor, Newsom must curry the favor of powerful folk. Which is why I’m gobsmacked that he body-slammed two entertainment behemoths — Disney, which is paying $1.5 billion to UFC in a five-year deal, and Endeavor, which owns UFC. it takes balls to tell Iger, King of Hollywood and Disneyland, to purge a big-revenue fight card in California. But Disney had reason to be concerned about optics: The home of Mickey Mouse and family fun was charging a whopping $64.99, with 17 million Americans out of work, for a social-distancing mockery — fighters sweating and pouncing on each other in Octagon warfare. It constituted a major health risk while defying all logic and pandemic sensitivity. Oh, and it was happening as Disney stock climbed, thanks to the Disney+ streaming service that eclipsed 50 million subscribers, easing the pain of ESPN’s virus-driven troubles.
Of course, do realize President Trump is a UFC guy, White is a Trump guy, and California is the furthest thing from a Trump state. Call it an agenda move, but Newsom knew it was the proper call regardless of political fallout. So he angered some millennial and Gen Z types who can’t blow off cabin-fever smoke this Saturday night. Advice, lads: Read a good book.
Hallelujah. Now, If Trump only would send the same message to other short-sighted sports leagues.
The concerns raised by Feinstein apply to the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL and others hellbent on playing. Of prime concern: the risk of transmission is palpable, even in The Bubble. Yet the NBA, trying to avert $1 billion in losses, wants to sequester playoff teams within the medically sealed grounds of a Las Vegas casino/hotel/arena complex. They’d administer rapid-response blood testing before games, hoping to create amnesia about the league’s March coronavirus outbreak — at least 15 persons from eight teams have tested positive, and probably many more — in a sport requiring athletes to grapple and spray sweat droplets on every possession. Has the NBA forgotten Covid-19 Night in Detroit, when Rudy Gobert battled Christian Wood more than 60 times in halfcourt situations, often just a few steps from Donovan Mitchell? All three tested positive, soon joined by a TV camera operator in a medically induced coma, and Mitchell is said to still resent Gobert, though it’s guesswork to say which player had the virus first.
And the NFL’s videoconference draft, like an ignorant surfer in a tsunami, is locked and loaded for three networks, including ESPN and ABC. The league, which at least is using the event to benefit Covid-19 relief efforts, hopes it’s a prelude to a full regular season — fan-less, if necessary — despite the inherent danger of players tackling, spitting and spreading sweat and dirt on every play. Never mind that the league’s very own chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, tells the league’s very own website: “As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport. Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
The dreamers are marching on anyway, embracing wacky scenarios that aim to circumvent dark realities. All the while, they ignore a mammoth, all-encompassing question hovering above the contagion confusion: Does America even WANT sports to return under such bizarre, force-fed circumstances?
The league and network lords say a resumption of sports would provide a spiritual lift for a wounded and numb American psyche, give us something to do, save our souls. But is that really true, or just a pile of God-complex bunk that overstates the importance of sports amid a pandemic while masking the true reason for the rush to return ASAP: They’re losing their asses financially, the owners and the networks, quietly fearful that a lost 2020 could lead to an industry crash — and a massive sports recession and reckoning in a nation overwhelmed by jobless claims and radically changing priorities. Cord-cutting is a universal calamity, with cable subscribers indignant over being charged the usual sports fees when live games aren’t being played. Many customers can’t afford the $100-plus monthly bills, especially with the cheaper advent of Quibi among plentiful streaming options, which explains why ESPN, Fox Sports and the regional networks are alarmed about possibly losing an entire year of live sports — a doomsday sequence that could cause leagues to lose fortunes in media payments. Include the gambling industry in that pot of anxiety, with the industry’s grand plan to legalize wagering now in the tank, reduced to junkies betting on Belarus soccer, Russian ping-pong, virtual NASCAR and an NBA 2K Players Only event, where, natch, a video-game scandal broke out when inside knowledge about an upset in a pre-taped ESPN event — Derrick Jones Jr. over virus-hit Kevin Durant — leaked to gamblers who put lopsided action on Jones.
Thus, fueled by Trump’s declaration that live games should return “sooner than later’’ as he considers lifting stay-at-home orders in the “biggest decision I’ll ever make,’’ we hear the in-house drumbeat for sports as the national save-all. Not sending kids back to schools. Not returning worshippers to churches and synagogues. Not a gradual resuscitation of essential businesses to help a gut-bombed economy. Nope, sports — where many in the industry are wealthy or at least comfortable in navigating the most horrific health crisis of our time. Why devote resources and supplies to The Bubble when they are desperately needed by health-care frontliners? Why move forward with sports pipedreams when health experts have categorized the virus as seasonal, meaning the great curve could flatten, only to explode again in the autumn and abruptly burst The Bubble? Or, maybe the virus doesn’t recede at all, staying with us indefinitely.
Two independent studies suggest the industry plea isn’t resonating anyway. In a Ketchum Sports poll, only 21 percent of U.S. sports fans want games to resume without fans, opposed to 45 percent who think sports should resume only when fans can attend games and 17 percent who favor a total shutdown. And a poll conducted by the Seton Hall University business school found that 72 percent of respondents won’t attend sports events without a vaccine. No wonder the sports world is in a panic — it could be 18 months, or longer, before a vaccine is made available to the masses. What the league and networks have ignored, in this mad blitz to resume, is that packed stadiums and arenas are vital to a fan’s experience — in person or on TV. LeBron James says fans provide his foremost motivation, home and away, reiterating on a podcast, “Having a game without fans — what is the word ‘sport’ without ‘fan’?” There’s no excitement. There’s no crying. There’s no joy. There’s no back-and-forth.’’ You don’t hear movie and music stars clamoring to come back with live content to soothe the country. The Burning Man festival wisely canceled its stoner-fest in late August. Why must sports act like a religious experience? Are some owners and athletes so deluded by wealth and power that they think they can slay the coronavirus?
“People need something to rally around right now. People need sports,” said Mark Cuban, now merely a “Shark Tank’’ host with his Dallas Mavericks on pause. “We need something to cheer for, something to get excited about, and there’s nothing better than our sports teams to do it.’’
How appropriate that Cuban spoke on a CNBC special, “Markets In Turmoil.’’ Because red ink blinds even multi-billionaires. The virus continues to spread, hotspots popping up like a whack-a-mole game. New York is an unspeakable death zone, its hospitals still overrun with chaos. Outside, we wear masks that aren’t sufficient when clammy runners pass inches away. Inside, we’re either going to die of self-exile, boredom or too much Netflix. But does that mean the resumption of sports will invigorate us and provide a sweeping blueprint for returning to work? It all seems hurried and backwards for the wrong reasons, as if sports is central to the American consciousness when, in crisis, it should be reduced to rightful frivolity.
There hasn’t been enough discussion about the most important issue. Will athletes be safe within The Bubble? Will they want to take the risks? Are we to foolishly assume every player and staffer on dozens of sports teams, through weeks or months of Quarantine Ball, will continue to test negative? As much as 40 percent of the U.S. population might be asymptomatic virus carriers. Can’t the leagues do the math? As Sills said, there will be positive tests; see Japan, where a planned resumption of baseball stalled, and officials say the Tokyo Olympics might be a no-go in 2021. It’s absurd to focus on introducing robot umpires when scrutiny should be on the response if even one person becomes sick in The Bubble. MLB might want to trudge on and test everyone, day after day, which would be onerous when dealing with players, managers, coaches, trainers and staffers from 30 franchises, along with hotel employees, cooks, groundskeepers, clubhouse attendants and limited media. Wouldn’t everything have to shut down at once? Wouldn’t everyone have to evacuate the Purell Dome and return home, where they’d have to self-quarantine for weeks? Do you honestly think megastars such as James and Mike Trout would jeopardize everything they’ve amassed for one season in The Bubble? Or two Bubbles, if MLB went forward with another realignment plan: ditch the American and National Leagues and play Quarantine Ball in two states, Arizona and Florida.
The baseball owners can’t help but push that explosive envelope, when the coronavirus is as serious as a frozen corpse in a parking lot. Superagent Scott Boras has no doubt fans would devour the televised offerings, even if baseball’s ratings have plummeted for years. “It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy. You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s really good for a culture to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus,’’ he said.
Isn’t it fascinating how everyone is playing doctor? Instead of talking to a psychologist, hear out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said: “I would love to see sports back to help with cabin fever. But this is not about hopes and dreams and aspirations and what you would like to see. This is an enemy that we have underestimated from Day 1, and we have paid the price dearly.’’
Want more hard-core realism? Sports faces a future that might not include many fans in seats and business people in suites. Call it the Petri Dish Effect — who wants to wear masks or submit to forehead scans, or risk getting sick in a bathroom or hot-dog line, or sanitize hands every 10 minutes, when the virus will dominate everyday life for the foreseeable future? Expect distancing beyond six feet, forcing stadiums and arenas to monitor entrances and corridors and reconfigure seating sections; imagine the Los Angeles Rams having to rip out seats in the new, privately financed, $6 billion SoFi Stadium? Gamblers and fantasy players won’t care, but purists — and they count — will bemoan the lost atmosphere. And can you believe Trump might bribe “fans in arenas’’ with tax breaks if they attend events? Uh, yeah, I can believe it.
Until then, the leagues should abandon Quarantine Ball and know this: There is no end game without a cure. Sports used to serve as a meaningful diversion in times of upheaval; I recall urgency as a Chicago columnist, not long after 9/11, to board a near-empty flight to St. Louis for a Cubs-Cardinals game, and later, to chronicle the woe of a heartbroken New York during the World Series. Baseball continued during World War II, and the NFL carried on after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. But Covid-19 is different, elusive, as freakish as errant saliva in the airstream. We wake each day, or in the middle of the night, wondering if someone we know has died or been hospitalized, or if a simple sneeze means the worst.
It’s hard to imagine any sporting event erasing those fears, even for a few hours. And if that game is played inside a quiet, airtight blob in the hinterlands, well, that’s as weird as pandemic life itself.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Beyond The Mask: Henrik Lundqvist Embraced 2nd Career in Sports Media
“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal.”
Plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar, Henrik Lundqvist found himself beneath the bright lights once again, poised to put on a worthy performance. Just as he aimed to stop pucks from going in the net as the star goaltender of the New York Rangers for 15 seasons, Lundqvist sought to captivate viewers as half of a musical duo featuring former NHL forward Paul Bissonnette.
Their performance of “Good Riddance” by Green Day was in tribute to Rick Tocchet, a former NHL on TNT studio analyst who recently departed the network to serve as interim head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Lundqvist serves as a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the NHL, breaking down players and teams throughout the broadcast and bringing his own unique style to the set. His pursuit of a post-playing career in sports media was no guarantee from the moment he retired in August 2021; in fact, he never intended to stop playing the game and competing for a Stanley Cup championship at that time.
During the 2019-20 season, Lundqvist had lost playing time to young goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, and by the year’s end, his deal was bought out by the team. In an effort to continue playing, Lundqvist signed a contract with the Washington Capitals – marking the first time in his NHL career that he would not step between the pipes for the Rangers.
Lundqvist never played a game for the team though, as it was discovered in a medical exam that he would need open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve while also having an aortic root and ascending aortic replacement. One month after the successful five-hour operation, he was back on the ice rehabbing and attempting to make a full recovery – but a few months in, he began to feel unexpected chest pain. Following a medical checkup, Lundqvist was told he had inflammation around his heart caused by exertion. It was a significant setback that required him to step off the ice, take off his goaltender equipment and rest for several months.
After discussions with his family and friends, Lundqvist determined that the risk of taking the ice outweighed the rewards and officially stepped away from the game. Rather than conjuring hypothetical scenarios wherein he did not experience the misfortune and played for the Capitals, Lundqvist looked to the future amid the ongoing global pandemic and thought about how he could best enjoy his retirement.
“I was just mentally in a very good place,” Lundqvist said. “I didn’t have a choice; I guess that makes it easier sometimes when the decision is made because you can’t go back-and-forth – ‘Should I?’ ‘Should I not?’ Yeah, I wanted to play but it was just not meant to be for me.”
Before any definitive resolution on his future endeavors was made though, the Rangers announced that the team would retire Lundqvist’s No. 30 in a pregame ceremony during the 2021-22 season, making him just the 11th player bestowed that honor in franchise history. As a five-time NHL All-Star selection, 2011 Vezina Trophy winner, and holder of numerous franchise records, Lundqvist had the accolades to merit this profound distinction.
Moreover, he was an important component in growing the game of hockey and contributing to the greater community, serving as the official spokesperson for the Garden of Dreams Foundation and founder of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. He also was a two-time recipient of the organization’s prestigious Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, honoring the player “who goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
Throughout the night, attendees regaled Lundqvist with chants of “Hen-rik!” and were treated to flashbacks of some of his memorable career moments. The night was of monumental importance for Lundqvist, during which he expressed his gratitude to the Rangers’ organization, former teammates and fans. Then, Lundqvist — referred to as “The King” — promptly took his place among team legends beneath the concave ceiling of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“When I look back at my career, I know, to me, it was all about preparation; how I practiced and how I prepared for each game at practice,” Lundqvist said. “There’s no regrets, and I hope people, when they think about how I played, [know] that it was 100% heart and commitment to the game.”
Before this ceremony though, Lundqvist and Rangers owner James Dolan had held several meetings with one another. The purpose of these conversations was to determine the best way for Lundqvist to remain involved with the team, its fans, and the community. In the end, he was named as a lead studio analyst on MSG Networks’ broadcasts of New York Rangers hockey before the start of the 2021-22 season: the start of his foray in sports media.
This past summer, Lundqvist negotiated a new deal with Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden Entertainment in which he maintained his in-studio responsibilities while increasing involvement in other areas of its sports and entertainment ventures. In this new role, Lundqvist supports the business operations for both companies, assisting in digital content development, alumni relations, and partner and sponsor activities.
When Lundqvist is not in the studio or the office, he can often be found at Madison Square Garden taking in New York Rangers hockey, New York Knicks basketball, or one of the arena’s renowned musical performances. Usually, when he is in attendance, he is shown on the arena’s center-hung video board as an “NYC Celebrity” and receives a thunderous ovation from the crowd.
“The network is just part of it, but it feels great to come there,” Lundqvist said of Madison Square Garden. “Every time I go there – to see the people that I’ve known for so long – but also I love that place; I love The Garden. I think the energy [and] the variety of things that happen there is something I really appreciate. It feels really good to be a part of that.”
Sitting alongside former teammate and studio analyst Steve Valiqutte and sportscaster John Giannone, Lundqvist appears in the MSG Networks studios, located across the street from the arena, for select New York Rangers games. From the onset, he brought his allure and expertise to the set and appealed to viewers – so much so that national networks quickly began to take notice.
“I enjoy watching hockey [and] talking hockey, but the main thing to me is the team; the people that you work with,” Lundqvist said. “The guys on the panel [and the] crew behind. I really enjoy that part of it and having a lot of fun off-camera.”
One month later, Lundqvist was on his first national broadcast for the NHL on TNT where he and Bissonnette famously performed a cover of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica that went viral on social media. It had been known that Lundqvist was a musician, famously performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in his Rangers uniform to celebrate the end of the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
In fact, during his retirement ceremony, the Rangers gifted him with a custom-made guitar painted by David Gunnarsson, the same artist who used to paint Lundqvist’s goalie masks.
Aside from occasional music performances, Lundqvist brings an esoteric base of knowledge to the NHL on TNT panel as its only goaltender. Whether it be through player breakdowns, interviews, or dialogue with other analysts, Lundqvist has a perspective to which few professional hockey players can relate. There are various goaltenders among local studio panels surrounding live hockey game broadcasts, and Lundqvist is in a unique situation with MSG Networks in that he and Valiquette are both former goaltenders. Yet on Turner Sports’ national coverage, he is the only voice speaking to this different part of the game.
“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal,” Lundqvist explained. “Yes, you need to stop the puck, but a huge part of being a goalie is analyzing what’s going on. We can never really dictate the play so you need to analyze what’s happening right in front of you.”
In broadcasting at both the local and national level, Lundqvist is cognizant of the differences in each network’s studio programs. Lundqvist says appearing on the MSG Networks studio panel is more about being direct with the viewer, whereas the NHL on TNT views its panel as being conversational in nature. With Turner Sports, Lundqvist also asks his colleagues about the different teams around the league since he is most familiar with the Rangers both as a former player and studio analyst.
“I’m closer to the Rangers; I see more of what’s going on,” Lundqvist stated. “When you work [national] games, maybe you focus in on teams on the West Coast or [part] of the league you don’t see as often. You try to talk to the other guys on the panel and the crew and figure out things that are interesting about those teams.”
Hockey is a team sport, and Lundqvist felt grateful to play with his teammates and face his competitors over the years. Now as an analyst though, it is his job to analyze their games and critique them when necessary; however, he does not try to be excessively critical.
Lundqvist knows the trials and tribulations associated with the sport and can relate to scenarios many players face on a nightly basis. Therefore, he thinks about his own experience before giving an opinion, especially a critique, instantiating it with comprehensible, recondite knowledge and/or by recounting a similar situation.
“I’d much rather give them positive feedback obviously because I know it is a tough game,” Lundqvist said, “and sometimes it might look like an easy mistake, but if you can give the viewer a better explanation of why he did that, they might have a different view of that mistake.”
Now metaphorically being beyond the goalie mask, Lundqvist’s vision of the game has evidently shifted. He discerns just how intense the schedule is and the rapid pace of the game, axioms he was aware of while playing but inherently avoided thinking about. He has implemented his refined viewpoint of the game accordingly into his analysis, simultaneously utilizing the mindset and savvy he cultivated on the ice. It is, quite simply, a balancing act.
“I think people can be pretty quick to jump on guys and critique them,” Lundqvist said. “That’s where maybe you take an extra look and try to understand why it happened and give those reasons. I think that’s where it helps if you played the game [for] a long time and just love the game [because] you have a pretty good understanding of why guys react a certain way.”
The challenge tacitly embedded in the jobs of most studio analysts – Lundqvist’s included – is in presenting the information to the audience in a manner through which it learns without being confused. It is a delicate craft that takes time and genuine understanding to master, especially related to promulgating hockey analytics as Valiquette does on MSG Networks and within his company, Clear Sight Analytics.
“There’s a lot of educated viewers out there, but there’s also a lot of people that maybe don’t watch as much hockey,” Lundqvist said, “so you want to find that middle ground where you kind of educate both sides.”
By broadcasting both locally and nationally in addition to working in a specially-designed business operations role, Lundqvist is staying around the rink in his retirement while facilitating the growth of hockey. Despite the profusion of young talent, dynamic action and jaw-dropping plays, viewership of the sport on ESPN and TNT’s linear channels has dropped 22% from last season, according to a report by Sports Business Journal.
For Lundqvist though, he does not feel much has changed from playing regarding his responsibility to advance the reach and appeal of the sport. He played professionally for 20 years, beginning his career in his home country of Sweden, primarily in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the 2004-05 season, his final campaign before arriving in New York City, Lundqvist had won the award for most valuable player. Furthermore, he was recognized as the best goalie and best player, leading Frölunda HC to its second Elitserien championship in three seasons.
His NHL debut came five years after he was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers but unlike many rookies over the years, he came polished and prepared to embrace the lights of Broadway. Following an injury to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was inserted into the starting lineup and, from that moment on, virtually never came out.
By the end of his first year, he had been named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender. Additionally, he remains the only goaltender to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 30-plus win seasons.
“I think the league is doing a great job of growing the game,” Lundqvist said. “In the end, it comes down to the product and right now, it’s a great product. I feel really good about, the best way I can, to promote the game [by] talking about it, but… it feels like I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”
One means through which Lundqvist attempts to grow the game is within the studio demos he performs with the NHL on TNT, displaying different facets of the game in a technical manner. The show also embraces the characteristics of their analysts and implements them in lighthearted segments, such as zamboni races, putting competitions, Swedish lessons and, of course, musical performances.
“I’m huge on mindset and the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I love to talk about that type of stuff and give the viewer a better understanding of what goes through their heads. In terms of personality, I don’t know if I can say [that] I’m a serious guy because I love to have fun and laugh and do fun things.”
Lundqvist thoroughly enjoys what he is doing both locally and nationally, and he ensures he surrounds himself with people he wants to be around. There are plenty of other broadcast opportunities for former hockey players, such as moving into the booth as a color commentator or between the benches as a rinkside reporter. At this moment though, he is more focused on being immersed in his current roles, performing them to the best of his ability while ensuring he allocates time to spend with friends and family.
“I see myself more as an analyst in the studio more than traveling around and being in the rink,” he said. “I think that’s another thing with the schedule; it works really well with my schedule to have one or two commitments with the networks, but then I have other things going on in my life that I commit to.”
Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between playing professional hockey and covering the sport from the studio in terms of preparation and synergy. Yet the end result is not as clearly defined since “winning” in television is quantifiably defined as generating ratings and revenue. Undoubtedly, Lundqvist is focused on doing what he can to bolster hockey’s popularity; however, he also wants to enjoy this new phase of his career being around the game he loves.
“In sports, you win or you lose,” Lundqvist explained. “With TV, you want to be yourself [and] you want to get your point out – but at the same time, if you do it at the same time you’re having a good time, I feel like that’s good TV.”
Once their careers conclude, many athletes think about pursuing a post-playing career and oftentimes end up taking on a role in sports broadcasting. On MSG Networks alone, there are plenty of former players who take part in studio coverage on live game broadcasts, such as Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres, Bryce Salvador of the New Jersey Devils, and Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. At the national level, Turner Sports employs Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky for its studio broadcasts, while ESPN’s top studio crew includes Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.
All of these former professional hockey players had an obligation to regularly speak with media members, answering questions about games and the season at large. Lundqvist maintained a professional relationship with journalists and beat reporters, and he most enjoyed taking questions when the team was doing well. Regardless of what the end result of a game was though, he had a responsibility to divulge his thoughts and, in turn, be subject to criticism and/or negative feedback.
His stellar career and persona all came from emanating a passion for the game – and it continues to manifest itself beyond the television screen. Listening to those passionate about the game discuss it usually engenders euphony and lucidity to viewers, analogous to the sound of the puck hitting the pads or entering the glove. It is a timbre Lundqvist created 27,076 times throughout his NHL career (regular season and playoffs) in preventing goals, and one he now aims to explain en masse.
“The reason why I kept going to the rink and put all the hours in was because I really enjoyed it,” Lundqvist said. “If you decide to go into media or whatever it might be, I think the bottom line is [that] you have to enjoy it and make sure you have good people around you.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
Diamond Sports has been anything but a diamond in the sports world. As subscribers leave cable and satellite for streaming services, companies are dropping RSNs nationwide because they are too expensive to carry. This has caused an impending bankruptcy for the company, which owns the local rights to dozens of sports teams nationwide. It is also putting the NBA, NHL, and MLB at major financial risk.
In the short term, it is known that teams will still broadcast on their RSNs even if they aren’t getting the paychecks they were promised in previous rights deals. This will affect teams’ ability to pay players and could even create an unfair advantage among the haves of the sports world like the Yankees and Lakers and the have-nots. The NFL doesn’t face the same problems that the other leagues are facing because its rights have been nationalized.
With the NFL’s continued television dominance, college conferences also bundling up games together for more money, and the MLS guaranteeing themselves television revenue after packaging local and national rights together, could we see the other leagues follow suit? It is an option that is much easier said than done but it seems like we are moving closer to it becoming reality.
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
The biggest problem the NBA and other leagues would face are that the local rights to all of its teams don’t expire at the same time. If the league were to sign a deal that included giving all local rights to a streamer, the amount which the league was getting paid would be very unique year after year. It would be crazy for a streamer to pay a huge chunk of money to the NBA all at once if the number of teams they have local rights to changes every year.
It would also be insane to pay an astronomical amount if the streamer is only getting the local rights to small-market teams like the Cavs and the Pistons. A major market team like the Lakers doesn’t renew their local rights until 2032. We’re still in 2023. How does that affect the league’s operating costs?
The NBA would also have to figure out whether teams whose rights don’t expire yet deserve to be included in the pot of money garnered from selling local rights to a streamer. Whether they are or they aren’t, does it put each team at different competitive advantages and/or disadvantages when trying to acquire free agents or front-office personnel?
One of the most interesting puzzles to figure out is what influence a league owner like Washington’s Ted Leonsis has in this potential measure when all is said and done. Leonsis just acquired complete control of the regional sports network — currently named NBC Sports Washington — that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games for millions of dollars, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.
What does Leonsis do with his network if his team’s games can no longer air there? Can his team opt out of participating in a potential league offering? Or if the games continue to air on his network but are simulcasted locally on the streamer that wins local rights on a national scale, does the streamer have the ability to pay less money for rights?
If so, does that make the deal as lucrative for the NBA? And what does that mean for retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast pay to Leonsis and other RSNs they’re still carrying?
The league will face a similar problem with the Lakers, Bulls, Knicks and other franchises that either wholly own or partially own a part of the RSNs where they broadcast their games.
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions which is why they are written here in this column. Unfortunately for the leagues, they don’t have the answers either. But if the NBA figures out a way to nationalize their product even more and make streaming games more appealing by ending local blackouts, it’ll benefit the game more than it hurts the game.
NBA, NHL, and MLB games are still some of the highest-rated programs locally in many markets when you look at how they rate vs. other cable and broadcast offerings. But at this point, the ability to charge everyone for a program that only ten percent of subscribers are watching is a losing business proponent.
The leagues should start from scratch and sell a mass package of games for maximum profit. It gives fans a more centralized location to watch their favorite teams and puts the leagues on a much more steady path than where they could be headed sooner rather than later.
Diamond in the rough to sparkling jewel of light? Only time will tell.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?
“We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right?”
Having gratitude for your life is all the rage. If you, like me, have trouble starting your day with positive affirmations and maintaining a positive outlook about your job, read on!
We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right? Here is another version. Try a few affirmations of gratitude instead.
“I HAVE A JOB.”
With interest rates rising, inflation increasing, and spending down; corporations are laying people off. PayPal laid off 7% of its entire workforce. Amazon let 18,000 go. Alphabet (Google) said goodbye to 12,000 jobs. Radio sales managers need to hire people like you – experienced sellers with a track record of bringing home the bacon.
“I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”
You solve a problem for your company when it comes to revenue. You know people, and you sell advertising better than anything they can come up with…so far.
Yes, they are trying to replace you, but Zoom Info reports iHeart’s self-serve spot buying service, AdBuilder, is doing under 5 million in business. You have time to solidify your value. Be happy you are the rainmaker.
“I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”
Sports talk radio is the ultimate companion to millions of listeners. They aren’t robots, and your stations improve their lives by talking about what they care about 24/7. Celebrate selling access to callers, Twitter followers and FANS who go to games. You also get to work with local celebrities that everybody knows but you know best. We all need a connection to other people and want to be seen and heard.
“I GET TO CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF.”
In this job, you determine your value, feelings about your work, and who you work with. You get to set a strategy and talk to the businesspeople you want to help and do business with. It’s like running your own business with a tremendous support staff. Try to do it independently, and you will appreciate accounting, traffic, production, and sales assistance. Those wins produce deposits in your bank account.
“I HAVE COMPETITION!”
That format competitor across the street does things differently and sometimes better than you or tries to imitate you and looks terrible. They motivate you to beat them to a new account or put a moat around your best clients so they can’t be touched. They keep you sharp and willing to try new things. Good competition schemes to take money from your station, and your management needs you to protect them. And they also provide a place for you to work one day. The FTC wants to eliminate non-competes so you can walk across the street this year.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.