They never ask the fans, do they? Sports wants your life, your eyeballs, your disposable income, your first born and your unconditional loyalty through scandals and labor standoffs, but when an existential crossroads arrived in the devilish summer of 2020 — how, when and why sports should resume — did anyone ask you?
Say, how you might feel if mere days into the Major League Baseball restart, there already were fears of various COVID-19 outbreaks.
The games are back. The broadcasts are back. The commercials are back. The malcontents are back, including Lou Williams, who bolted the Disney World Bubble for a “family matter’’ that involved a rapper, a photo, an Atlanta gentlemen’s club and the risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus and sabotaging the NBA season. The referee-baiting is back. The juiced-up home runs are back. Alex Rodriguez is back, tragically. Even the frat-boy code is back, with the Cubs and Brewers engaging in dugout-emptying trash talk oblivious to a virus that still rages across America and will continue to impact Bubble-less MLB — including the Miami Marlins, who delayed a trip home from Philadelphia after four players tested positive, and the Cincinnati Reds, who sent two regulars home after a teammate tested positive.
Yet, through the early blur of sport’s doubtful resumption, let’s pause, take a breath and ponder this: Can we honestly declare that “Sports Are Finally Back’’ — as rhapsodized in a Bud Light ad that runs as often as A-Rod flubs a fact — when the spectators aren’t back? As an entertainment function, is this not closer to “The Walking Dead’’ than an exercise gauged by daily standings? Are these stadiums and arenas … or sensory deprivation tanks?
Whether it’s baseball opening in spookily desolate parks or NBA players swallowed by court-length neon LED boards inside a video chamber, the absence of energy is numbing. This is the point in time when everyone should acknowledge that fans, always the bastard children of the industry, are vital to the live event experience and never should be taken for granted again. For as long as I’ve been writing and commenting on sports, they’ve been perceived as necessary evils — tolerated by athletes and coaches, trivialized by media and patronized by owners who periodically toss the stock go-to bouquet, “Our fans are the best in the world.’’
But after taking in underwhelming, low-buzz scenes in what should have been electric moments — faint echoes of “Celebration’’ after Matt Olson ripped a walk-off grand slam in Oakland, or a Wrigley Field slumber as Kyle Hendricks finished a complete-game shutout — it’s obvious no amount of piped-in crowd noise or life-sized cardboard cutouts can put lipstick on the pandemic pig. We don’t want to hear balls banging off the Green Monster; we want to hear Red Sox fans thrilled that balls are banging off the Green Monster. We don’t want to hear Max Scherzer grunting “goddammit’’ as Giancarlo Stanton launches a mistake pitch almost 460 feet; we’d rather hear the groans of Nationals fans and roars of Yankees fans.
“When Stanton hit the ball out of the stadium, you kind of miss hearing those oohs and aahs,’’ said Aaron Judge, Stanton’s fellow Bronx Bomber.
And if Kike Hernandez delivered a memorable quip about kid Dodgers pitcher Dustin May — “He wasn’t nervous or intimidated by the amount of cardboard we had in the stands tonight,’’ he said — come on, I want real butts in those seats, not cartoonish mannequins that mock what the men in uniforms are taking seriously.
Admit it, sports: The fans not only are missed dearly, their involuntary sabbatical has undeniably diluted the return of games in America. The sounds, the smells, the buzz, the beer, the concourses, the cityscapes — without the surrounding vitality, what is this, exactly? The pandemic has robbed sports of its spark, its essence, and if you don’t believe it, consider the weirdness at Wrigley.
Know how cool it was to see Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo offer a splash of hand sanitizer to Milwaukee’s Orlando Arcia, who accepted? Well, the mood quickly grew feisty, as Rizzo was plunked in his next at-bat in what became a succession of purpose-pitch tit-for-tats over two games, leading Cubs star Javy Baez, who had been hit on the arm, to jump over the dugout railing. Next thing you knew, Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain was saying he doesn’t care about MLB protocol prohibiting fighting, that he’ll be ready to rumble regardless of social-distancing violations. “I think this is going to be part of this season. I mean, the dugouts can hear each other and umpires can hear everything,’’ Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There’s talking that goes on in a game that you never hear with fans here.’’
A part of me wants to hear that talking. But in this case, I miss the fans much more. I’ve been at Wrigley during on-field fracases, and without fury in the stands — fueled by differences between large-market Chicago and an inferiority-ridden town 90 miles to the north — this felt like a bar argument across the street at the Cubby Bear.
No doubt the visuals are uplifting, if not historical and miraculous. We are watching the world’s greatest athletes competing again in famed stadia and dazzled-up gyms in Orlando. We are mesmerized once more by Mike Trout, LeBron James and — would you believe, Yoenis Cespedes? NFL camps are opening this week, somehow, though the league remains a longshot to survive COVID-19. The NBA Bubble really starts to blow up Thursday, without Williams. The NHL Igloos launch in Canada a few days later. Golf, soccer, NASCAR and the lunacy spun by Dana White have been online for weeks. And didn’t we all laugh and crack wise when Dr. Anthony Fauci nearly hit the Washington Monument with his ceremonial first pitch, which he could have attributed to an act of physical distancing if he wasn’t busy explaining why he wasn’t wearing a mask while watching the game in the barren stands. “I had my mask around my chin. I had taken it down. I was totally dehydrated and I was drinking water, trying to rehydrate myself,’’ said Fauci, who is starting to make me nervous.
In so many unimaginable ways, there is a renewed and refreshing sense of familiarity, if not normalcy, and even if the virus sabotages leagues and shuts down seasons before they end, at least we were privy to glimpses. Still, this isn’t sports as we know it, nowhere near it. A game cannot be played in a studio, like the taping of a TV sitcom. What makes it explode is the convergence of humanity — lavishly compensated athletes and the fans who cheer/boo them — within an emotionally charged pit. Some teams are going big on booming music and effects, such as the La La Land Dodgers, who had organist Dieter Ruehle blast out “Welcome Back’’ and let him rev up fitting tunes during lulls: “Zombie’’ and “Enjoy The Silence.’’ Tropicana Field actually sounded louder with no fans, thanks to revved-up gimmicks, than it does amid the smattering of people who show up for Tampa Bay Rays games. Other teams have opted for the sounds of silence, with the Nationals choosing not to use organist Matthew Van Hoose, who moved his Viscount organ to a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings — where only a couple of voices in a sparsely populated bar sang along to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.’’ In Houston, the organist foolishly played the opening beats of an age-old rally starter — Dun-dun-dun-DUN-dun-DUN! — when no one was in the stands to yell, “CHARGE!’’
Turns out the resumption of sports isn’t a diversion from the virus.
It’s a creepy, incessant reminder of life as we’ve never known it.
“There’s a lot of strange going on right now,” said Justin Turner, the Dodgers third baseman. “This is a day that if I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t 100 percent certain we were going to see happen this year. The fact that we are here, the sacrifices and choices and responsibility that players across the league have taken to ensure we’re getting to this opening day, it’s unbelievable.”
Said Oakland pitcher Chris Bassitt: “I think we as athletes kind of took the fans somewhat for granted before all this. I think the majority of us have realized the true value of a fan, especially at the game. The energy that every game has is just drastically different. It’s just, it’s very awkward. It really is.”
Baseball’s 60-game regular season and the NBA’s seeding-games-plus-postseason sprints both have shotgun feels. But the novelty of Sports In a Pandemic, which could be a sequel to “Snakes On a Plane,’’ will give way at some point to a slog. How will the players find motivation? How many will want to bolt the Bubble like Williams, who not only must serve a 10-day quarantine — and miss three regular-season games for a messy Clippers team — but now has hundreds of players worried that he caught the virus in a strip joint, even if he claims he was just eating dinner there. And how will the poor fans, confined to their homes, remain engaged enough to keep watching on TV? Just because games are back doesn’t mean they’re all going to be well-played, right? And won’t baseball get boring in a hurry because, um, the players still aren’t in a hurry? Now more than ever, MLB should be quickening the pace of play so players have minimal time at the ballpark to reduce health risks. So why were players in damp uniforms cramming together in clubhouses during a two-hour rain delay in D.C.? Why not examine the radar and quickly declare Gerrit Cole and the Yankees as winners, which eventually happened? Why did we see a Summer Camp exhibition game last almost four hours?
Oh, for the same reason MLB suddenly thinks it has solved the COVID-19 crisis: by simply downplaying it and pretending a positive test is an ankle sprain. Yep, Juan Soto, only the best player in the lineup of the defending champion Nationals, tested positive for the virus last Tuesday, meaning he was exposed to teammates during an exhibition game that evening, then worked out with the same teammates Wednesday before learning of his positive sample the next day. Only two weeks earlier, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had ripped MLB for lengthy delays in test results. Now, he was uttering cringeworthy sports jargon.
“Next man up, let’s go,’’ RIzzo said. “You feel bad for him. He’s a great player. The fans want to see him. And it affects our lineup. But what can you do about it? You’ve got to play ball.’’
Actually, you didn’t have to play ball. MLB could have postponed the game and avoided another potential crisis: Nationals personnel that had been exposed to Soto were exposed to Yankees personnel. All Nationals players tested negative following Soto’s positive, the team said, but should we believe that? Why would MLB, which lies about everything, be truthful about an outbreak that instantly would trigger cries to shut down a team or a season? Nationals, Braves, Reds, Marlins — each day brings a new team with a COVID-19 problem, causing players to miss valuable time in a short season, if not eventual widespread panic in the sport. “There’s no such thing as a common cold anymore,’’ said Braves star Freddie Freeman, just back from an evil bout with the Corona. “If you have symptoms, this is what’s going to happen. You’re going to miss three to four days. Not just to us — it’s going to happen to probably every single team.”
Said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, explaining the travel delay “We’re talking about these guys traveling back home to their families and their kids, and it’s the reason we wanted to be safe.’’
But hey, ESPN is desperate for programming, knowing the Opening Night telecast would average a big number (four million viewers) and deflect headlines from the daily Bristol soap operas. And MLB was back-burnering the virus to push its business envelope, daring to announce an expanded postseason. The so-called commissioner, Rob Manfred, didn’t want the positive test of a star player reopening the central questions: Why are you playing baseball during a pandemic? And why are you playing at five parks in California, where testing sites — such as one at Dodger Stadium — are dealing with crippling supply shortages? And while on the subject, why is Manfred letting players break protocol with post-victory hugs, close dugout proximity and arguments between managers and umps?
Does Manfred realize many of America’s four million COVID-19 patients are bothered by serious symptoms for months, if not years? That includes people in their 20s and 30s, the age groups of almost all MLB players. Or is he too busy accepting congratulatory phone calls from the networks?
The players say they’re up to the monumental challenge of dodging the virus and trying to win games in quietude. But no matter how young, strong and resilient they are, they’re human beings. They thrive on fan noise and interaction. What if they wilt, burn out? “It’s going to take a lot of focus,’’ said Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, who, as a New York icon, was saluted by regular fan chants in the first inning. “The team that is focused the most and shows the most discipline ultimately is going to be the team that’s standing at the end of the season. It is going to take you back to playing summer ball when you were in grade school and high school. It’s going to take you back to your true love of the game. It will be a challenge to focus.”
“I think it’ll be more of a challenge once we settle into the regular season,” Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle said. “What happens when you get into the rest of August and you start to fall into that routine? There’s so many times you get into those dog days of summer and there’s a monotony, it starts to get really monotonous. And there are nights where the fans really carry you through the game. They help you through an outing. They help you snatch a come-from-behind victory.”
One gimmick that won’t help — any of us — is Fox’s computer-generated virtual crowd. Animation-based tech allows the network to control how fans react (500 possibilities from a high-five to the dreaded Wave), how they’re divided in percentages of team allegiance and even how they’re dressed according to the weather. I’d be more impressed if Cleatus The Robot joined A-Rod and Terry Bradshaw in a mascot race (I should be careful what I wish for). When Fox isn’t airing NFL content, it’s a non-player in sports TV, forcing bosses to rely on attention-grabbing stunts. What’s peculiar is that the first several rows behind home plate and most other sections are empty, giving a true impression of an empty ballpark — until we see these virtual imposters squeezing together in certain sections.
Of course, none are wearing masks or socially distancing.
“It’s not like we are trying to make people feel like there is a crowd there,” Fox executive Brad Zager told the New York Post.
Then what exactly is the purpose?
As usual, the NBA has a better chance of getting it right, turning three Disney facilities into TV experiences. Still, despite music, a barking p.a. announcer and “DEE-FENSE,’’ chants, along with creative camera angles and practical innovation for home viewers, the Bubble dearly misses the energy that defines any game night. Hopefully, commissioner Adam Silver scraps the idea of 300 virtual fans watching games on 17-foot video boards, even if they include players’ family members. See: dumb Fox idea. The NBA might yet create a miracle in Orlando, but it can’t recapture its common arena experience. “There’s no crowd energy, so the energy is going to have to come from the players,” said the Clippers’ Joakim Noah.
Look, I get it. Leagues and broadcast networks are trying to survive a horrific, unprecedented catastrophe. If they manage to complete half the games the rest of this year, I’ll be amazed. I just want everyone to know — executives, athletes, TV people, everyone — that it wasn’t only about you all these decades.
It was about the paying customers, the ones that keep you in business and support your wealthy lifestyles. And you might want to thank them for continuing to pay attention, amid a pandemic, instead of trotting out virtual crowds and cardboard cutouts that only seem to insult them.
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 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. Less than two months 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. 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.