When we talk about powerhouse brands in the sports talk format, we tend to gravitate towards names like WFAN, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 97.1 The Ticket, 670 The Score and Sports Radio WIP. Some of that’s a testament to their success, but it’s fair to suggest a little bit of East Coast bias may come into play. Look, it makes sense. Most of the country’s population is in the East. So too are most media corporations, money and power. Notable brands and high profile individuals are connected to business and politics in this region, an area where radio stations begin with the letter W.
But just because the attention in our industry shifts first to the east coast, doesn’t mean Arizona Sports 98.7 doesn’t belong in the same category of the aforementioned stations. Go to Phoenix, and you’ll find the market’s sports leader routinely delivering revenue far beyond what the general anonymity of the city’s teams may lead you to believe is possible.
The man responsible for guiding Bonneville Phoenix’s building which houses two of the nation’s top sports (Arizona Sports 98.7) and news/talk brands (KTAR) is Scott Sutherland. The longtime Phoenix market manager joined me for a conversation which covered a number of topics including how his two dominant spoken word stations were once a single “super brand,” the changing demographics and dynamics of his market, and how he sets a value for his product and never wavers from it.
Demetri Ravanos: Let’s start with Arizona Sports being on the FM dial under the 98.7 frequency. I know that happened with the guidance from Nielsen and seeing greater potential to expand your audience, but at the time, the music station that you had on that frequency was previously successful. What did you uncover during that process that gave you the confidence to shift away from music and move your sports talk product on to FM?
Scott Sutherland: That was a whopper. It was the end of 2013 and the AM radio market in Phoenix was compromised. Our music station was called The Peak. It was adult hits and very successful. We were billing a lot of money, but we had already moved KTAR to FM in 2006 and subsequently at the same time launched KTAR Sports, rebranding it later in 2011 to Arizona Sports.
We were doing so well on the sports and the news side that I think we looked at the format of adult hits and not to speak ill of the music format, but it was sort of an amorphous format where we didn’t really have a position, we were just billing. And you could just see the results that we could deliver on the on the news and sports side with KTAR. There just wasn’t that that same sense with The Peak.
We then looked at the landscape and said, “You know, we’ve done some damage to the AM band by pulling KTAR off of it. Two iHeart stations were the only real AM stations at that time. We looked at it like Arizona Sports is a great store, but in a mall in a compromised area. So we thought that putting all of our chips on the table and going all in on sports alleviated some of the play-by-play issues because at that time we had everybody, Suns, Coyotes, DBacks, Cardinals, ASU. We saw it as a chance to go all in on FM and 620 is the best signal in the state, so that allowed us to put ESPN Radio there. We could put a lot of the games that run prior to 7:00 pm on 620, so it enabled us to stay in format longer.
I think, if we weren’t a small company like Bonneville, I don’t think it would happen because I remember going up to the board and saying, “We’re basically going to be financing this deal through ourselves instead of taking whatever a stick would cost. We’re just going to have less cash flow in our operations for a time,” but it’s been the best decision we’ve ever made. I think it’s been a game changer for our format. That and I would also say rebranding in 2011 from KTAR Sports.
Ryan Hatch and I took a trip to ESPN in 2011, and met with John Kosner, who ran ESPN Digital. This was at the time when ESPN was launching all of their digital sites, ESPN, Chicago, Boston, etc.. We made our case to be the first non-O-and-O and build ESPN Phoenix. That initiative obviously didn’t gain any traction, but that was sort of the impetus for us to say, “Alright, let’s rebrand it as Arizona Sports. Let’s take that model, a digital and an audio strategy to own Arizona, not just have Phoenix call letters. So I would say that was was a game changer for us in 2011. And then moving to FM at the beginning of 2014 has also been huge for us.
DR: My understanding is that the move to FM didn’t immediately pay off for the station the way you were told it might. I’ve heard a story that Ryan Hatch put on a Celine Dion song to show a Nielsen rep what was showing up as the top station in Phoenix with Men 25-54.
SS: When we launched in January of 2014, the first few books, according to Nielsen, we had less audience than we did when we were AM only. We had added FM and Nielsen said our ratings declined. We went from like 5th to 12th. I remember Rick Scott saying it was statistically impossible. Nielsen told us our cume had dropped exponentially.
Here we are landing vehicles on Mars and we’re still stuck with 1980s beeper technology. It’s unbelievable and somehow they are convinced that sampling methodology is the best that we can do. Now we’re going to have wearables where we move to, the same technology as Fitbit. Well, I don’t see people wearing Fitbit anymore.
It’s tough in Phoenix when essentially you have 200 meters that comprise basically all of our sports listening. We’re just saying nothing makes sense. We literally have millions of people on our website. We have hundreds of thousands of people on our stream. We have hundreds of thousands of downloads monthly, even in the millions on audio downloads, and Nielsen says we have a cume of below 75,000. It’s just maddening and it makes no sense.
DR: Now that KTAR and Arizona Sports are two separate brands, what differences have you noticed between the dedicated sports audience and the dedicated news/talk audience?
SS: Well, I would say a lot of similarities. We obviously have high income and high education in both audiences. I think I can make a case in Phoenix that maybe there’s a correlation with a lack of people wearing meters.
The goal is to be number one and number two in billing. It’s just a high qualitative audience and from an advertiser perspective, it just works.
DR: During the 2020 election cycle, there were a lot of news stories about Arizona as a state largely going blue because the population got younger and Browner. I wonder what you think the implications of that might be for broadcast radio.
SS: I think it’s good, frankly, and again, whether this appears in Nielsen, I think last year was a really good year for us, even in a pandemic. We stepped back, especially on the news side, and just said “Is Arizona a swing state?”. I’ve lived here for a long time, and to see that was interesting. The political money was obscene last year.
But I think, again, for our brands, it’s a couple of things, not only more diversity. We have a ton of people coming in from California with obvious tax implications, so Phoenix is booming. House prices are at record levels. We have more and more people moving here. It’s considered one of the best places to be right now. The tax situation is good. We think with all these folks moving in, it’s wonderful for our brands. We’re fortunate to work for a company where at Bonneville whether it rains or shines, we market. We’re very bullish on our brands.
DR: It’s interesting to talk about the population shift. Going back to a conversation we had before I started recording, I see a lot of people pointing this out when it comes to college football recruiting. All of the sudden, Arizona has become a destination to find a quarterback because families are moving out of California and Phoenix and Las Vegas seem to be the top two beneficiaries of it.
SS: You see, obviously, Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma. You’ve got Jack Miller at Ohio State, whether he gets the nod or not. But this was never the case before. The issue for us, frankly, it’s how can we keep some of these kids? For the top kids, there’s obviously more of an allure going to an SEC school or Big Ten school, and that’s been problematic here in the state for a while. However, seeing what its done for local kids has been fantastic.
DR: You guys have three pro teams and Arizona State on your station. You mentioned earlier that when the Suns or Diamondbacks are on the East Coast and airing in what would be afternoon drive in Arizona, those games go to 620 and regular programming remains on 98.7. Is there a part of those negotiations or an aspect of massaging those relationships to make it possible to do that? Something maybe folks that have only ever worked in the Eastern or Central time zones wouldn’t be familiar with?
SS: I think so. Our proposition is that we want our afternoon show to not be interrupted. At times we’ve had all four teams and ASU. We also carry the Phoenix Rising, which is the soccer league that we have here. When you’re dealing with local teams, everyone wants to be the highest priority. We just say to them on conflict games, the earlier game always goes to 620. That way we can put our afternoon drive in content and make sure that on the revenue side, there’s better implications for us because we’re not giving up afternoon drive revenue.
The play by play world has changed immeasurably. What makes for a good play by play deal? I always say it depends. All of our partnerships are different. I think the models are changing. There’s revenue shares out there. There’s teams which carry inventory. There’s stations that own some inventory. I think the technology has changed the right fees and the streaming implications. Hopefully the leagues are moving back to giving stations the right to stream the games. I know MLB is moving that way. It’s becoming more complicated, and I think the station’s perspective is we’re unwilling to lose one dime. The days of coughing up a big rights fee to try to take on third party sales and not break even? It’s a thing of the past.
DR: So I want to explore the idea of everybody wanting top priority. Tell me a little bit about the conversations that are had when you have the Diamondbacks playing on a Sunday afternoon as the NFL season is kicking off and one game is going to the AM dial and the other to FM. How do you make sure everybody feels like they’re getting your best?
SS: I would say the most important thing is communicating that up front to take it off the table. We write in our contracts, sort of who has precedent. The NFL obviously is king, so they regardless, would always go to the FM band.
I think the other teams appreciate all that we bring to the table. We like to talk about that it’s not just an audio rights fee, especially with our digital assets that we have, with the audience that we’re generating off of our website. So I think you have to take that question or disagreement off the table upfront or else it could be a nightmare. I think every team would like to be first priority, but I think we do a pretty good job of conveying the benefit as to why the structure we decided on is important.
I think they get it. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so I think it’s a no surprises strategy which has worked well.
DR: Is there an established priority or hierarchy among Phoenix sports fans or is it the NFL and then depending on which one is hot: Suns or Diamondback?
SS: Phoenix is tough, and it’s getting more native, if you will. It’s embarrassing. If you go to any of the teams, Diamondbacks are playing the Dodgers? There’s a lot of blue. With all the Midwest transplants, if the Cardinals are playing the Packers, there’s certainly a lot of yellow and green. But I think it’s coming around.
The Cardinals now have been here since 1988. So I think the kids now have teams to root on. The Diamondbacks since 1998. So it definitely is changing, but I think the NFL is the NFL like it is in all the markets.
The one original team that we do have are the Suns. So when the Suns are winning, and obviously this is the first year in quite some time they’re doing that, the bandwagon is very, very quick to come back as it relates to the Suns. The D-Backs, when they’re winning and doing well, then it’s hot too. It’s just when the teams records start to go south, that’s where all of the implications begin for all the teams in a way that you may not see in the other markets. It definitely is growing into a little more native and tribal as it relates to fandom.
DR: Arizona had a real rollercoaster ride with Covid-19. The state tried to reopen very quickly and become a hub for Major League Baseball. Then all of the sudden, it was one of the hottest spots in the country for outbreaks. Did that disrupt things for you just in terms of day to day operation of the station?
SS: Timing, of course, was terrible. But for a sports station, when Spring Training was rolling, it was very difficult. With Bonneville, it’s very people oriented. We told our folks to go.
Arizona was probably slower than some other states where the governor never had a mask ordinance. We did have the two stop downs. Our numbers at one time in August were the worst Covid rates in the world per cases and deaths. It was rough.
We hadn’t concluded selling our Diamondback inventory, so that was tough. Then of course, you’re going into the Cardinals season so it was a rough summer. On the content side, God bless Ryan Hatch and Rod Lakin for trying to come up with any kind of content. They did a wonderful job. I think the creativity that our guys showed was phenomenal and they just kept fighting the good fight and reminding people that sports is a good place to be in. I think that’s one thing that’s lingered probably for all the stations. Because there aren’t any fans at an NBA game, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to talk about. I will say, I think we weathered the storm better than most.
I was on one of our meetings with our corporate officers two months or so into the pandemic. They asked “what’s the biggest lesson that you learned?”. And I said, “For us, it was that it’s validated our business model”. I think when you’re based in local, original content, all about ubiquitous distribution, your sales structure is based on local solution-based sales, and four years ago we moved to a sort of account executive, account manager, a sort of hunter/farmer sales structure, those are the areas where it just validated all the work that we put in for our business model to work. We surprisingly, had a great year last year for both news and sports.
DR: How much of that do you think can be attributed to the fact that, air staff-wise, you guys haven’t had a lot of turnover? There have been years, if not decades, for many of your hosts to develop relationships with listeners and clients, and for your clients to be able to trust that they know who it is that is delivering live endorsements that connect with the audience.
SS: No question. The relationship that all of our folks have from Ryan and Rod, to the talent, to the sales team matters. At Bonneville, we talk a lot about trusted voices. Having Doug and Wolf, Bickley and Marotta, Burns and Gambo, all of our bellcow hosts, they’re trusted voices in the market. I think we we stayed away from politics as the summer went on on Arizona Sports. It wasn’t the Covid hotline. Our news station took care of that. We really focused on the community. We focused on what’s to come with sports. And I think, to your point, the trusted voices that we talk about so much, were a huge part of helping us get through until training camp opened up. That’s when the game changed for us, the third week of July.
DR: You call them bellcows, which I think is a great way to describe the nature of the lineup, because every single day, somebody been there to serve your audience and partners. But I do want to take this back to our earlier discussion of the way Arizona is diversifying. I wonder maybe not in the way that somebody ends up losing a job, but do you see a way that the station’s lineup will have to diversify at some point?
SS: For sure. There’s no question. As we work on succession planning, we’ve brought in female voices. We’ve brought in younger voices. We’re trying to bring people from Max Starks to Lorenzo Alexander, who can bring a different perspective. It’s a huge priority for us without a question.
DR: So I want to ask you about working for Bonneville. You are working for a group owned by the Mormon Church. How is that different than working for a group owned by shareholders and investors?
SS: I’ve worked for both. I came from the AMFM, Chancellor and CBS prior to when I joined here. I will tell you that I can’t imagine working elsewhere after living through different companies and the Wall Street world, not that that’s a good or bad thing, but our company is all about people. It’s about making a difference in the communities that we serve and delivering a profit. From Darrell Brown to our executive team, I think there’s more strategy from some of my experience in the Wall Street-owned world. Everything is not about re-forecasting for next week. I don’t get calls on Friday asking why do we have 16 morning drive units next Thursday? There isn’t this myopic, incessant looking at stock prices. Again, there isn’t any company that I can imagine working for that would just say, “Sure, you can blow up one of the most successful music stations we own because we want to go all in on spoken word” and they hold us accountable. The focus is always how do we recruit and retain and grow great people like the Rod Lakin’s and the Ryan Hatch’s and how do we make them feel valued?
With Bonneville, what they want us to do is make sure that we’re improving the community. Our give-a-thon for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, our two stations raised almost two million dollars, which is the largest fundraiser for a children’s hospital in the nation. That’s one where I always speak to, “Nielsen says our audience is X? Great. You know, in a day and a half, we’re raising two million dollars with almost three thousand phone calls and people donating. It’s engagement!” Engagement is what we talk about.
DR: The values of the company are always going to be important to the way you’re able to do business. One issue the Church has been pretty clear about is its stance on sports gambling. Has that affected your ability to do business with those companies? As we’re talking, Arizona is pushing a bill that would legalize sports betting in the state.
SS: That will be a category obviously, that we would not be able to participate in.
DR: As you know Scott, that is a category where revenue is rapidly growing, especially in the sports space. Do you worry that not being able to accept that type of business could have an affect on your sales staff?
SS: No, because I think there’s so many other things. Obviously, we’re not going to get that money. I get it. There’s a lot of categories here that we are penetrating though and I think it’s more important to look at the categories that we can have success in instead of the ones that we can’t touch. If we can’t get that money, it is what it is. If that’s the worst thing in my job, that we’re not going to participate in sports gambling, then life is pretty dang good.
DR: I was told a great story about the naming rights to your studio. Legend has it that years ago, you had a big client who was spending high six figures but had to move on. When big deals like that go away, pressure increases to get something back on the books to make up for the loss. Another client then made an offer for the studio rights which was significantly less. Their brand name wasn’t exactly the best fit either. Rather than run to the dollars, you passed on the deal. The way I was told the story was that Scott really understands the value of his product and cares about the integrity of his brands.
I wonder how you got to that point, believing in brands like KTAR and Arizona Sports so much that you were willing to accept nothing for a sponsorship opportunity rather than take a deal that didn’t meet your expectations. Do you ever consider what it might cost you to give up a quick and easy sale to maintain your standard?
SS: We wouldn’t even sell a studio sponsorship for news. Frankly, it wouldn’t be something we’d ever consider. We did do it on the sports studio. We had University of Phoenix, which was the Cardinals’ stadium, which is now State Farm Stadium. We had a huge sponsorship we took to them that we thought would would make sense. That was maybe a four or five year deal, and then typical in that world it went away. We established a value for it, and probably went three years before even consider doing another deal. For a lot of the music stations, it’s more of an added value play. For us, I think it’s important that it’s treated properly. It’s the Ak-Chin Community Studios. It’s one of our Native American partners that’s with us on this now.
We know the value of our studio. We had offers for 80 percent of what we set the price at, and just felt like we’d worked so hard to establish these brands that accepting less felt wrong. I was here when we launched it in 2007, and then got shipped up to Seattle for 2 years. There’s so much sweat equity that we put into building these brands, and we’re proud of the work that we’ve done. We refuse to offer key associations with our brands at discounted prices. It’s the same thing with where we are on the sales side with the pandemic, average unit rates, and sell out percentages. I think people would be shocked to learn the implications of how it can hurt you. We held very, very strong, which is why I think we had a really, really good year last year.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
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 email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.