When we decided a few months ago to create a Meet The Market Managers series, I told Demetri Ravanos that John Kijowski needed to be a part of it, and I’d run point on writing the piece. It’s not everyday that I get to flip the script and ask questions of someone who once hired me, and peppered me constantly with questions related to 101 ESPN’s programming challenges and opportunities. John is so used to asking the questions that it was fun to hear his answers to my questions and see his visible reactions to a couple of curveballs I tossed in his direction during our Zoom chat.
Aside from my personal connection to John, and he’ll hate me for saying this, but he’s one of the best market managers in the business. Period. You may not know that if you follow the trades and see most of the larger markets earning all of the attention, but anyone who’s worked with or for John already knows this to be true. He prefers flying under the radar. He’d rather his team get the credit for their results. If his family is healthy, his employees are happy, his clients are served, his partners are pleased, and his bosses approve of the work he’s doing, that’s more than enough for John.
What I appreciate about John is that he never had to do a lot of yelling or pounding his fist on a table to make his point and get people to perform. He’ll ask questions to test your conviction on specific issues, he’ll challenge his team to raise the bar, and he’ll seek out new ideas from anywhere in the office, and ask how he can help make your job easier. He’s also accessible and interested in helping all of his managers whether they’re in sales, digital, promotions, engineering or programming. It’s why so many who work for him respect his input and trust his decision making.
As important as John’s professional skills may be, his ability to create a family like atmosphere matters even more. When you work at a John Kijowski led operation, you realize quickly that you’re part of a special kind of culture that others want to be a part of. I was a young programmer in 2008, convinced my better days were ahead of me, but still struggling to find the right leader and company to trust me, believe in me, and allow me to put my vision into action. John and I met to discuss the possibility of creating sports on the FM dial in St. Louis, and at first I thought he was doing what a lot of radio people do, seeking me out for information. I learned though that John was serious about hiring me, the outside noise mattered little to him, and as long as I assembled a great staff, worked well with multiple departments, provided sound reasoning for the decisions I was making, and managed my team to success, he’d have my back every step of the way. It’s why leaving St. Louis for San Francisco was incredibly difficult in 2011. I’ve been fortunate to reconnect with John and the 101 crew over the past few years in my current role.
Having shared all of that, I’d be doing this column a disservice if I didn’t point out one well known Kijowski specialty that those around him know all too well. Working for John requires being smart, strategic, giving maximum effort, and delivering results, but you also better have a good sense of humor. The second you turn around to tackle the day’s agenda, you may find a chair on your desk, a fork in your pocket or a ladder blocking your entrance into the office. It doesn’t matter if you’re the host of afternoon drive, the program director of one of his radio stations, the receptionist at the front desk or a part time member of the street team. If John sees an opportunity to create laughter, he’s going to take it. Those innocent pranks keep the office loose and remind people that it’s ok to work hard and play hard.
Our conversation covered a lot of ground including John’s entry into management, the future of sports betting, what he believes is most important when going thru a merger, the quality he values most in a program director, and what the process was like leading up to the decision to pursue sports on FM in St. Louis. I could easily write another 5,000 words on why John Kijowski is one of the best in this business, but the following interview will allow you to see that for yourself. Enjoy!
Jason Barrett: I was looking at LinkedIn prior to this conversation and it has you stepping into the GM world in 1995. Is that right?
John Kijowski: That’s correct.
JB: So when you were making a pitch for the first time to become a GM, what do you remember from that process?
JK: It’s interesting because before Sinclair, I was with Gannett as a DOS going for the GM position. I’ll never forget the president of Gannett broadcasting asking me to tell him about the different areas of the radio station and rank them in order of importance. I was a DOS so what do you think I said?
JK: Sales department, of course. Nothing happens unless we sell something. He just nodded, and said ‘what else’? I said, ‘well, you need a great signal, and programming’ and he said ‘OK, put them in order’. I said ‘sales, programming, signal’. He told me ‘John, you’re not ready for this position yet’. He said ‘unless there’s great programming, even the best sales staff won’t be able to sell it at a high premium consistently unless the programming is right’. That was the first great lesson of many that I learned.
JB: So that was your first taste of being close to running the show. The next time around, you did get the opportunity. When did you know you had the job?
JK: Barry Drake was the one who hired me as a GM from a DOS position at Sinclair. I can’t tell you I knew I had it until he said ‘this is yours’. I felt like I did the interview very well. Barry is an incredibly bright man. I thought I did a good job with him but I really didn’t know I had it until he said it was mine.
JB: So you begin your venture into management with Sinclair, who then transferred ownership to Bonneville, a great company that you spent over 11 years with. Bonneville then sold to Hubbard, another amazing group which you’ve had the pleasure of spending another decade with. You lucked out the past twenty years working for two great broadcasting groups. Having been thru a few mergers, as a GM, what’s that first month or two like when new owners are coming in? You have to think about your own future, your staff’s future, if they’ll tinker with the products you’ve helped build, and possibly change the strategy or even a format. Where does your focus go?
JK: I think of me last. You have to think of your team first. Our job is to acquire the best talent around us, and put them in the right seat on the bus. But you also have to retain them. When there’s a potential merger, you want to retain a great team. Whether the company retains you or not, obviously it’s critically important, but the team comes first. You want to make sure that what we’ve built is preserved for growth. I always looked at the team first, and communicated with the buying company on the aspects of what they’re going to be looking at, which are the obvious metrics of cash flow, net operating expenses, and net revenue. Where’s your growth come from? How do you look when the ratings aren’t so good? How is the cash flow? If you have good cash flow years while the ratings aren’t good, how do you do it? It’s mainly about protecting the team, and showing what the mission’s been.
JB: As you know some may be more focused on their own futures especially during a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty. Your answer explains why you’ve come thru it in great shape each time.
JK: You said before that I’ve been lucky, and I have been. I’m very fortunate to have worked with some great broadcasters. Bonneville under Bruce Reese and Drew Horowitz, and then coming over to a family owned business with Hubbard led by Ginny Morris, these are just amazing companies with great people. What the two have in common is shared vision, and leadership. You know exactly what they want you to do. Everybody is a part of the process and they want to show you where they’re going but they certainly want strong opinion from the market manager. Do you agree with the plan or should we avoid this? Do you see other options for growth? I’ve been lucky to work for two great companies.
JB: You mentioned how they seek your input when dealing with important business matters, so when you’re reporting to your bosses and having to either relay bad news about a talent or a quarterly sales performance, ask for additional funds that might not have budgeted or offer a point of view that differs from something they want to do, what do you think is important to communicate so they remain confident that they have great leadership in place overseeing their markets and know you’re looking out for the best interests of the company rather than just offering lip service to give them what they might want to hear but may not necessarily be what’s best for the long term interest in growing the brands under your watch?
JK: It’s all a process. I believe confidence comes from competence. You have to be competent over years. Then it’s the ability to communicate tough decisions honestly and transparently and say that you’ve looked at it from all angles and you didn’t do it by yourself. You include your Operations Manager, Director of Sales, Chief Engineer, Business Manager, the Marketing and Promotions team. You’ve brought everyone into the conversation who’s part of that small circle and said ‘what could we get tripped up on? This looks too good to be true, what’s wrong here? If I were the opponent, how would I attack it? And remember the opponent may not be another radio station or radio group. Maybe it’s how consumers are engaging with media in general right now. If you’re not doing it for them, the end user, and you’re only doing it for yourself, you’ll fail. How you communicate that takes confidence, but you have to some competence too.
JB: You hired me to help build 101 ESPN in September 2008. The station launched a few months later in January 2009. Before we even talked though, you had to have a number of conversations internally about the benefits of flipping to sports and the concerns associated with making a move into the format. Those same types of conversations take place all the time whether it involves talent, program directors, play by play partnerships or other business challenges and opportunities. When you’re considering a major move such as a format flip, what is it that you have to see to convince you that it’s worth pursuing and changing your current direction?
JK: You take that team that I just described, those critically important department heads, particularly on the programming side, and you ask ‘where is there an underserved part of the audience in our market?’ Even if you see a direct competitor, is the space itself under served? You certainly are aware of what we did putting 101 ESPN on in 2009. There was no FM outlet for robust and strong sports talk. There was guy talk on the AM dial, and we looked at the situation over and over again and said ‘do we need another rock station in town?’ There was no Triple A station so that area was open, but it looked like it was covered well between the classic rock and alternative stations in the market. We asked ‘is there easy listening?’ Yep. We’ve got that. Was Urban available. Nope, there were three of those stations. So we kept looking and asking ‘where are their holes to fill’ and we did our logistics and hired Coleman to do what was called a format finder. We made the investment to see if the research supported what our gut was telling us. Decisions made on science and gut are usually pretty good. Then you gather that team and ask ‘what will the ratings look like’, and you take that number down. ‘What will the revenue be’, and you take that number down too.
JB: Since you brought up asking for projections, I always wondered why you’d even ask me to project the radio station’s results for the following year. I’d be thinking ‘I’m not a fortune teller, so do you want me to just write something down and make an uneducated guess on where the audience might be in twelve months?.’ Case in point, nobody could’ve predicted going into 2020 that a pandemic would hit and do a number on the media industry. So what good are those actual projections?
JK: (laughs) But you still have to do it. You have to do the work and study where you think things might go. Our owner Stanley Hubbard, and Ginny Morris who runs the radio division, already had us doing a ‘what if’ plan before the pandemic hit. What if the market all of a sudden shrunk by 25%. Go five years out, what does that look like? We had just done that plan the year earlier. It was extremely helpful because as soon as you think you can predict things, the unexpected happens.
JB: I want to ask you about radio play by play partnerships. When the station launched in 2009, it went on the air with the St. Louis Rams. I remember Drew Horowitz not exactly loving that deal (laughs). Obviously the state of play by play today is much different than it was 12 years ago. Streaming is now a bigger part of the picture. Some teams now want to sell their own inventory or they’ll give up more commercial time in a broadcast to try and retain their rights fees. You work with the St. Louis Blues who are well received by your audience and clients. There are a lot of positives to being in business with teams but there can be some challenges too. What does a good partnership between a team and sports radio station look like to you?
JK: You asked earlier about selling up ideas to ownership. The process isn’t much different when it comes to creating a partnership with teams. Isn’t that why we’re here? We’re trying to create partnerships with our listeners, our colleagues inside the building, and with our advertisers. So what is the shared goal? I knew what the Rams goal was and how they measured it, and I know what the Blues expect. They’re both very different. When you ask the question ‘what does a good partnership look like?’ I think it’s important to describe it as if you were telling a story. Five years from now, I will evaluate this partnership by looking at how we hit this, this and this. Is that revenue? Non-spot revenue? Ratings? How can we help the club? We have tremendous access to players. That was important to us. Before we had the Blues, we had access to players with the Rams, but it’s not like what we have now. Why that’s important to us is because the listening audience, and the people who view us and engage with us on social, they want to hear from them. They want to hear from hosts on our airwaves who’ve played the game such as Jamie Rivers and Brad Thompson from The Fast Lane who played for the Blues and Cardinals respectively. They want to hear the stories of what took place behind the dressing room doors. What’s important to the club, and what’s important to the radio station, and how can we find common ground together to help each other. Yes it always comes down to money, but there’s a lot of different ways to do the deal then to just pay a ridiculous rights fee, that you’ll probably never get back, unless you’re in a Top 5 market. It’s incredibly difficult.
JB: Another partnership I want to ask you about is ESPN Radio. Your station has worked with the network for over a decade. When you say the four letters to most sports fans, they instantly carry weight. People know what brand you’re talking about. On the other hand, the radio network is different today than it has been in the past. Some are good with the changes, others aren’t. When you analyze your relationship with your national radio network partner, how do you evaluate it? What do you think they do a great job helping your brand with, and where can they improve?
JK: The brand of ESPN still matters. It hasn’t suffered a lot since we started the partnership, in fact I think it’s as big as ever. The ESPN brand is spectacular and the association with it is important to us. As an affiliate, I think there are a lot of ways to do a deal. I’d like to see them provide a little more flexibility on the barter. The gentleman I work with is flexible and reviewing our arrangement right now. Our brand though is live and local from 7a to 6p and then we go into games whether it be the Blues or the ESPN offerings from the NBA, MLB, college games, etc.. So that covers a lot of our main programming windows. I think the lead in to our morning show is really important. We launched with Mike & Mike and they did a spectacular show. It performed well here. That then morphed into Golic and Wingo which featured Trey Wingo, a guy with a well known national profile who spent a number of years here in St. Louis, and that too did well. Now they’re going thru an additional evolution with their new morning show. I think the jury is out but they are talented guys. We carry that show from 5a-7a and it’s important because it launches into our first local show of the day. So we’ll be monitoring that situation closely but the brand itself is super strong, if we’re able to get a little flexibility with the barter that’d help, but I’m proud to partner with them and appreciate the way they’ve treated us over the years.
JB: An area that a lot of industry people are hot on and see huge upside for the future in is sports betting. Missouri hasn’t been declared a legal state yet.
JK: Not yet but it could go thru in 2022. I think it will. It’ll be big.
JB: Knowing that it’s coming soon and the advertising dollars could be bigger and the appetite from the audience may continue getting stronger for that type of content, how do you expect sports betting to change the way sports radio is presented? For instance, the growth of gambling will be received differently by on-air talent. Some are going to be into discussions that revolve around looking at lines, prop bets and changes in betting behavior on a specific game, others might not want any part of those conversations. Taking all of that into account, what excites you and concerns you about the space and how do you see it changing the format?
JK: The part that excites me most is the revenue potential obviously. We know it’s coming so having a plan is important. We have a team that is meeting and reviewing what it might look like and developing it so we have it ready for execution this year even if we don’t start it until next year. Yes there may be some hosts that aren’t into it right now but this is going to continue gaining steam so more hosts are going to have to be into it because it’s where things are headed. Most of our talent have either a FanDuel or DraftKings account. Some have both. They have responded well to it. I think there’s going to be a lot of future opportunities for sports radio stations and talent for live events and on-air endorsements around sports betting. We’ve already started hiring street team to start in the 4th quarter because we expect big events around Busch Stadium and ScottTrade Center and we have soccer coming soon. I think the combination of events, endorsements, hosts being into the content, and special programming being available thru our brand is going to be part of it. I know a lot of people haven’t embraced HD2 to this point, however, I think there could be a dedicated HD2 channel for this that people go to for alternate broadcasts around the Cardinals or Blues that focus heavily on the sports gambling discussion around the game. You might hear ‘It’s 3 and 2 on the batter, is he going to get on or make an out? The odds say it’s 60% likely that he won’t succeed.’ I don’t rule out that possibility of HD2 being utilized in a bigger way.
JB: The last two things I want to pick your brain on are podcasting and social media. Each are important for branding and connecting with an audience but from a revenue standpoint they’re not on the same playing field yet with radio dollars. I see and hear a lot of noise out there about running away from the word ‘radio’ but radio is still driving the revenue bus. I love podcasting and social media as much as the next person but I don’t understand the fascination with distancing ourselves from the one word that has represented us for decades and still helps us generate dollars and interest. That said, younger people have different ways of consuming radio than you and I did. I understand why the industry is planning now for where we might be in 10-20 years. When you look at podcasting and social media, what do you feel needs to happen for both to become a bigger source of revenue for radio brands?
JK: It is called dual tracks. We have to keep doing what we’re doing on the radio side because that continues to be the big megaphone. People that are branding need radio. Definitely. No question. Advertisers definitely need radio, especially sports radio because it works for the client. Podcasting is an area we are involved in. It’s critically important to where we think growth is. We have to be able to create and innovate by introducing new podcasting content. For instance, we have a Blues podcast that takes one member of 101 ESPN, and two members of 105.7 The Point, our alternative station. It’s not something you’re going to hear on either radio station so that helps draw people in. We also want to create the best Cardinals podcast in St. Louis. We have the talent to do it but the right idea and personnel for it is important. We are always looking at ways to get more eyeballs and ears on our podcasts and video content and it comes from delivering original entertainment around the teams and people they care about most. If we produce material that people value, regardless of where it’s distributed, we’ll be able to monetize it.
JB: Before we wrap up, I’ve got to ask you a question about choosing a program director because you hired me to start 101 ESPN, Kent Sterling to succeed me when I left for San Francisco, Hoss Neupert to step in after Kent, and Tommy Mattern after Hoss. All four of us are different people, each with a different programming style and philosophy. When you’re looking for a candidate to run a brand, what sets someone apart from others when you’re going thru a process and trying to determine who to trust with programming one of your stations?
JK: One word – leadership. It all comes down to leadership. I don’t need a program director or a manager of things. I need a leader of people. That’s not just all about motivation. Motivation is a small part of it. A leader recognizes what everybody’s role is, puts them in the right positions, and is constantly self-directing it when they get off the road or cross the line a little bit. The leader also has to understand sales and content. I used to say ‘ratings = revenue’. Not anymore. Ratings are very important but it’s all about content generation now. We need on-air talent that are content machines and put it out on multiple platforms and have that entertaining way to make it sticky. A leader has to find those people and have a great relationship with the DOS and understand their strategy and tactics to help them monetize the content.
JB: I’m going to end with this, when you think about the present and future of the business, what’s the one thing that keeps you up at night and don’t tell me it’s your retirement because you have some time before that happens.
JK: I hope Ginny and Dave Bestler read this because I do have time. The one thing that keeps me up at night is figuring out where to look and find unique talent. And I’m not just talking about on-air. I’m talking about sales talent. Cost per point sellers are over. It’s been over for a while. We need people who need to think client first or listener first and what are their goals and how can we help them because it’s not about a one-time sale or a one-time great rating month. It’s about consistent success. The only people that can do that in my opinion are the people that, and I keep saying this, the content mavens. Those who listen more than talk and understand what the client or listener is looking for and finding a way to deliver it to them in a very creative way. These are entertainers. You can be funny in this format. Look, the pandemic should’ve taught everybody that we have to be entertaining even when there are no games being played. We’re in the entertainment business. We’re in the acquisition business. Our job is to acquire new customers and new listeners, and how we keep them engaging with us and supporting us depends on having great unique talented people representing our brands.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.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.