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How Are ESPN and TNT Treating the NHL?

“Last week, I watched a game on both outlets and was a little surprised at what I saw.”

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It’s a new era of television for the National Hockey League. Gone are the days of NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA and wherever else the games were airing. While I enjoyed the NBC telecasts, mainly because of Doc Emerick, it was time for something new. There was a need to freshen things up and get the NHL in front of different eyes and perhaps even a younger audience. 

The league is now in business with both ESPN and TNT. The deals are each for 7 years. ESPN is paying around 400-million a year, while Turner is paying around 225-millon annually. ESPN has the ‘upper hand’ in the broadcast arrangement because ABC will air four of the next seven Stanley Cup Final series every other year starting in 2022. Turner will broadcast the three Stanley Cup Final in the years between. 

Before the Cup Final, the two networks will split the first two rounds of the playoffs and the conference finals.  Turner will have the broadcasts for the annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

I realize at the beginning of this column I said there was a need to ‘freshen things up’. While the games are on new networks, there are some familiar faces and voices still bringing you the action. I still say it’s ‘fresh’ because the presentation is a lot different and some of these voices have been cast in new and better roles, showing off personality and deep knowledge of the NHL. 

The broadcasts on TNT and ESPN are very different. That includes the pregame, intermission and postgame shows as well. Last week, I watched a game on both outlets and was a little surprised at what I saw. Keeping in mind, the studio shows featured some different cast members than the opening week of the season. Wayne Gretzky was absent from the TNT set and John Buccigross, who is sharing hosting duties with Steve Levy, was at the helm of the ESPN studio show. Also keep in mind that both shows were dealing with the serious subject of the Kyle Beach sexual assault case against the Chicago Blackhawks. Beach had just been interviewed by TSN and the subject matter was deep.  

TNT STUDIO SHOW

NHL on TNT Face Off is hosted by Liam McHugh, the former host on NBC’s intermission reports under the former contract. This night he was joined by Rick Tocchet, Anson Carter and Paul Bissonnette on the show. 

McHugh is a seasoned pro, that actually gets to show off a little personality on this show. With NBC it seemed as though, McHugh was limited to a much more, straight forward approach, which allowed at times, a little humor. This TNT production allows him to really loosen up and run the show with fewer restrictions. His personality really comes out. He recently told the AP, basically the same thing. 

“It felt like they wanted me to do what I do best, which is interact, and to keep a loose show,” McHugh said. “In the past, and it definitely occurred, I self-edited or I held back at times. In most cases, that’s gone. … And that was something that really appealed to me, it was more natural to me.”

Tocchet is an 18-year NHL veteran and coached for 6 seasons including the last four for the Coyotes. Tocchet can offer perspective as not only a high-level player, but as a coach just last season. He understands the mindset of today’s hockey player and that insight will be good as he gets more comfortable in the role. I like that he’s raw right now. 

Bissonnette is the wildcard of the group. He’s probably the one most likely to drop a ‘bomb’, but that’s not an act, it’s all real. Hopefully he will be able to contain himself, but there’s no telling. During a Bleacher Report fans’ Q&A he told everyone what he’s most excited about, in joining the TNT crew. 

“The advice I keep getting, especially from Wayne, is just be yourself. Turner tells us they want us to be ourselves. That was really refreshing. I’m excited to just get in there and let it fly with the guys. Whether it’s diving into a serious topic or breaking a video down, it’s just gonna be a very good time and a lighthearted feeling to the broadcast. Just having fun and just bringing my silly, goof personality.”

Carter is smooth on the set. No subject seems too much for him. He’s got a very calm demeanor about him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t passionate. Watching him react to the Beach story and the Blackhawks, saying how it hits home to him with two daughters was powerful. Carter also made the comment that the hockey community is so close knit that the Hawks upper management failed to ‘take care of Kyle Beach’. 

This production is terrific. It is very closely modeled after Inside the NBA on TNT. It’s irreverent at times, but mainly it’s fun. TNT showed us photoshopped pictures like the NBA show and also included instant reaction from fans and some famous folks on Twitter and social media. It’s almost like the folks at TNT are saying, ‘if you’re a fan of our NBA show, wait until you see what we can do for the NHL’. I loved the pacing of the show and everyone having a chance to take a ‘shot’ at the other. 

TNT's NHL broadcast lineup: Schedule, play-by-play, analysts and hosts for  2021-22 season | Sporting News

This show featured a pregame interview with Oilers’ star Connor McDavid. Tocchet had the line of the interview when he prefaced his question by saying, “Hey Connor thanks for putting me on this panel, having to coach against you the last four years.” It was a fun interview that had its serious moments, but mainly showcased the personalities of the panel and of McDavid. The latter is so key for the development of the NHL on television. You have to let viewers get to know some of the big-time players and this was a mission accomplished. 

Through all the fun, this show was able to turn into a very serious and informative program. With the seriousness of the Kyle Beach and Chicago Blackhawks situation, balance had to be struck. It was time to be serious and the balance was struck well. Carter was well spoken during the segment and spoke from the heart when he said, “this really hits home to me, I have two daughters,” he continued to call out the former Hawks executives, saying the hockey culture is all about looking out for each other and “they didn’t protect Kyle Beach”. 

NHL ON TNT BROADCAST

Game broadcast has a familiar tone to the NBC telecasts of the past. That’s because this booth featured Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones, guys that used to call games for NBC and NBCSN. 

I think Albert is always solid. He has the ability to rise to the occasion when the moment calls for it and at the same time, he knows when to clear out to let Olczyk do his thing. Olczyk is hands down the best hockey analyst in the game, with a great feel for television and the game of hockey. He’s a great ambassador and a great teacher of the game for those that may have tuned in for the first time. Jones also moves from the NBC studio to the “inside the glass” position for the TNT broadcast. Unlike Pierre McGuire who made it more about himself than the game, Jones is now afforded the chance to analyze what he’s seeing at ice level and provides great insight. 

The TNT scorebug is great as well. It’s just big enough not to be obtrusive. It’s clean and colorful and has excellent information. The thing most hockey fans truly appreciate about the TNT ‘bug’ is that the ‘Shots on Goal’ stay on it at all times. 

ESPN STUDIO SHOW

In watching the first few minutes of this particular show, it kind of gave me the same feel as the old NBC telecast. It’s a little more “buttoned up” than the TNT show. Hockey lover Buccigross hosted this installment, he will split time with another hockey guy, Levy in hosting the show for the season. Both will also call games on ESPN’s coverage of the NHL. The ESPN studio show has two analysts. They are well known names to hard core and casual hockey fans. Mark Messier and Chris Chelios make up the panel. They are decorated players and big names in hockey circles. 

Messier brings a wealth of experience and success to the ESPN show. He’s a six-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Fame center. His prior television experience includes work as an in-game analyst for the All-Star Game and making occasional guest commentator appearances for NHL on NBC. Messier is somewhat soft spoken on the ESPN set. But what he says packs a punch thanks to his credentials. You can tell he takes meticulous notes on each game he’s watching, now it’s just a matter of being able to speak without having to refer to them on air. Messier seems a bit fidgety in his chair at times, but that will change as he gets a little more experience. I was happy to see that he’s not so super serious all the time, playing well off his teammates on set. 

Chelios is also a Hall of Fame player. He’s currently an ambassador for the Blackhawks. He previously worked for Fox Sports 1 back in 2013. He was part of the coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Chelios is the ‘fun-loving’ side of the ESPN studio show. He smiles a lot and genuinely looks like he’s having a great time. He is dialed in on the current players in the game and is not afraid to express opinions. Chelios handled the Kyle Beach situation very well, when pressed during this particular show. While he still works for the Blackhawks, he didn’t mince words in stating how awful this situation was. Chelios looks very comfortable in the chair and is able to get Messier to smile and engage during the show. 

NHL ON ESPN BROADCAST

There is a ‘newness’ to the telecast, just because it’s been so long since ESPN televised the NHL. Sean McDonough was named the lead play-by-play broadcaster and this night he was joined by a former NBC voice, Brian Boucher and reporter Emily Kaplan.

McDonough is a terrific broadcaster, versatile and solid. He’s called MLB, NCAA and NFL games. His foray back into hockey is taking a little time to get back on solid ground. It’s a different sport with different flow than the ones he’s more recently called. There were a few times that he was a little slow on the action. I’m sure as the season goes on, that will change, but right now it’s noticeable. 

Boucher is solid as well. He was a rising star in the analyst world at NBC, so it makes sense that ESPN scooped him up. Boucher has a deep working knowledge of the NHL and has a clear and concise way of presenting information to the fans at home. 

ESPN to Present NHL Games and Studio Coverage with Innovative Production  Approaches and New Technologies - ESPN Press Room U.S.

The ESPN scorebug is simple, maybe too simple. It doesn’t provide much other than the essentials, like the score and time left, etc. It’s larger than the one on TNT, but it features less. Shots on Goal are not regularly a part of it, once in a while the SOG is flashed up, but it’s not a fixture. The bug does expand to include penalty, power play time. I think it needs some work.  

Overall, from the one watch of both networks, I’m kind of partial to the TNT telecast as a whole. From the studio show to the game broadcast, it just seemed more upbeat and cleaner. I think both broadcasts are a step up from the NBC broadcasts. Both are taking a few more chances visually. Whether it be penalty time actually displayed on the ice (TNT) or unique camera angles that capture more of the game from different perspectives (ESPN). Hockey is in good hands for the next seven years.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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