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This is What Howie Rose Lives For

“It was a very, very joyful experience for me just to get back behind the mic with a baseball field in front of me and the game going on.”

Derek Futterman

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Howie Rose has been a voice synonymous with New York Mets baseball for nearly a quarter-century, and for the first time in his career last season, he had to cut his season short to undergo a medical procedure. A fan of the team from their inception in 1962, Rose watched Tom Seaver and the 1969 “Miracle Mets” win a World Series championship, lived through the 1977 “Midnight Massacre” trade and watched the franchise rebuild and win another championship in 1986.

The Mets’ yearly campaigns, aside from the shortened 2020 season, have always begun at spring training, first in Tampa, Fla., and, since 1988, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. For Rose, being back at spring training among the players, coaches and management evinced feelings of nostalgia with the prescience that baseball would indeed be played in 2022, and he would once again be in the booth bringing fans the action.

“It was a very, very joyful experience for me just to get back behind the mic with a baseball field in front of me and the game going on,” said Rose. “You don’t get the same flow of adrenaline in a spring training game as you do for a regular season game, but I will say I had that adrenaline flowing a little bit more strongly.”

Howie Rose became infatuated by the possibility of becoming a broadcaster from the time he was 7 years old listening to Mel Allen call New York Yankee games. As a native New Yorker, he grew up following professional sports in the area and took note of the styles of various announcers, something that eventually helped him craft his own distinct sound. At the age of 13, Rose created and served as president of “The Marv Albert Fan Club,” dedicated to play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, a person who became a mentor to Rose and helped him as he made his way into the industry.

During his time as an undergraduate student at Queens College, Howie Rose was a credentialed media member for the NHL’s New York Islanders in their inaugural season. It was an experience that set him on a path to becoming a professional, positioning him for his first job working at Sports Phone as its weekend night announcer. By dialing 976-1313, sports fans had the ability to hear the latest game scores and news about their favorite teams. Shortly after in 1977, Rose worked at WHN, a country music station in New York City, as a morning sports anchor, and eventually served as its sports director before leaving in 1983. He continued working in radio when he became an update anchor for WCBS, and, on the side, served as a freelance broadcaster for the NBC Radio Network.

July 1, 1987 is one of the days that transformed sports media. It marked the official launch of WFAN, the first radio station dedicated to the sports talk format. Rose’s former station, WHN, officially flipped formats and became the first-ever 24/7 sports talk radio station, and he became one of its inaugural hosts.

Rose was behind the microphone as WFAN’s first-ever nighttime host on weekdays, while also hosting the Mets Extra show and working alongside his childhood idol Marv Albert as a backup radio play-by-play announcer for the NHL’s New York Rangers. Through countless hours of listening to Albert and other broadcasters combined with his vast experience up to that point in time, Rose had evolved as an announcer – all while remaining in his hometown.

“There comes a time for every young broadcaster when… you just begin to realize that you’ve got complete command of what you’re supposed to do between the language and your ability to condense what you’re seeing on the field; or on the ice; or on the court, to a point that makes it understandable to the listener,” said Rose. “When you get to that point, you’re, for lack of a better word, polished, but I don’t know if that’s a philosophical thing. It evolves over a period of time.”

Like Howie Rose, Albert grew up in New York City and was a fan of the local teams. Rose gravitated towards him was because of his ability to show fandom on the broadcast without it becoming subjective. It is a lesson he took with him throughout his career and one he continues to carry with him today.

“He seemed to be an unabashed rooter for those teams – the Knicks and Rangers – and then as his career grew, he, I think, tried to stress the importance, and properly so, of objectivity and being able to tell the story as it unfolded in front of you,” said Rose. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t have that emotional bond with whichever team you happen to be broadcasting – if it’s real.”

May 27, 1994. Eastern Conference Finals Game 7. The New York Rangers hosted the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line, and held a one goal advantage into the game’s final minute. Vying for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1979, Rangers fans were on their feet in hopeful anticipation. As the clock ticked down below 20 seconds, the Devils pulled their goaltender and managed to sneak a shot past Rangers goaltender Mike Richter to tie the game at one, and keep their championship aspirations alive.

After a scoreless first overtime that kept the game tied, Rangers forward Stéphane Matteau intercepted the puck in the second frame for a scoring opportunity against the hall-of-fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. In what was shaping up to be an all-time dramatic conclusion, Rose told the listening audience of the thrilling finish in one of the most iconic calls in NHL history.

“Matteau behind the net, swings it in front, he scores! Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Stéphane Matteau! And the Rangers have one more hill to climb, baby, but it’s Mount Vancouver! The Rangers are headed to the Finals!,” exclaimed Rose in a jubilant moment for Blueshirts fans within a city of 16 million.

In that moment, Rose’s passion for both the Rangers and New York sports as a whole shined through. All of his years of practicing with a tape recorder in the blue seats as a fan watching the Rangers had led to that quintessential moment he could, for so many years, only refer to as a verisimilitude. Yet he always remained ready for the opportunity to arrive, and when it did, he delivered a call that represented what had happened appropriately. Twenty-eight years later, the magnitude of that once-in-a-lifetime moment is still evident to Rose each time he steps behind a microphone.

“It’s what we work for – it’s what we live for,” said Rose when asked about the significance of calling memorable moments. “It was stuff that I dreamed about as a fan…. Just thinking about it still gives me goosebumps.”

Rose departed WFAN shortly thereafter as both a host and announcer, joining SportsChannel to replace Jiggs McDonald as the television play-by-play voice of the NHL’s New York Islanders. While he grew up a Rangers fan by virtue of their being in existence while he was young, Rose lived close to Nassau Coliseum and watched the team win four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980 to 1984. Up until that point though, Rose’s career had been largely concentrated in radio, and while he wound up calling hockey games on television for 20 years, radio always was and remains as his preferred medium of choice.

“There’s much more description on radio,” explained Rose, “and the thrill of taking a blank canvas and painting something verbally to create an image that’s sharp enough and clear enough for a listener to interpret so that he or she can see what’s going on even though they’re not actually watching it – That’s the greatest challenge in broadcasting to me. Because of that, I’ve got a huge preference, artistically, for radio.”

Calling Islanders games was not Rose’s only gig in 1995 though, as he also began broadcasting games for the Mets on the radio and, one year later, in the television booth along with Ralph Kiner on MSG Network. For fans of National League baseball in New York, Rose has served as the soundtrack of summer from that time on, and in just his second season in the medium, was nominated for a New York Emmy Award. Calling games on the radio, Rose affirms, prepared him extremely well in transitioning to television, but he did have an eye-opening moment on day one of his new job.

“I thought to myself at the end of the [first] game, ‘Man, that was easy,’” recollected Rose. “You’ve got so many different variables on television that conspire to make your job easier. You’ve got a producer who tells you what… to say in the open; you’ve got a director who’s showing you the pictures that you have to respond to, and you’ve got the game that you describe only in snippets as opposed to vividly [like] the way you have to on radio…. I think I could roll out of bed and stumble into a television booth and do a game and not embarrass myself. I couldn’t imagine myself doing that on radio.”

Indeed, Rose did return to radio – and WFAN for that matter – when legendary Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy retired in 2003. He worked with Gary Cohen for three years before Cohen joined the newly-launched SNY as the team’s television play-by-play announcer, along with analysts and 1986 World Series champions Keith Hernadez and Ron Darling. Since then, Rose has been the primary voice of the Mets Radio Network, and has continued to work in that role with various different partners over the years.

While some radio announcers have called games solo, such as former Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, Rose prefers having a partner to accompany him throughout the broadcast. For the last three seasons, that partner has been Wayne Randazzo, a radio broadcaster from Chicago, Ill. who had been hosting the Mets pregame and postgame shows on WCBS NewsRadio 880, the flagship radio home of New York Mets baseball. 

“You need someone to bounce things off with, and you need someone to provide a counterpoint to whatever it is that I might be saying or we might be opining about,” said Rose. “I’m also at a point in my career where I absolutely love mentoring younger broadcasters, and… I just love watching younger broadcasters evolve into real good, solid major leaguers.”

Rose acknowledges that he has been fortunate to work in his hometown for the entirety of his broadcasting career, working games for the teams with which he grew up. While his situation is not completely unique, he knows it is extremely rare, a primary reason as to why he tells prospective broadcasters pursuing a job an incommodious truth of the industry.

“As you go to college and start to think about doing this beyond school as a full-fledged professional, you need to be willing to relocate; you need to be willing to be lonely even as you perhaps marry and raise a family,” said Rose. “You have to be prepared to deal with the sometimes very deep depression of being away from them for days or weeks at a time. That’s not easy, and you have to know that that’s all part of the equation, and you have to, if not necessarily embrace it, accept it and be willing to deal with it.”

As Howie Rose continues to recover from his medical procedure, he is making lifestyle changes to ensure he can remain behind the microphone for many seasons to come as the Mets pursue their first World Series championship since 1986. Rose will still be calling 130 of the team’s 162 games; however, he will not be traveling with the team past the Mississippi River on trips to the West Coast to cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver among others. Jake Eisenberg, the lead play-by-play broadcaster for the Omaha Storm Chasers, has been hired by the Mets and WCBS to fill in for Rose during the games he misses, serving as the booth’s third voice.

“The baseball schedule is unforgiving and as you get older – it’s like a player – if you want to stay sharp, you need a blow here and there,” stated Rose. I don’t know if I would have done it right now, but certainly in a year or two.”

Rose has called a no-hitter, various cycles and a pennant-clinching game. He has watched the careers of all-time great players unfold, including Mike Piazza, David Wright and Jacob deGrom. He has and continues to serve as the Mets Opening Day master of ceremonies, possesses a near-encyclopedic knowledge about the franchise and is a fixture around the ballpark. But the one thing he has yet to do is call a World Series championship, and it is something he and every other Mets fan has and continues to patiently wait for. That is why, if the Mets qualify for postseason play, but happen to be in one of the locations Rose is refraining from traveling to during the regular season, all bets will be off.

“Once they get to the postseason, assuming they do, I don’t care where they’re playing,” exclaimed Rose. “I don’t care if they’re playing on Guam; I’m making that trip.”

Come this Friday, April 15, Howie Rose will be calling a game from the Bob Murphy Radio Booth at Citi Field for the first time since August 31 of last year, and you can unequivocally “put it in the books” that he is ready to be back in the fold.

“We’ve got the Tom Seaver statue unveiling and the Jackie Robinson [Day] ceremonies, and obviously our pregame introductions and all that,” said Rose. “To be back in that saddle is going to be very, very exciting for me.”

BSM Writers

Why Do NFL Fans Want More Greg Olsen and Less Tony Romo?

Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down film of offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast.

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Five years ago, Tony Romo retired as an active NFL player, jumped into the CBS broadcast booth, and immediately became the darling of fans and media for the excitement he brought to his telecasts. Romo’s enthusiasm for the game and understanding of modern offense allowed him to predict plays successfully, making him an instant sensation.

Greg Olsen will finish his second season as a full-time broadcaster on Feb. 12 from the NFL’s biggest stage, calling Super Bowl LVI for Fox with play-by-play partner Kevin Burkhardt. Olsen hasn’t drawn the must-see buzz that Romo did early in his TV career. No fan likely tuned into Fox’s top NFL telecast, “America’s Game of the Week,” to listen to Olsen’s analysis. His work doesn’t draw nearly the same amount of acclaim.

But the shine has worn off Romo with viewers during the past couple of NFL seasons. Watching a game with Romo in the booth previously felt like sitting alongside a fellow fan, jubilant at fantastic plays or clever strategy, and disappointed at performances that fell short. His energy also elevated Jim Nantz as a play-by-play announcer, bringing him back to life after 13 seasons alongside Phil Simms.

Now, however, Romo’s outbursts — noises in place of words, or outright yelling — seem like a crutch when coherent thoughts can’t be articulated. Where there was once fascinating insight from the analyst position, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback often resorts to clichés and platitudes that don’t add to a fan’s understanding of what’s happening on the field.

Worst of all, Romo sometimes talks merely to talk, filling a quiet space when a broadcast needs to breathe or the images are saying enough on their own. That’s especially awkward when paired with a veteran like Nantz, who’s a master at letting the moment speak for itself rather than trying to punctuate it with unnecessary narration.

On Fox’s telecast of the 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game, Olsen explained how play-calling changes when an offense intends to go for it on fourth down. He showed an awareness of the strategies that each coach employed to gain an advantage or neutralize what the opponent was doing well.

Early on, he highlighted San Francisco defensive end Joey Bosa holding back on his natural impulse to pursue the quarterback at all costs. Instead, he maintained a position that prevented Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts from running to gain yardage when pass plays weren’t available.

With analysis like this, Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down the film of their respective offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast. He doesn’t appear to be surprised by what he sees because that prep work — watching film, talking to coaches and players — informs him of the eventualities and possibilities that could arise during a game.

The hardcore football fan, those who repeatedly watch highlights and replays, loves that kind of analysis. Such attention to detail feels gratifying because it demonstrates that the person calling the broadcast is as serious about this stuff as the viewer who’s waited all week for the big game.

Yet a more casual fan is also drawn in because of Olsen’s amiable personality and ability to explain things simply and clearly. It’s similar to what viewers enjoy about ESPN’s “ManningCast” for Monday Night Football. Yes, there are jokes and funny moments. But Peyton and Eli Manning both explain strategy and preparation very well.

By comparison, Romo comes off like a broadcaster who’s winging it, letting his personality and enthusiasm fill gaps created by a lack of preparation. That might be a completely unfair criticism. We don’t know what kind of work Romo puts in leading up to a telecast. Maybe he watches as much film as Olsen. Perhaps he talks to everyone available to the broadcast crew in production meetings.

If so, however, that doesn’t show itself on the CBS telecast. Romo’s work on Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game telecast was an improvement over his call of the Bengals-Bills divisional playoff clash. During the previous week, Romo acted as if he didn’t have to provide any insight because this was the match-up fans had anticipated all season and already knew everything about the two teams.

Perhaps in response to that criticism, Romo made a point of highlighting the importance of each team’s defensive coordinator — Cincinnati’s Lou Anarumo and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo, respectively — in disrupting the performance of quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. But rather than demonstrate an actual strategy during a replay, he stated that each defense would come after the opposing QB and create pressure.

Ultimately, the difference between Romo and Olsen seems to be schtick versus knowledge. But it’s also a product of how each analyst reached their position. Romo joined CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team without previously calling any games. (As BSM’s Garrett Searight points out, that immediacy and recent connection to the game fueled what felt like fresh analysis.)

Meanwhile, Olsen called games during bye weeks while he was still an active player and was on Fox’s No. 2 crew with Burkhardt before being elevated to top status following the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN. He’s had to get better out of necessity. Even now, as Olsen establishes himself as his network’s top analyst, he faces the possibility of being bumped from that position when Tom Brady retires and cashes in on the massive contract Fox offered him.

Compare that to Romo, who’s the highest-paid NFL analyst on television. His $18 million annual salary set the bar other top broadcasters are trying to reach. And he has seven years remaining on the 10-year contract he signed with CBS. That is significant job security. Even if network executives (or Nantz) lean on Romo to improve his flaws, how much motivation is there when he’s already been anointed a broadcasting king?

However, NFL fans and sports media are making it clear what they prefer from their football broadcasters. They want insight and substance. They want to learn something from the commentary, rather than just be told what they can see for themselves.

Olsen is providing that and is being rightly lauded as a broadcaster living up to his status. Romo is suffering a fall from acclaim and has become a weekly punching bag. If he and CBS want to change that, he’ll have to bring more to the booth each week. In the meantime, Fox should consider appreciating what it already has, rather than welcome a glitzy name.

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BSM Writers

Chris Fowler Knows You Know He Isn’t In Australia

“I applaud Fowler for not playing the game and allowing even a hint of the illusion he was in Australia. I think the viewer deserves to know.”

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I can tell you my exact whereabouts when 2015 became 2016 in the Central Time Zone. I was in a media shuttle outside of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas awaiting my transport to the Omni Hotel in Dallas. It was kind of a sad scene, not just because Alabama had picked Michigan State’s bones 36-0. Nope, it was sad when the clock struck midnight and a tired, cracking voice from the back of the bus said, “Happy New Year” with all the excitement of a man facing execution. 

I, too, was tired. I had just spent a week doing shows in Dallas and was headed back to Birmingham for a pit stop before flying to Phoenix for what would be an epic Alabama v. Clemson National Championship Game. I am not complaining, mind you, but the thought of the end of the football season being near was very comforting. It’s a bittersweet thought, I love college football, but I also love being home with my family.

ESPN’s Chris Fowler was at Jerry World that night, as well. He had been on my show earlier in the week and we had joked with him about how good he had it; two College Football Playoff games then a flight halfway around the world for the Australian Open. I had bumped into him leaving the stadium that night and we laughed, again, at his good fortune.

As I sat on the bus for the saddest of New Year’s celebrations, I reflected on the conversation with Fowler and thought about how overwhelming that travel seemed. I could never have imagined then that type of travel assignment would one day become a luxury rather than a necessity. 

There are numerous things COVID ended. Many of them were more important than announcing crews actually at the events, but that was one casualty. It has even continued to impact the top level crews like Fowler and John McEnroe who did their 2023 Australian Open work a world away in Bristol, Connecticut.

The fact that the majority of ESPN talent was actually stateside had already been painfully obvious to anyone watching. The studio show had made no effort to hide that fact but the actual match announcers were part of a little more of an attempt to appear they were Down Under. It was abundantly clear, though, that the match announcers were simply standing in front of images of the Melbourne stadiums superimposed behind them.

It was Chris Fowler who finally revealed the man behind the curtain when he removed the mystery and made it clear they were not in Australia. After Darren Cahill, who was actually on site, relayed the weather conditions to Fowler and McEnroe, Fowler commented that the Bristol weather was in the 30’s. 

I applaud Fowler for not playing the game and allowing even a hint of the illusion he was in Australia. I think the viewer deserves to know. I also think most viewers have seen enough of the low-energy, disjointed remote announcing that they can spot it without being informed. Thankfully, Fowler and McEnroe are pros enough (and in the same room) that they can still do their job well from 10,000 miles away.

I just can’t believe we are still playing this game in 2023. I think history will show that, in many cases, remote broadcasts were unnecessary in 2020 but that was a complete unknown at the time. One has to assume the desire to save on travel expenses is a large motivation in 2023. I can only imagine how much is saved by ESPN in airfare and lodging by keeping announcers in Bristol rather than sending them to Melbourne. Tennis is also one of the sports in which the difference isn’t as noticeable.

The feedback I get from the fans in other sports, where remote announcers are far more noticeable, is that the network clearly doesn’t value my team or me as a fan. While that may not be true, if that perception is held by a large enough group of fans, it becomes true. What the networks know is this: we are addicted to our teams. They can have bad announcers from their living rooms but what am I going to do about it? I get a limited number of times to watch my team each season. I’m not missing that chance because a network wants to squeeze dimes.

As most people have learned more about COVID, most unnecessary precautions have faded away. Remote announcers have been tougher to extinguish and may never go away entirely.

In the meantime, I’m rested now and I’ll take that trip to Australia anytime someone is ready to send me.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Ready To Go Back To The NHL All-Star Game

“What ESPN does [better] than anyone else is tell stories, and there will be hundreds of small stories told over those few days, and I think that’s what it’s all about.”

Derek Futterman

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The NHL is approaching a break leading up to the festivities at the All-Star Weekend taking place from FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida: the home of the Florida Panthers. Saturday’s 2023 NHL All-Star Game will be broadcast on ABC and simulcast on ESPN+ for the second consecutive year under the seven-year media rights deal which brought live game broadcasts back to The Walt Disney Company’s platforms for the first time since 2005.

On hand to call the action and provide fans with exclusive access will be the NHL on ESPN lineup of experienced commentators, versatile journalists, and knowledgeable analysts, including the studio team of Steve Levy, Mark Messier, Chris Chelios, and P.K. Subban. The group is looking forward to making the trip to South Florida to catch up with former teammates and colleagues, as well as finding reprieve from the colder temperatures outside their regular Bristol studios.

“You just look at the graphics of the commercials out there with the surfboards and the beach and the warm weather and [see that] hockey can thrive anywhere,” Messier expressed. “…It’s a great time to pause and break and celebrate what’s happened in the first 40 games of the season until everybody starts to buckle down for the stretch drive.”

Messier signed on with the NHL on ESPN team before the 2021-2022 season as a studio analyst, utilizing his vast experience and championship pedigree to intuitively decipher the game of hockey and provide cogent reasoning about the action. He is a six-time Stanley Cup champion – five with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers – and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Furthermore, Messier is third all-time in points and ninth in goals, and he was the captain of both of his championship teams – making him the only player in league history to garner that accolade. His presence on its hockey coverage gives ESPN added ethos and someone who remains a student of the game, closely following the league to craft informed opinions.

“Seeing the amount of talent in the game now and the emergence of these players is just incredible,” Messier said. “Of course, it’s what it’s all about – just trying to get yourself. Once you’ve established yourself as an NHL player, the next step is to figure out how to win.”

Chris Chelios joined Messier on the studio panel from the launch of the NHL on ESPN last season and is also a Hockey Hall of Fame member who played professionally for 26 years, retiring at the age of 48. He recognizes the changes in the game of hockey, especially since his 1983-84 rookie campaign, and tries to accentuate them while promulgating classic aspects of the sport demonstrated through its young talent.

“Just when you think you’ve seen everything, they come up with something else; some new move,” Chelios said. “….There have been some unbelievable highlights and every night, especially working with ESPN, [we have been] able to see all that. We’re in an entertainment business and these guys aren’t letting anybody down. It’s great; it’s a great product.”

Steve Levy has worked with ESPN since 1993 where he has broadcast countless different sports and hosted various types of studio programming. Whether it is calling football games, sitting behind the desk on SportsCenter, or making movie cameos, he is an anomaly within the industry in that he has had a long and storied career primarily with one company. Through his versatility, he can continue seamlessly assimilating into a wide foray of roles and, in the process, enhance the broadcast skills of his colleagues.

Last season, Levy, Messier, and Chelios broadcast coverage of NHL All-Star Weekend from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The trio was situated in a suite at “The Fortress”. It contrasts the regular-season mindset of gathering two points per night; contrarily, this weekend is, in essence, a celebration of the game and its people.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase besides their skills, I think their personalities,” Levy said. “I really look forward to that.”

Levy has worked with Messier and Chelios for the last year on ESPN’s studio coverage and is now joined by P.K. Subban, who played in the NHL as recently as this past April as a member of the New Jersey Devils. A three-time All-Star selection and 2014 Olympic gold medalist, Subban inked a multi-year contract with ESPN this past November to regularly serve as a studio analyst and also work as a live game broadcast analyst for select regular season matchups.

Implementing a player who is closely removed from playing professional hockey brings fresh perspectives to the show, offering different perspectives, and appealing to a wider segment of viewers.

“We were sitting next to him on the set the other night and he’s talking about Jack Hughes and it’s like, ‘Who’s going to have a more educated opinion than a guy who was lockering next to him the last three seasons?,’” Levy said of Subban. “It’s easy to forget he was in the league in April; he’s fresh out of it.”

Subban grew up watching Messier and Chelios in the NHL and now works alongside them, holding them in high regard. Aside from their play on the ice, Subban remembers Messier in Lay’s commercials in the late-1990s and early-2000s advertising its products. Although he brings more contemporary perspectives by being removed from the league for less than a year, Subban embraces the traditional style of the game and delivers analysis based on multiple eras.

“I think keeping it fresh is also being able to educate some of these young players and the audience about guys like Mess and Chelios,” Subban said. “I think that’s also very important because we have a luxury [in] having these two on the broadcast…. It’s just really cool for me this year. I’m super excited to do this for the first time; to sit next to these guys.”

All three NHL on ESPN studio analysts participated in at least one aspect of the skills competition during their playing careers, with Messier winning the shooting accuracy challenge in both 1991 and 1996 and Subban winning the breakaway challenge in 2016. Watching the players compete from a new vantage point and evincing their ethereal abilities on the ice underscores what the weekend is genuinely about.

According to Levy, the 2023 All-Star Skills would be the event he would attend if he had to choose between it and the game. This sentiment has permeated itself in the linear television ratings, as the 2022 All-Star Game was the least-watched (1.15 million viewers; 0.6 share) since 2009, while the corresponding skills competition was the most-watched (1.09 million viewers; 0.6 share) since 2012.

It is important to note, however, that last year’s all-star game aired just before the first night of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, broadcast in the United States by NBC, USA, and CNBC. Despite last year’s Olympic Games drawing the lowest U.S. ratings in the history of the international sporting event and cultural phenomenon, the first night still drew 13.2 million total viewers across the three networks, accounting for a 6.8 share.

The format of the NHL All-Star Game was changed starting in 2016 to contain four teams (one per division) playing three-on-three games split into 10-minute halves in a single-elimination tournament. The winning of the tournament’s championship game splits a prize pool of $1 million, ostensibly incentivizing more realistic play as the allure of the windfall profit is aggrandized.

Nonetheless, the weekend is all about appealing to the fans and demonstrating the star power of the league through the depiction of vivid imagery, as well as chronicling stories to engross viewers in the product.

“You highlight fun and entertainment through the skills, and the three-on-three was a great concept because it’s exciting to the fans,” Messier said. “….I think the NHL, the NHLPA and ESPN and everybody involved has worked diligently to make this weekend really fun and to highlight the great talent we have on the ice and the great people we have off the ice.”

“What ESPN does [better] than anyone else is tell stories, and there will be hundreds of small stories told over those few days, and I think that’s what it’s all about,” Subban added. “For these players, a lot of times, they’re buttoned into the game and focused on the ice. This is an opportunity for [the] fans to get to know the players in a fun way; get to know them through their skill set and what they’re able to do on the ice.”

The All-Star Skills will feature the return of events including the Breakaway Challenge, Fastest Skater, Accuracy Shooting, and Hardest Shot. In addition to these classics, there will be the debut of the Tendy Tandem where goalies will face off in a shootout, along with two new geo-focused events – the Splash Shot (pre-taped from Fort Lauderdale Beach Park); and the Pitch ‘n Puck (from a par-4 golf hole).

“I know each market tries to do something specific to the local area,” Levy said. “I do know ESPN has worked really hard with the NHL to try to enhance the best events and make them even better… and better for television.”

The league continues to adapt and find new ways to engage fans with the launch of the 2023 NHL Fan Skills at Home, a social media-based competition urging fans to submit videos performing their hockey abilities focused in different areas. Various hockey content creators, including Pavel Barber and Kane Van Gate, will make the trip to Sunrise, Fla. to promote the contest and implore fans to participate.

Additionally, the NHL will host the All-Star Beach Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, a free fan fest-style event featuring appearances from NHL all-stars and alumni, a photo opportunity with the Stanley Cup, and interactive games for the whole family.

Surrounding it all on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+ will be a concentrated effort to emphasize the dispositions of regular all-star selections  – such as Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid; Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin; and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar – while contextualizing what is going on through experience and astute foresight.

At the same time, the broadcast will aim to espouse awareness towards younger stars, many of whom are first-time selections such as 20-year-old Seattle Kraken forward Matty Beniers; 24-year-old New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox; and 25-year-old Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Logan Thompson.

“Our job is to really highlight these players and make it a fun telecast,” Messier said, “and really talk about the players as people and what great, incredible talent they possess.”

“You have to be able to tell stories about the players,” Subban said. “They’re the product on the ice and there’s no better way to tell stories about players than getting ESPN. They are the best at it, so it should make for a fun couple of days.”

The NHL on ESPN studio team thoroughly enjoyed their time at last year’s All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, as it led them to become accustomed to working together and set them up to put on quality broadcasts through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the Stanley Cup Finals are set to be broadcast by Turner Sports this year (as part of its seven-year media rights agreement) with its regular studio crew of Liam McHugh, Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky.

Messier and Gretzky, each serving as studio analysts on ESPN and TNT, respectively, starred in an NHL on FOX commercial together back when they were teammates on the New York Rangers in 1996.

This season, the NHL on ESPN studio crew has not worked together regularly because of the network’s obligations to the NFL and NBA. The group will soon be on the air regularly though to break down the top plays, interview stars before they hit the ice and foster a congenial atmosphere for sports fans everywhere.

“I look forward to working with these three guys together,” Levy said. “We haven’t had a lot of run together [because] it’s just the way the schedule works [during] the first half of the season.”

“I’m looking forward to kicking this off,” Chelios added. “It’s like a playoff run [for us] now; this All-Star Game is the start of working and grinding and doing a couple of games a week and getting into a rhythm here.”

The 2023 NHL All-Star Skills will be broadcast on Friday, Feb. 3 on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. EST and is available to stream live on ESPN+. Then on Saturday, Feb. 4, the 2023 NHL All-Star Game, featuring teams representing the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific divisions, commences at 3 p.m. EST on ABC and can be streamed live on ESPN+.

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