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A Conversation with Sarah Spain

Demetri Ravanos

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Sarah Spain seems to be everywhere for ESPN these days, and that’s a good thing. As sports fans’ relationships with the hosts and reporters they follow has changed thanks to social media, Sarah is about as real as it gets.

Her show with Jason Fitz on ESPN Radio is built on long, thoughtful conversations instead of competing hot takes. Her podcast That’s What She Said is a window into her personality, a chance for her listeners to learn who and what Sarah finds interesting. Her writing reminds us all that there is a world beyond sports for anyone involved at any level of the industry.

Speaking as a consumer and sports fan myself, I have always found Sarah very easy to connect to as a viewer. She seems to embody the idea of entertainment over access. That doesn’t mean she isn’t very professional or isn’t good at what she does.

When I see Sarah Spain on TV or hear her voice on the radio, I can always tell that she is showing up with the goal of delivering for her audience. It could be funny. It could be informative. It really doesn’t matter. The point is you are going to be happy you invested time listening to what Sarah Spain had to say.

We spoke about a week and a half ago. She was on her way to the airport, leaving Bristol after a morning on First Take to make it home to Chicago in time for her radio show that evening.

Our conversation focused on the lessons she has learned from her experience in the sports media world, but along the way we made time to talk about Christmas-themed pub crawls, her rap skills and Bobcat Golthwaite.

D: When someone says they recognize you, what is it usually from?

S: Usually Around the Horn because it is visual, but a lot of LeBatard too, especially once I talk. It depends too, because if I am in Chicago it might be a lot of local radio and there are a few that know Spain and Fitz too, but mostly it is Around the Horn because it’s everywhere. You see it in every airport. It’s on at least one TV in every bar.

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D: So when you meet someone that isn’t a sports fan, how do you describe what you do at ESPN? Like you said, you’re on everything.

S: If they want a short answer I just say “I’m a host and writer at ESPN.” Then if they ask “For what?” that’s when I’ll get specific with Spain and Fitz and I do a podcast once a week and then I write for espnW and I do some SportsCenter reporting for the Chicago teams. And then, of course, you have to mention Around the Horn twice a week and the LeBatard Show.

D: How does preparing for the radio show differ from podcast preparation?

S: Well, the podcast is really different. The podcast is where I get to talk to people that I find really interesting and explore their journey to how they got to where they are and became successful at what they do. That’s really just looking into the background of who they are and what their career has been like. I read. Sometimes I’ll listen to other podcasts they’ve been on.

For the radio show, you know, that’s mining through the news of the day to find out what we find interesting and decide what kind of conversations we want to have about them. Plus we look at the funny stuff or even the serious stuff that isn’t a major headline that we want to weave into the biggest news of the day.

D: How much of your day is devoted to prep? With a national show, and in particular a national night time show, I would imagine there are times you have to remind yourself to turn it off and spend time with your family.

S: No. I mean, there are days where I am swamped and I am working straight through until I get to show prep, which is an hour and a half before the show. The nice thing about having a regular show is you usually won’t have giant gaps of knowledge that have occurred over the course of one day or one weekend, unless you didn’t watch the game, didn’t read anything about it, and didn’t post anything.

The majority of days, I would say I am a big podcast listener between various activities. If I am going for a workout and it’s not a class where I have to listen, I’ll put on that morning’s Golic and Wingo or Dan (LeBatard) or Will Cain to see what those guys are talking about. I also read a lot of articles when I am in transit or sitting down before we start show prep to get a handle on the things that I am into.

It kind of depends too. If I am doing Around the Horn, that means the day starts with a call at 9:30 and then between getting to the studio, sitting down for makeup, and other prep, I usually only have about 45 minutes before the show meeting starts. On those days, I’ve spent my whole afternoon prepping, so I come into the radio show hot with all the stuff we’ve talked about on the TV show.

When you do a radio show every night until 8 pm, there isn’t a lot of time to get anything done after that. So sometimes that means my morning will be about running errands or taking care of my dogs or something to do with my family. On those days I get creative about how and where I do my prep.

D: On days like that, how much are you leaning on your production staff for radio versus say a day on Around the Horn?

S: Well, Around the Horn is great, because they always have a packet full of stories and stats and interesting did bits, so you can pull out the stats and bits you think are most noteworthy. For radio, our producer puts together a shorter packet that Fitz and I will kind of add stuff to, so it kind of depends. For radio, you know, that more of what we find interesting or what we feel needs to be talked about, where Around the Horn is more about the producers.

When we get on the call (for Around the Horn), we certainly have the ability to say “I don’t think this is a great topic” or “can we tackle this differently?” and the producers listen, but they really are the ones driving the bus. The two are really different in that way.

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D: What was your relationship with Jason Fitz like before you started doing a show together? Did you look at him as someone you liked and could be really successful working with, or did management view it as “Here are two people that have been on ESPN Radio. Let’s put them together and see what happens.”?

S: I was doing Izzy and Spain at the time and it was only two hours, and he was filling in a lot for Jalen and Jacoby and that was two hours. A couple of times, I think it was four times, our bosses decided to put the shows together and just do four hours of the shows together. So, that was really the first I had ever even heard of him or knew anything about him.

It was a blast. We had great chemistry together right off the bat. We really hit it off. I found his background super interesting. I liked his approach to things. He’s still really excited about the job and enthusiastic about sports in general. He’s very genuine in his thoughts. Jason isn’t very big on needing to be fabricated or needing to have a take that is going to make people go crazy.

So after that, they were going to change my show, They were looking around for who they were going to pair me with, and I had really enjoyed working with him and Mike Golic, Jr. So I thew out those two names. GoJo was already going to be doing his dad’s stuff, but the radio people really loved Fitz too. They thought he was an up and coming star, and so that was that.

We ended up meeting up in person once. My friends and I were in Nashville for a music festival and I messaged him to say if he and his wife wanted to meet us to go out for the night, that would be awesome. It was really nice to meet him in person and hang out socially. That was really it. We met one more time in Bristol for the photo shoot to promote the show. So we started the show really only having met those two times, but we really just hit it off like gang busters.

We have a ton in common, including really silly stuff. Like, we’re both into costume parties and Christmas pub crawls. I’m having an SNL-themed birthday party this year and his wife had the same kind of party last year. We’re both really obsessed with our dogs.

I like having someone else that comes in with just a lot of energy. We want our show to be thoughtful and fun and not like a lot of other shows.

D: You guys are still hooking up over ISDN, right? You’re not physically in the same space when you’re doing the show.

S: Right. I’m in Chicago and he is in Connecticut.

D: That may not make things harder necessarily, because like you said, you guys already have a raport, but it probably took some feeling out I would guess.

S: Certainly it would be easier to be together in person, but we do use cameras on our computer so we can look at each other and maybe hold up a finger to say “I want to jump in” or “I want to go next”.

Especially with radio from afar, I find that I have a lot of sarcastic asides that I want to get in. I don’t want to take the conversation back. I just have a sarcastic comment I want to get in or I want to make fun of you real fast and we can just keep going. That can be a little easier to do in person, but thankfully Fitz is on to me. He knows that I am just going to make fun of him real fast and let him get back to his point.

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D: (Laughing) I have spent so much of my sports radio career as a third mic, where those sarcastic asides are one of my primary roles. It’s funny the way someone who doesn’t quite get your rhythm yet can be thrown off by that, where as I think people like you and me look at those kinds of comments like they are just part of a normal conversation.

S: Right. “Keep going! Of course I am going to make fun of you. I have funny things to say and need to be heard at all times!”

D: I do wonder how the way you prep for your podcast helped you get to know and understand Jason Fitz, because you don’t have to delve too far into his past to realize that it is so different from most people in sports media.

S: Yeah, I actually had him on my podcast pretty early on for that reason. He was so new to sports that I wanted to give listeners that wanted to know who he was the chance to meet him and learn who he is and what led him to this point.

It was important for me too. I think chemistry can come very very quick, but people listening will be able to tell if you really know each other and are friends by the commentary and the jokes. Can they hear that you know each other’s lives? So, it was important to me to have that hour chat and just be able to pick his brain, but also Fitz and I are really open about our personal lives and our friends, so it makes it easier to know thing about each other without really having to pry.

D: With your podcast (That’s What She Said), what is the difference in your preparation for a sports guest versus a non-sports guest? One of the more fun conversations I have heard you have was with Dan Soder, who is a comedian and pretty far removed from the sports world.

S: It’s not very different, to be honest with you. It’s so similar, because I don’t really want to talk to people about the news of the day. I did one with Greg Wyshynski before the hockey season to talk about him just joining ESPN and give everyone a quick primer on what they needed to know to enjoy the season. Usually though, I am not talking about a specific place and time. I want to know about that person and how they got to where they are.

I think as I get to doing second time around pods, I may go back and listen to the first episode I did with that guest to see what I missed or follow up on stories they told before. Right now though, it’s really the same no matter what their job is.

It starts out with who they are, what their childhood was like, the decisions they made that got them to where they are, and if there are larger thematic issues I want to get to, we might do that at the end, but honestly, interviewing these people for the first time, I want to know what brought them to this place in their lives regardless of what that place is.

D: When you first joined ESPN, what did they tell you about wearing your Chicago fandom on your sleeve? Because that, I think, is a huge part of your appeal. It is part of Vn Pelt’s appeal the way he talks about the University of Maryland. What was that conversation like about being a fan versus…I don’t know, being a professional or whatever the word would be they use.

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S: It didn’t come up for a little bit actually, because my first gig with ESPN was at ESPN 1000 in Chicago as an update anchor, so that is mostly just straight, although they did tell me they wanted me to add some personality. So that changed my delivery sometimes to something like “Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks with a game six win last night, so hand that golf bag right over to the Sedins” or whatever. So for the most part that was it. My appearances on the station were tinged with bias, as anything is in a local market.

When I joined espnW about 8 or 9 months later, that was less about my fandom and more about the specific assignments of that job. It wasn’t something I ever hid or that they asked me to hide. I think the first conversation I remember having about it was when they called me up and asked me to do some SportsCenter stuff, and that is only when those teams are hot, so the Blackhawks or Bulls playoffs, the Cubs’ run. Even just recently they sent me to cover Loyola.

In that case, I do like to have the conversation of what is my role. I’m not a bureau reporter. I’m not Josina Anderson or Michelle Steele. All I heard was “we want you to be you. We don’t want you to change or be ‘reportery’. We want Sara Spain’s reaction.” And then on top of that it is what is the mood? How does the city feel? What is the vibe?

It’s engrained. People would rather hear it from someone that is living it and gets the vibe rather than someone that is parachuted in to say “Well, Cubs fans seem very nervous.” That just doesn’t feel the same as me saying “Well, there’s a lot of puckering going on, and I’m not going to lie to you. It’s getting pretty real around here.”

That’s the difference in all outlets now, is that there is this understanding for certain jobs. It’s not going to work for Adam Schefter obviously. There is no harm in showing your allegiances, particularly if you can prove that you aren’t going to be too soft on your own squad. Sometimes I am more critical of my own guys and openly disappointed when they aren’t doing things right.

I think the Patrick Kane story is a good example of me getting simultaneously accused of going easy on him because I am a Blackhawks fan and also not giving him a chance to defend himself because I am a woman that has covered sexual assaults in sports. People are going to assume biases in any direction in sports anyway. I think the goal is to be as fair as possible at all times, so that can’t get you on anything genuinely if you’re covering things equally.

D: I started thinking about that a few months back. I live in Raleigh, NC, where Bomani Jones came up doing radio and he and I have been friends for a long time. He told this story on his show one time about the two of us watching the Bama/Texas National Championship game together and he said something on air to the effect that it broke his heart.

I immediately flashed back to being in college and listening to Dan Patrick. I distinctly remember him saying at one point that he was a Cincinnati Reds fan until he started doing this professionally. I think Bomani talking about Texas breaking his heart, you talking about the Cubs is a step more towards what sports radio should be as opposed to that old school demeanor of we wear a suit and tie and have no emotion about the outcome.

That’s not to take anything away from Dan. His show is the reason I wanted to be in sports radio. I guess they way you allow yourself to be a fan feels a little more real and of the time.

S: Yeah, certainly for the sports radio medium, right? I still think there are absolutely elements of sports reporting where there is an appeal to the idea of what you are getting is absolutely unbiased. I think for the beat reporter, and the Schefter’s, and the breaking news people, that makes sense. But I think if you’re going to be a host, I don’t really see the point in trying to hide any fandom if you have it.

Now, I don’t think you need it. Particularly if you are a national host, there is no need to interject your fandom throughout, but if you have it and it’s natural and it’s passionate, it drives conversation in a way that’s interesting. So, why not? People are going to figure it out anyway.

Even someone like Mike Wilbon, who was on back when they were encouraging more neutrality, you know his teams. You know where he went to school. You know where he came up. So trying to hide it would be just kind of silly.

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D: So when you’re coming up in sports radio and starting to host shows on a national platform and you’re so closely associated with the Dan LeBatard show, how do you go about trying to carve out your own identity? Because when you’re on that show listeners know you in the Commish role. What was your thinking in trying to trying to establish something different than that for Izzy and Spain or Spain and Fitz?

S: Actually, my first national radio exposure at all was on a weekend show called Spain and Prim.

D: Oh right. And then the Trifecta (alongside Jane McManus and Kate Fagan).

S: Yes, so when I did my first appearance on LeBatard was to discuss Patrick Kane. No, the first one was Mayweather and then maybe Patrick Kane. Maybe Ray Rice was somewhere in the middle. Anyway, it was always these very serious issues I was writing about for espnW.

I think during that time, Dan realized they had never had a woman come in as one of their regular guests and thought that I might be able to go toe to toe with them on some of those issues and give it a shot. So, when they first asked me to come in, I listened to that show occasionally, but I wasn’t a regular listener, and you need to listen to them on the regular, right? It is so of the time.

I walked in that day not knowing what to expect and not really able to keep up. I didn’t even know what The Club (the LeBatard Show’s weekly recap aired in the show’s final segment on Fridays) was. I didn’t know we were on the air when I was asking him to explain it to me.

Radio listeners in Chicago knew me already. Maybe there were regular listeners of Spain and Prim or the Trifecta that knew me already, but LeBatard was huge in terms of getting my voice out.

The Commish thing is funny. It just came out completely organically. It came out of either the second or third time I was on. Stugotz had to eat all the powdered donuts from the Grid of Death (LeBatard’s list of punishments he and his staff must complete for picking games incorrectly during the NFL season). I am a stickler for rules. I always have been, and I think it is a waste to do the grid of death if you are going to chicken out and a waste of people’s time if you are not going follow through.

So I was like “Wait, you’re crumpling the donuts up and brushing the powder off. You’re managing to get away with throwing away donut you should be eating. Keep your hands above the table!” And he was like “Jeez. She’s like the commissioner of the grid.” It sucks a little bit because I guess my personality is a little bit bossy, so it felt like the perfect role.

D: Well, the rap certainly helped.

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S: Yeah, the rap took it over the top. It seemed natural to use that as my rap alter ego.

I think what’s very interesting is that there is a lot of feedback on the LeBatard show. It is a community. Dan’s very aware of it. Stu’s very aware of it. The guests are very aware of it, wanting to, as they say, “fit in don’t fit out,” and I got a lot of positive feedback early on. Then the guys that run the LeBatard reddit page asked if I would do an “Ask Me Anything”.

There were certain questions that made it feel like people that I was trying to act like I could be a certain way on that show. I think that was more just, they just weren’t used to hearing a woman be the way that I am. I am just not very stereotypically diminutive in any way.

I like to talk smack. I have a lot of opinions. So, they thought it was sort of fake. I think, and I hope, that most people have figured out that that is just sort of who I am all the time in any context. I think people who listen to me regularly know that’s who I am.

I think you have to be on LeBatard enough times that people can get used to you, because it’s hard for anyone to step in. So, you just do your best to fit in with their vibe and bring whatever you can to it.

I also have always said that I would rather be thoughtful and honest and speak up when I think something is wrong or offensive or even just stupid. You know, some people don’t want to hear opinions that don’t jive with theirs, but sometimes I am going to have those and that’s okay.

D: I would imagine just by virtue of being a woman in sports radio you have to deal with a lot of people that think they know more than you or are confident that you’re putting on an act.

S: Yeah, well what is interesting is the assumptions about me are so varied. It’s either people on Twitter telling to me quit pretending I am watching the game, which is like “What? You think I don’t even watch sports?”. They’ll respond with something like “They’re just going to give you some talking points anyway” and I’m like “That’s not how this works.”

So it’s either to that extreme or people going to the extreme of “Oh you’re not really like that.” And with that, all you can do is genuinely be yourself all the time and hopefully they see that is who this woman really is.

D: Yeah, but even trying to win people over in that way, I would think looking at Twitter must be tiring for you sometimes.

S: Yeah for sure, it can be super exhausting. Other assumptions about women in sports that can be super exhausting are like “you slept your way to the top” or “you’re only in it to meet athletes”. I remember my mom when I first started because they were really off base. Like, they go find a photo of me on vacation from like 15 years ago and be like “you’re always showing your boobs” and in actuality I never am.

Find a photo of me doing my job where you can see them or can even remotely tell I have them. I am constantly hiding them. You found a picture of me on vacation from more than a decade ago. Those are on Google because other people found them and made stupid lists, not because I’m putting that out there.

That happens because people make assumptions about others when they don’t know them. That absolutely happens to every woman with big boobs no matter what. There’s always going to be a whole bunch of assumptions being made just purely based on that.

I get less bothered by people insulting me, like saying something rude, than I do by feeling like I’m misunderstood. If someone wants to be like “you’re fat” or “you’re ugly” you can just think to yourself “oh that person’s not very nice,” whereas if I get “I can’t believe you said x,y,z” and I respond with “No, here’s what I actually said and here is the nuance to it” and they just give up because, frankly they aren’t smart enough to have the argument, that’s what infuriates me.

I shouldn’t be annoyed by some random person, but the fact that they misrepresent what I said because they don’t want to take the time to listen or understand is so annoying. Like just yesterday I was writing some tweets and making jokes about Jemele (Hill) directly to Jemele, and some people who didn’t get the context were asking Jemele “who is this bitch trying to get famous off of you” or telling me “You’re a coward Spain because you deleted what you tweeted.” I had to say “No, no, no. What I retweeted was deleted, so go talk to that person. And I was making fun of the clip! And I’m friends with Jemele. You’re confused!”

I’m more confused by lack of reading comprehension and not understanding sarcasm. I think that is true of most women trying to crack jokes on the internet. I think it has gotten a little better, but there is still that group that thinks “there’s no way she’s making a joke, because a woman wouldn’t get that”.

I remember the rap that I wrote for the Commish bit (on the Dan LeBatard Show) one of the comments I saw was “That was really funny, but there is no way she wrote that. She wouldn’t know all those show references.” What? I’m on the show! Of course I know all the show references!

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D: For you it’s not only online though, right? I mean, look, I love sports radio. I love studying and writing about sports radio, but there is this segment of our audience, particularly in the older end, that doesn’t want nuance. The sports radio they like is a bunch of listener calls and have a take and don’t suck. Nuance isn’t something we have always done well in sports radio. So, forgive this term, but I from a radio perspective, I am sure there is a very dumb segment of the audience that you have to fight back against.

S: Tony Reali told me he is going to start muting me when I use the word “nuance.” He has his buzz words that annoy him. He doesn’t like “narrative.” He doesn’t like “optics.” He says “nuance” is going to be one of those words for me now too, because sometimes he’ll ask me a question and I say “Look, the answer isn’t as simple as a yes or no. There’s nuance to it, because it depends on x or y.”

I am still learning. When I first started doing radio I would answer questions with “Well, we’ll see,” and my program director was like “No, that’s not a take,” and I would say “Yeah, but we will see!” and he was like “Nope. That’s not how this works”.

So I’ve learned to have stronger takes, but I am still never going to be one of those people that thinks I’ve gotta pick a side and I have to hammer it home like I’ve never believed anything more in my life if there’s a part of me that thinks there really is some grey area there.

That’s one of the things I really like about my show with Fitz. It’s what I like about LeBatard’s show. It doesn’t feel like anyone is coursing their way through takes. It feels like there is time to have intelligent conversations.

Now look, not everyone is going to like that. Absolutely there are sports fans that just want the yelling. They don’t want to think too hard. I did Second City Improv, the conservatory in LA. They would always say about our improv “Always assume your audience is smart. Make them come up to your level, do not ever think you need to play down because they aren’t going to get this joke.”

I feel that way about sports radio. I think there are plenty of intelligent and smart and thoughtful sports fans who want to hear real conversations and not just back-and-forth yelling on a take. I hope they’re the ones listening, and if there are other that don’t like it, that’s fine. They can find other places to go get their sports.

D: What sort of advice would you give a host about diversifying their media presence? You’re on TV and on the radio and you write and you host a podcast. Let’s take it a little bit at a time for the guys on the local level. What would be the advice you would start with for establishing a podcast presence outside of the radio show?

S: I tell people coming up that they need to be diverse in their skills. Even if you grew up all your life thinking “I want to be a TV person,” well you better still know how to write. You better be willing to give radio a shot. I never thought I wanted to be on the radio and now I love it. It is a huge part of my career.

The writing thing is one of the most important things I tell up and coming people, because texting and social media has turned people’s English into garbage. It’s such a bad representation of you as a professional if you can’t write an email or a letter that comes across as remotely intelligent.

I always tell this story and it is so random, but when I first moved to LA and was trying to be an actor I found this book that was one of those things that you do when you go to LA. You get an agent and you go to Samual French and you get this book.

There was an anecdote in it from Bobcat Golthwaite. Most people I talk to don’t even know who that is. I don’t know how old you are, but do you remember Bobcat Golthwaite?

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D: I’m almost 37. Prime Hot to Trot age.

S: Okay perfect. You’re on my level then. I usually have to say “kinda like Pee Wee Herman.” He’s just someone who’s different and weird and doesn’t quite fit in. I can’t think of a modern equivalent, because the way our media has changed, it is full of weird and quirky people, but it didn’t used to be.

Anyway, the point of the anecdote was that there wasn’t anyone in Hollywood going “Man, we really need someone that half wheezes and half talks and his face screws up into this weird look and he never seems to make any sense” and Bobcat Golthwaite walked in and said “here I am!”.

No, he showed up. He was uniquely and strangely himself, and he created a space that no one even knew they needed. Same with Pee Wee Herman, right? No one knew they were looking for that, so he created his space. The advice was don’t try to be a version of what you have already seen. You’ll just be a copycat. Instead, be yourself and if you need to, create a space.

I really took that to heart in my comedy and when I was getting into sports. I took all that I learned in Second City into the sports world, because I thought it didn’t seem like women were allowed to be funny in sports. All they could be was bubbly sideline reporters or serious anchorpeople, and I thought I think there is a place for women to be funny if they know their shit.

That’s my advice. Figure out what it is about you that’s unique. Don’t worry about filling a space that exists. Especially if you want to be diversified, people need to know who you are and what strengths they are getting out of you even in spaces where they may not make the most sense. Stugotz is Stugotz on the radio and he’s Stugotz on SportsCenter.

That’s what was great about ESPN telling me with SportsCenter they wanted me to be me. My first appearance on SportsCenter I said the Bears were a garbage fire. I didn’t say “well, the team is struggling this year”. I was myself. The Bears are a garbage fire.

If that’s not who you are, that’s fine. If you’re someone that prides themselves on being professional and serious, there is a model to follow in Bob Ley, but whatever it is, I think the key is if you want to be on all these different platforms, people need to know what to expect no matter the space or place.

BSM Writers

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.”

Derek Futterman

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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“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.”

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Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

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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.

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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?”

Jeff Caves

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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.  

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