Personal happiness is mostly tied to your mindset — whether you have a positive or negative outlook on the things you experience in life. In spite of having numerous responsibilities and a very hectic schedule, Jason Ross actually prefers his job to be challenging. It’s a good thing he views things favorably. Jason could become a crazy person if not.
His sports radio journey began at Sports 1140 KHTK back in 1994. Jason has remained in Sacramento ever since. Jason’s list of duties include talk show host, program director, pre/half/postgame host for Sacramento Kings basketball, and the radio voice of Sacramento State football since 1997. This definitely qualifies as challenging to say the least.
They say timing is everything. Whoever “they” happens to be has it right. Jason had to choose between two opportunites; he chose a fill-in shift for two weeks that turned into a 25-year career at the same station.
He shares great insight below in a very conversational tone. Jason also shares his thoughts about the role he covets most going forward. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: When did you figure out that you wanted to pursue sports radio as a career?
Jason Ross: It was pretty easy for me. I can pinpoint it exactly. I was a junior at UC Davis and I went to school to play sports and to possibly be a veterinarian. I was trying out for the basketball team. I made it all the way to the end and was one of the last cuts. That very weekend the men’s team was going to have their first game. One of my friends was working at the campus radio station and he said, “Hey, you know the team. You’ve been around the guys. I need someone to do color commentary with me. Would you like to sit in with me?
I thought, “Well I love sports. I’ve watched sports all my life. I want to stay involved in some way. Sure.” The second I did the first game, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Then I got an opportunity to do the women’s games. Everybody that was at the campus station at the time was a senior or moving on, or graduating and going to grad school.
That very next year I was a senior and I was the program director at the campus station. Then I got a chance to create my own show, do football, basketball, baseball, get commercials, sell, just all of it, everything all-encompassing. Right then and there I said, “Yeah, this is exactly what I want to do.”
Noe: You almost were a veterinarian?
Ross: (laughs) That was one of my goals. I wanted to play sports as long as I possibly could. I was actually on the baseball team my first year. I was a redshirt. It was a loose program that way where you could be a redshirt and be around. I really was just there for that, for the beginning of that first year. But then I was always playing basketball, basketball, basketball. That’s where in my third year; I tried out for that team.
I went to school thinking that would probably be my long-term goal. I think it was my sophomore summer in college; I worked at a veterinarian’s office. I liked it, but I kind of realized then that I don’t think that was the career path I wanted to go down. Shortly thereafter was when the opportunity to do some radio work happened and that’s when I fell in love with it.
Noe: What was the first station that you worked at?
Ross: I’m also unique in that regard. The second my college time ran up, I started putting out all of the flyers and feelers to see what can be next for me. I had an opportunity to go back home to Orange County and work at the Orange County Newschannel, which was a 24-hour news station at the time that was relatively new and have an internship. Or at Sports 1140, which was at the time Hot Talk 1140, in Sacramento as a part-time, fill-in board op for two weeks.
There was going to be a guy that was going to be on vacation for two weeks and the station needed a board op. I was really torn on which one to do, but I went for — as sad as it was — the money. It turned out the guy never came back. I got a job at the station and I’ve been there for 25 years. People move all over the place. I just stayed in one spot. Everybody’s got a different path, but that’s been mine.
Eventually that same summer, the station got the Sacramento Kings. We turned into a sports station. It was just incredible timing. My boss at the time said, “Hey, we’re going to need a locker room reporter. I said, “I’ll do it.” You just start saying you’ll do weekend shifts and work holidays and all of the things you have to do to move up. I’ve been at the same place longer than anyone at that station for 25 years.
Noe: The only reason you chose Sacramento was because the fill-in gig was paid?
Ross: Probably, and maybe being comfortable. I was still living in Davis. School had just ended. All of my friends were still here. I could have gone home. It seemed to make sense to at least try that to me. I had a girlfriend at the time. Friends, girlfriend, it was all still happening up here. Could I have gone home? Sure, but I took my chances on that and little did I know it would be just the greatest decision I could have made.
Noe: What do you remember most about those two weeks of fill-in work?
Ross: It was a nationally syndicated non-sports talk show. It was just learning the business, running the board, playing carts, cutting tape, just literally the old-school radio that’s not even a thing anymore. Just trying to figure that out. It just all seemed like it moved so fast — making my mistakes and figuring out the business. Not that you figure it all out certainly in two weeks, but just starting to dip your toe into it and figuring out what I didn’t know.
Noe: When you’re wearing so many hats — on-air guy, PD, doing the Kings stuff, play-by-play — what part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Ross: I would say my number one thing that I love more than anything is play-by-play. I just love the art of that. The preparation. No game is the same. The people you meet. You could have two terrible teams and you see the greatest individual performance or team performance that day. You could also see the worst thing. You see someone score seven touchdowns, someone score 60 points, someone go 0-for-25. The greatest dunk, the worst pass. I love that.
I just love all of those things about play-by-play and the art of calling it. Did I describe it perfectly there? What could I have done better? Then I try to take that same approach to the other elements too — creating a show, trying to do the best that I can for the station. I think overall my favorite thing by far is play-by-play.
Noe: Do you find yourself listening closer to play-by-play guys or sports radio hosts?
Ross: That’s a great question. Probably both because I think you can identify where someone is missing something, or what someone is good at based on your own experiences. For an example, in play-by-play — I know this has happened to me before — I take pride in knowing who everyone is out on the field and having as much prep on the court.
Football is the trickiest one. There are 11 offensive guys and 11 defensive guys. Maybe a ball is tipped and it’s a backup linebacker. In that moment you may not know who picked it off. Then you recover and you look at your chart and you find out who it is.
I can listen to a game especially on radio and hear someone that gets caught up in that same thing and describes a pass, “It’s picked off and they’re going the other way.” I say, “Oh, they don’t know who it is,” because I’ve been there. I know that they don’t know who it is and then they catch up and they go, “Oh, that was John Smith with the pick, his third of the season.” I say, “Okay, they got it. They recovered and handled it well.”
It’s the same idea on a talk show when someone asks a question, or they’re trying to go somewhere. I go, “Oh, they’re trapped. They’ve got a crutch.” Probably from what my own mistakes have been I can hear where people maybe get stuck in play-by-play or on talk shows.
Noe: What was your crutch word that was pointed out to you?
Ross: (laughs) I had a football game. Sacramento State was playing Cal State Northridge and they ran what would be like a run-and-gun offense. Their football program doesn’t even exist anymore, but they said, “Hey, I heard the game. You know how many times you said quick hitter?” I said, “Quick hitter?” Really?” They said, “You said it all the time.”
I went back and listened to the tape and it was disgusting. I literally said it for almost every pass. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have guessed I ever said it. I’d say, “Quick hitter over the middle. Quick hitter.” I mean it was disgusting. I said it way too much, but it was great that someone told me that. You need someone policing you out there, if it’s not yourself, because it’s hard sometimes to go back and listen to your work consistently.
That was constructive. It wasn’t meant to be mean. If someone can be honest with you like that, it’s really helpful. I think we can all get caught up in saying some of the same things. That’s the art of play-by-play too is describing something similar with different words and different sayings and being creative. That was frustrating, but a good lesson.
Noe: Play-by-play is so fluid and constantly moving forward based on how the game unfolds. Do you think that impacts you as a sports radio host where maybe you tend to move through topics more fluidly than other hosts?
Ross: I’m not sure because I only know this way of doing play-by-play and doing a talk show. I think the art of doing a talk show has been extremely helpful the other way around with play-by-play. I know a couple of years ago, the Kings had a game in Philadelphia. I was back in the studio doing the pre, half, and post — threw it out to Gary Gerould to basically start the coverage and there was condensation still on the hardwood from the ice underneath.
We had a delay, and then another delay. It was filling time, and now back in the studio. I’ve done talk shows so I know how to fill time, but that was a little unique because are we filling five minutes? Is this going to be 10? Is this going to be 30? The art of being able to talk and find different storylines and find things to talk about, but also being able to cut it off if you have to go right back out to the venue. It ended up that the game was postponed and made up on another day. It was a unique night. I felt that if I was at the game by myself doing play-by-play, I would have been able to fill too, but I was back at the studio and you just kind of have to adjust.
The practice of being in a talk show format where you might have a 12, 15, 20-minute segment, hopefully with someone else, but if you’re by yourself, you’ve got to be able to fill that airspace. It’s not always easy, but hopefully you’ve got enough reps that — alright you’ve got to go for 25 minutes straight and we’re in a crisis. Alright let’s go — and just figure out how to fill the space.
Noe: When you mention how sports radio has changed over the years with smartphones and smart speakers and all these different choices that people have, what do you think is the most important aspect to keep in mind as a sports radio host as you structure your show?
Ross: I still think if it’s a topic that’s interesting to me, I hopefully then can relate that as something that’s interesting to someone else. If you’re digging for topics just to bring it up and I’m not buying it, I don’t know that the consumer there is going to go, “I’m all in on this.” Not everybody is going to love every segment of everything that you do. That’s impossible to please everybody.
I think if you find stuff that’s interesting to you for an angle, or a storyline, or a human-interest element that you feel that you can convey, then I think you’re going to do your best job at least at that, and in the end, feel good about the content you’re delivering. Again that’s not going to be for everybody, but at least then you know you were doing your best job. I think you just have to continue. I try to find the things that interest me and then that way hopefully I’m telling the best stories or relaying the best angles of those stories.
Noe: During an Army-Navy football game, they’ll take a player’s schedule and say at 0600 this guy wakes up and does this, and at 0700 he does that. That thought came to mind as it relates to your schedule. When you have so much on your plate, how does your day generally set up?
Ross: (laughs) It’s different based on the different times of the year. It’s funny that you say that because maybe when the Kings season ends, there’ll be a couple of days where it’s just not as much on my plate. But then I also find myself — it’s not bored — but it’s not as hectic. I think I prefer a lot of plates spinning. I love all of this.
Generally I really love it in October and November. The Kings are going. I’m consumed with college football on the weekend and the prep that takes all week. Then a show and being the program director. It’s completely hectic, but I love that. Different times of the year it varies, but generally I’m at the radio station by about 8:30 and trying to do program director type things for a couple of hours.
I try to transition into the radio show mode at some time during that, at least a half hour or so before the show. It’s the show from noon to 3. Then it just depends on if it’s a Kings night or not, but get back in the program director type mode. If it’s a game, you could be at the arena until 10:30 or 11 or at the station until 10:30 or 11 — it just depends on whether the game is East Coast or West Coast.
I don’t ever look at it like, “Aww man, I got to be at the station for 12 to 14 hours.” Maybe the next day there is no game and I’m at the station until 5:30 or so. It evens out and there’s less weekend work in the non-basketball and football season, but there’s always something going on and I actually prefer it that way.
Noe: Is it ever hard to avoid thinking negatively about your different roles meaning, “Hey, if I didn’t have this PD meeting, I could put a little bit more into the prep for my show,” or vice versa. Is there ever that mindset that you have to guard against?
Ross: Probably, yes, because I feel guilty at times. I’ve got a great partner now in Damien Barling who I do the midday show with. He is amazing. He is a preparer. He gets the show put together.
I try to do as much as I can, but sometimes I feel like I cheated him because, “Oh man, this day I had a meeting at 9 and a follow up at 10. A crisis happened and I’m rolling in at 11:50 and we’re 10 minutes from showtime. I have an idea of what we’re doing, but I don’t feel like I contributed enough at least on that day.
Other days I do more. It’s just kind of a day-by-day basis. If it was a perfect world, I’d have time to do all of that, but sometimes I don’t. That part has been a challenge for me for sure.
Noe: Was there ever a realization you came to that helped you approach each day the way you have?
Ross: I still have the guilt. I don’t know that I’ve ever resolved myself from that. I think I’m better than ever with time management, but again it’s never perfect. I could come to work on a day and go, “I kind of have everything lined up. I’m in good shape. I can spend some real good time on the show.” Then a phone call, an email, a text, three things happen and all of a sudden I’m in crisis mode on something that I had no plan for.
You have to be ready to handle those things even when you think, “Alright, I’m going to have a good hour and a half, two hours here, where we can really lay out a great show.” Then it falls back to me rolling in near the end and Damien doing all of the heavy lifting.
Noe: I remember times when I’d get a phone call from a salesperson two minutes before I was about to do a show. I’d think, “They have no idea what it’s like to do a show.” Do you have that thought go through your head more, or the thought of, “You have no idea what it’s like to be a program director”?
Ross: The only thought I ever get sometimes on that is when someone will say, “Hey, can we meet tomorrow at 2?” I’ll say, “I’m on the air.” Sometimes it’s a concept of, “You’re selling the show. You know I’m on 12 to 3.” That one will get me every once in a while.
If it gets too close to that window, unless it’s the biggest of bosses or a true, true crisis, sometimes I’m just not answering that phone or that email. I’ll go, “Okay, well I’ll have to get to that after the show.” Or if it seems a little more important, “Alright I’ve got a four-minute break here, I can knock out a quick email.” But I try not to lose focus on the show at least in that three-hour window. Sometimes that’s hard to avoid.
Noe: What aspect of your many roles comes the easiest to you and which aspect do you think is the most challenging?
Ross: I guess just the love of sports I hope transfers over to all of them. I don’t know how much it does to being a program director, but to the play-by-play, to the talk show it does. I like people. I think I’m good with people so that helps. The most challenging thing I think is the program director for sure. I’ve worked under so many different ones and they have their style. I can only do it my way.
I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way, but I’m trying and I try to be there for people. I try to listen. I don’t think I have it all figured out so I try to be a good listener. I try to communicate what I think is best. If someone has an idea I’m all for it. I think that one is the one that takes the most work for me. It’s my newest of the jobs.
Noe: When you’re a fellow sports radio host, do you find it challenging to critique another talent when it might be something that you’re violating yourself?
Ross: (laughs) Yes, I try to use myself as an example. I’m not perfect and it’s very subjective. There are people that like my show, there are people that don’t. There are people that love our other shows, there are people that don’t. There’s not one way that’s considered right.
I try to point out something that’s a little bit more constructive like you’ve got to hit breaks on time. Stuff like that as opposed to — I try to stay away from content. If someone’s got and idea and it seems like a reach to me, I don’t know that I would talk about that, but in the end if you can pull it off and tell a great story, or get some emotion out of that, or say something funny, well that worked.
I try to do it more in the realm of something that’s truly constructive and may be beneficial overall for the concept of the show as opposed to, “Hey, I wouldn’t talk about this,” because who follows that? You know? I try to stay away from that.
Noe: You’ve been in Sacramento for so long. Do you see yourself remaining there always, or do you think the future will play out differently?
Ross: I’ve almost been here 25 years. I’ve only been here and it’s tough to see me anywhere else. I’ve applied sporadically to other things over the 25 years, but really wondered, “Man, if I did get that job, would I really leave? I’ve been in California my whole life. My family is out here. Would I do that?”
So at this moment I can’t picture myself anywhere else. I love Sacramento. It’s been great. The station’s been great to me. The Kings. Sacramento State. The community. There’s no reason for me to leave unless there was some offer out there that I was like, “Man, I can’t turn that down.” I’m really happy where I am.
Noe: That’s cool, man. You can’t mess with happy. What do you do outside of sports — I don’t want to say as a release because this is what you love to do, but in terms of something that’s non sports-related that adds some balance to your life — what do you like doing the most?
Ross: The reality is the time I get, I try to spend as much with my family. They’re so supportive, my wife and my son. We’ve got such a great family. My brother is in town. My in-laws. There’s always people at our house. It’s just a great time to come home. It’s rarely just my wife and son. We have friends over all the time.
It’s like when you were a kid and there was always one house we’d always go to. Well, we’re the house. I think that’s really fun. We’ll have barbecues. We just like to entertain and have people over. That’s probably it. I just love to be around people that I care about and have a good time. That’s my main thing when I’m not working, which seems like I’m working all the time.
Noe: How long have you and your wife been together?
Ross: We met at the radio station, which is another reason I’m thankful for all of the things that transpired. Staying at the station that long, I met her several years into being at the station. She was an account executive so we met there and struck up a friendship. It grew from that.
She since is no longer in radio, but she did it for a long, long time. She was really good at sales. So many friends, so many memories, my wife came from radio. It all feels like it was just meant to be.
Noe: Have there been other offers that you simply turned down for all the reasons you just mentioned?
Ross: No, nothing officially. There have been a couple of NBA things that I’ve applied for. I literally remember talking to my wife thinking, “Man, if I get offered this, I think I would say no. But how could I say no to one of 30?”
Now, it didn’t happen. I’ll give you an example; Cleveland was open years ago. I think it was Joe Tait who was their longtime broadcaster. I saw that was an opening and I said, “I don’t know if I want to go to Cleveland, but I have to apply. It’s one of 30 jobs.”
I applied and nothing came of it, but I remember thinking, “Well, I feel like I’m qualified. I’ve done NBA games. What would I say if it really came down to we want to hire you?” I was really thinking, “Am I going to say no?”.
It didn’t get that far because again I’m happy here. I like it here. Maybe sometime that position will open up for me in Sacramento officially. It would have been hard to leave and it would have been hard to say no. I guess the short answer is I’m glad I wasn’t officially put in that spot to have to decide.
Noe: If you could essentially write out how you’d like the rest of your career to unfold, what would that look like for you?
Ross: I would like to do as much play-by-play as I can. I get that opportunity now, but I thirst for more of it. I’ve been lucky to be behind — and I know you know Grant Napear, Gerry Gerould is the radio guy, Grant is the TV guy — I don’t know if I’m technically behind Grant. Gary, I’ve worked so hand in hand with him for so many years. I’ve had the privilege to fill in for him. He is just a legend. He’s amazing. He is still killing it out there and he’s 78.
Whenever his time is done — he needs to write his own script — but whenever he decides he’s finished, I would love, love, love that opportunity to be the radio voice of the Kings. To go with that, to keep doing Sac State football because I’ve done that for 20+ years. If that opened up even more opportunities to do some national play-by-play, I really love radio. If TV came up I wouldn’t say no as far as play-by-play. Everything seems to be leaning towards that.
I enjoy doing the talk shows, but it’s almost like the thing I’m chasing has been play-by-play. If more things open talk show wise, certainly I would do it. I have a show now. I’m thrilled with it.
The PD job was something that became available and I thought, I’m going to grow from this. I wanted to take on that opportunity. I really have learned a lot more about myself and just managing people, and making mistakes, and making right calls, all those kind of things. I’ve enjoyed that, but I guess the thing I’m in a constant chase for is finding more play-by-play.
Noe: I hope that works out for you.
Ross: I hope so too. It’s really tricky because Gary is a friend. He’s awesome, but I know if it was my job, I’d be like, “I’m going until I’m done.” He should. He’s done it for 30-something years and he’s still great. He’s amazing.
Noe: If he was like, “What do you think, man? Do you think I should keep going?” It’d be hard to avoid saying, “No man, you should totally retire.”
Ross: (laughs) Yeah, because my friends always ask me when’s he going to stop? I’m like, “You know, I don’t know.” That’s his call. I root for him. Again, he’s a friend. He’s a mentor. He’s just awesome. I’ve been patient and I hope it would be my position after that, but nothing is ever guaranteed. I would feel really good about my chances though.
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.
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.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
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.”
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+.
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.