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Deneroff Still Gets A Rush When The Red Light Goes On

“I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.”

Brandon Contes

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Unless you work in the sports broadcast industry or consistently listen to radio credits, you might not be aware of the name Howard Deneroff.

As the Executive Producer of Westwood One Sports, Deneroff has been on hand for three decades worth of the world’s greatest sporting events, playing a vital role in how they sound to the listening audience.  Not only has he hired some of the most recognizable voices in sports, but he’s in the booth himself, contributing to Super Bowls, the Olympics, Final Fours and other prestigious events. 

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Howard’s rarely in the spotlight, but he’s been near it for the last 30 years and that’s how he wants it to stay.  He might not enjoy talking about himself, but Howard Deneroff loves discussing his job. Filled with great stories and insight from the inner workings of a sports broadcast, Deneroff exudes the passion that all diehard sports fans and audiences share.

Brandon Contes: Westwood One for 30 years, you’re the Executive Producer give a quick scope of work because you’re well known within the industry, but when I tell my wife I’m interviewing Howard Deneroff today, she says who’s that?

Howard Deneroff: [Laughs] She doesn’t listen to the credits enough.  It’s technically nine years with CBS Radio Sports (different from today’s CBS Sports Radio) and 21 years with Westwood One, but it’s the same entity.  My role is in charge of the play-by-play division of Westwood One, all of our broadcasts for the NFL, NCAA, NHL. We also broadcast the Masters, the Triple Crown of Horse Racing, the Olympics – it’s a full schedule.  I’m in charge of the overall sound, talent and production. I’m also part of the negotiation team for broadcast rights of all our events. 

It’s my job to make sure all of our broadcasts sound up to network standards.  We want people to hear a broadcast and know this is Westwood One. If you hear something wrong, it’s my fault, if you hear something right, everyone else gets the credit [Laughs], which is the way it should be, but hopefully you never hear anything wrong.

BC: Are you surprised about radio’s longevity as someone who’s been in the business for over 30 years?  It’s outlasted CDs and iPods, it’s going to outlast newspapers, maybe even cable.

HD: We use the term audio more than radio now, because you can hear us online, on your phone and a lot of devices.  We’re radio primarily, but people consume audio in a lot of ways, which is part of why the demise of radio has not occurred, despite many people predicting it.  I entered into this business because I love sports and broadcasting and the combination of the two was my way to get into sporting events for free [Laughs].  There are plenty of people that still can’t watch games, for whatever reason, whether they’re at work, in the car or visually impaired.  

There’s still an audience out there and we’re going to produce the best broadcast possible for them, even though we recognize the younger generation isn’t as glued to the radio as I was at their age.

BC: Did you ever have an interest in doing local radio?

HD: When I first started, my goal was to do live sports.  I would have taken a job with any team or local broadcast, it just so happened that I got this network job out of college.  Literally – graduated Sunday, drove Monday, started Tuesday. Not at the level I’m at now, but it was as a production assistant with CBS Radio Sports.  They had broadcast rights to Major League Baseball and the NFL. At the time they just started the Spanish language division to broadcast the World Series and Super Bowl in Spanish.  Spanish was my best subject in school and my grandmother lived in Cuba before coming to the United States, so I learned the language growing up. I don’t speak it fluently, but I’m conversant enough to produce a broadcast in Spanish.

BC: During those early years, were you trying to get on-air or did you quickly realize you liked being behind the scenes?

HD: I did some on-air work in college at Syracuse, but to be fair, I was in college at the same time as Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle and a bunch of talented broadcasters.  Probably 12 to 15 people doing on-air work and I was 15th out of the 15.  We had a great group of broadcasters and I recognized that I was the worst guy there.  We didn’t know Mike Tirico and Ian Eagle were going to be two of the greatest broadcasters of all time.  While I was the 15th best there, I may have been the 16th best in the country, [Laughs] we’ll never know. 

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Nobody wanted to lug equipment and produce.  No one really knew what producing was. But I started to think I might not make it as an announcer, so I went behind the scenes more and from the first time I did a game as a producer – a women’s basketball game, I never wanted to go back on-air.  I did on-air work throughout college, but it was never a priority anymore. Production was perfect for me. I’m organized, I know how it should sound and I can help people get there.  

People like Ian didn’t need a ton of help, but I enjoyed the planning of, ‘let’s do this for four minutes, then take a break and we’ll place this interview here’.  I could still help by knowing it was the first time something happened in a game since 1982 or who holds this statistical record, but producing just felt right for me from the start.  I like making decisions, but I never needed to be the front-man. I never need credit, I just want a good broadcast and that’s my reward.

BC: How many announcers, analysts, reporters, on-air personalities do you hire in a given year?

HD: It’s about 12 broadcast teams for men’s and women’s NCAA basketball, six for the NFL, college football is two or three, and between everything we do with the NHL and all other sports, it’s about 50.  Then in an Olympic year it’s another dozen. I get a lot of requests and audio demos sent to me that are good, but I can’t hire everybody. I love the NCAA tournament because I get to hire a lot of people, but I still might only be hiring 12 people in the entire country!  I hate having to tell people no, that’s the bad part of the job. I love being able to hire people, to tell them yes and find new talent. Out of 365 days of the year, there is probably no more than 15 days in the year that I don’t get tape or an email sent to me inquiring about a position or asking me to listen.

BC: Do you enjoy critiquing audio?

HD: I love it, I wish I had more time for it.  I remember when I was graduating college, there were no smartphones, email or links, so you would send out cassette or videotapes and it was very hard to get a response.  When I was sending tapes, I didn’t like not getting responses, so I always try to respond, even if it’s just saying I might not get to this for six months or apologize because I don’t have an opening right now.  But it’s important to me to at least send a note. 

BC: How much of a tape do you like to listen to?

HD: People say you know quickly if someone is good and sometimes you will within a few minutes, but I listen to a full game or at least a half of a game.  Somebody could be good for three or four minutes and then just go off the rails. If I’m considering hiring someone, I definitely listen to the full game, but even if a student sends me a tape, I’ll listen for at least a half.  Too many things happen in a game where I like to listen to more than just a few minutes.

BC: Is it fun to find younger broadcasters and watch them grow?  Just like a general manager of a team drafting and developing their own talent or even as a listener, I remember hearing Kevin Burkhardt on the FAN and then seeing him on SNY.  Now he’s a top broadcaster in the country and I get excited when I see him because it was fun to hear and watch that progression.

HD: Yeah and there’s no question you never want to swing and miss.  Have I done that? Yes, nobody’s perfect, but you recognize it quickly.  You want to hit a homerun, you want broadcasters that will never have the listener thinking ‘how did this guy get on-air?’  I’d like to think our track record is pretty good and we’ve had very minimal complaints from affiliates regarding talent. Talent is still only one part of it.  I’m a producer at heart and producers are very important, engineers are hugely important. Without the right equipment, it doesn’t matter who’s on-air. You can have Mike Tirico and the best analyst, but if the mic isn’t on, it won’t matter.  A good broadcast encompasses everything. Having good talent helps to navigate through tough times. Look at the end of this year’s Kentucky Derby when they’re waiting to see the decision on the winner. There’s no road map for that delay, there’s no plan for a blackout in the Super Bowl.

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BC: You were in the booth for that Super Bowl, Ravens and 49ers?

HD: Oh yeah.

BC: Did you think you hit the wrong button?

HD: [Laughs] The front row of the booth is Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, a spotter, a statistician and me.  The second row is our pregame and halftime show hosts, Jim Gray, Larry Fitzgerald and our producer for that and the third row is engineering and equipment. 

I go to grab a cue card for Kevin, so I turn away from the field and my headphones go out which happens occasionally if I turn too far and the headphones get pulled out of the socket.  That’s what I assumed happened. I turn back to plug them in and look at my box that has all my buttons to talk with everyone, it’s like a mini intercom system and it’s dark. “Oh Crap.”

Kevin starts hitting me and banging his headphones to signal he has nothing, I look down and see he’s dark and now it’s “oh s***”

Keep in mind this is all within three seconds!  I turn around to yell for an engineer to see what’s going on and I see complete darkness and we have racks of equipment that should be lit up!  Now the expletives get worse. Within those first few seconds, I’m thinking it’s us. Once I look out and see the whole stadium is out we realize, okay this is everyone.

My first year at CBS Radio was 1989, my first World Series was in the Bay Area, which of course had an earthquake during our pregame show.  I was a rookie and let everyone tell me what to do, but I never thought 20, 25 years later I would go back to that experience. You’re not a sports broadcaster anymore, you’re now a news reporter, because at this point we don’t know if it’s the stadium, the whole city of New Orleans, terrorists or what.  Thank God the stadium had one bank of lights on so everyone inside wasn’t in a panic. 

We have an emergency phone that we actually call the “oh s*** phone.”  I call the studio and they tell me we’re in a commercial break which is what we’re supposed to do.  After the break, I hand the phone to Kevin Harlan so he can explain to our listeners what’s going on.  Kevin then hands the phone to Boomer and they go back and forth on-air.

BC: So you’re now doing a broadcast during the Super Bowl through a landline telephone?

HD: Right, which is exactly what they did in 1989 (during the earthquake).  First, they try to explain what happened, what they heard, what it looks like.  One of our engineers worked at our radio affiliate in New Orleans, WWL. He called them to find out if the outage is the entire city.  Once we find out its isolated to the stadium, we report that. We keep trying to find out information and report, because even the PA system was out and the 70,000 people in the stadium have a radio at their seat, so they’re learning what happened by listening to us.  But those unusual things are the beauty of live broadcasting. That was probably a bigger adrenaline rush than anything I’ve ever done.

We probably received more positive feedback about those 36 minutes than all of the Super Bowls I’ve worked combined. 

BC: There’s certainly a different rush with anything that’s live.

HD: I love it and that’s when I’ll know it’s time to stop doing this, unless they tell me first because you don’t control your own fate.  But when that red light goes on, I still get an adrenaline rush and until I no longer get that rush, why would I want to stop doing this job?

BC: Were there other things from earlier in your career that you didn’t foresee being helpful, but later on you were able to look back on.  Similarly to how the earthquake broadcast helped you know how to handle a Super Bowl power outage?

HD: When I first started at CBS, I used to walk upstairs to the television studios and watch how they would do the NFL Today because halftimes for games start at different times and they only have one studio show.  How does one show do all of the different games when each halftime overlaps? I was fascinated to watch because it’s a jigsaw puzzle, but I never thought it would be relevant for me. 

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In 2003, we take over the NCAA Tournament and we have individual basketball games that start and break at different times and they all overlap. So 14 years later, I knew how to jump back and forth and arrange it.  It’s the crux of how we do the tournament because we’re doing every game, and while fans of a specific team can hear the game in its entirety online, we have a RedZone style broadcast for terrestrial radio.  You always need to watch and learn around you because you never know when something will come in handy.

BC: Who’s in charge of the RedZone style broadcast that you hear on WFAN and terrestrially around the country?  Who decides what game to play and when to switch to a different game?

HD: That’s me and (WFAN afternoon host Mike) Francesa kills me every year on-air [Laughs].

I’m watching every game simultaneously and making those judgements and there’s a lot that goes into it.  There could be a three point game where a 12 seed is beating the 5 seed and it’s at the 4 minute, 28 second mark.  Fans might see the score and want me to switch to that broadcast, but I’m not going to that game when they have an automatic TV timeout at 4 minutes.  You’ll hear 20 seconds of action and then a break. Why not stay with action (of the first game) and wait until after they have a timeout? If you’re just looking at the score, you want us to go to that game because it’s a 12 beating a 5 with less than 5 minutes to go.  Trust me, I’m getting there, but there are a lot of factors with timeouts, commercials and live reads. You want to join cleanly. My goal is to give fans the most action possible, with the least amount of interruption.

There are times you pick wrong.  We can have two close games and need to choose which one is going to have the better ending.  There’s no question I’ve made mistakes in switching off a game. It’s an impossible task, but we joke every year – and guess what time we’ll start getting criticized for not switching to a different game.

BC: Where are you doing that from?

HD: Our New York studios, which is the CBS Broadcast Center.  It’s in the same building, so we can have our eyes on everything TV does, which is great.

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BC: How often are you at games and in the broadcast booth?

HD: I’m on the road 200 to 250 days a year, depending on if we have the Olympics or something like that.  It’s less than I used to be, but it varies depending on what rights we have. I used to do more events, but we have very qualified people to do the job without me in the booth.  I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.

BC: When you are in the booth, are you ever critiquing the announcers?  Or is it mostly making sure everything sounds smooth and you’re hitting commercial breaks on time?

HD: Let’s be honest, the most important thing on any broadcast is that the commercials play properly, whether I want to admit it or not.  Without commercials, none of us have jobs and I get that, but there’s more to it. What are you going to talk about, for how long and in what order during a broadcast.

BC: So you’re also developing topics for pregame and in-game conversations?

HD: Yes, and when you hire top talent we usually know what they’re going to talk about, but there are times you’ll have a great sound bite or highlight to incorporate that’s relevant to the game.  Once the puck is dropped or kickoff happens, most of the time it’s left up to the announcer because we have the luxury of hiring the best of the best. There are times I’ll prompt the announcer or analyst.  It could be as basic as saying in their ear ‘hey coach, would you go for it on 4th down or not?’

It could also be like Super Bowl XL – Marv Albert’s doing the game with Boomer Esiason and it was the second or third play from scrimmage in the second half.  The Steelers have the ball and Willie Parker breaks through for what ends up being a touchdown run. It was clear from about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage he’s going to score, so I tell Boomer in his ear to ‘layout’ – don’t say a word, don’t jump on Marv.  I rarely say that to an announcer, so if I do, they know it’s for a good reason. 

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I then yell out to my statistician ‘how long will this run be?’  He tells me 75 yards, and I ask if he’s sure, 100% sure? He said ‘yeah, why?’  Because the record is 74 yards, Marcus Allen. So right after Marv says touchdown Willie Parker, I’m in his ear saying ‘longest run in Super Bowl history.’

Marv then regurgitates, “The longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.” (Howard said this doing a decent Marv Albert impression)

I tell the studio to cue up the Marcus Allen highlight from Super Bowl XVIII, which we have ready to go just in case and I want that coming out of the commercial break.  Next, I tell Jim Gray, Marcus Allen is in the MVP suite because he was honored at the game as a previous Super Bowl MVP, go ask him about his record being broken. 

Sometimes you need the stars to align, but there’s also the preparation of having that Super Bowl XVIII highlight ready to go.  You want the broadcast to be entertaining. If you don’t have it, is anybody listening saying, ‘why don’t they have that highlight?’  No, but I think people like hearing those old highlights that pertain to and enhance the broadcast.

BC: Have you ever gotten a tape that someone sends and you don’t think they’re ready yet and then years later you hear them with another company and now they are ready for network?

HD: I can give you a specific example.  We like to have different calls from NCAA Conference Tournaments for potential Cinderella teams.  We already have a lot of the larger schools because some of those tournaments are on our network, but we don’t do all of the smaller conference tournaments.  In 2008, we wanted a play-by-play highlight from the University of Evansville and with smaller schools, they don’t have a producer or anything, we have to contact the announcer directly.  We get a copy of a game winning call from their play-by-play voice, Brandon Gaudin.

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It was a nice call, nothing earth-shattering.  After the tournament he sends a thank you note and asks if I would listen to and critique some of his tape.  I gave him a list of probably 10 notes, comments such as you didn’t give me the shot clock here, I’d like to know the free-throw percentage or this was too much information with the starting lineups, simple concrete items like that. 

A couple years later Brandon gets the Butler job.  He reaches out again and asks for another critique.  Then Butler gets to the Final Four and now he introduces himself in person and asks, ‘Can you listen again?  I think I’ve really improved.’ I give him a few more pointers and he asks if I’m closer to working for Westwood?  I said ‘you’re getting closer, but still need a couple more things.’

Then he gets the Georgia Tech job.  After a year, he asks me to listen again and now he’s really close, he needed one more year.  He worked on a couple of things that year and then I hired him. It was a progression of around six years.  I liked his persistence, he never just said, ‘I’m good I should work for you.’ He just wanted to get better.  I’m happy to listen, I like listening. I find it funny that people trust me on it, but I think I hear things differently than people.  I can’t call games the way others can, but I know how it should sound.

BC: You mentioned things like not giving the shot clock or free throw percentage, but when you listen to a broadcaster from a small school, how much do you factor in that they might not have a producer, statistician or someone in the booth helping them give the right statistic at the right time?

HD: In 2003, I was in Omaha for the College World Series and Kevin Kugler, who worked there locally at the time, asked me to listen to a tape.  I forget the exact game in the tape, but it was a football game between two teams you never heard of, Division II or III. The quality of the tape was HORRIBLE.  It was distorted, it was windy, it was terrible and my first question was ‘who’s your engineer?’ He said, ‘I’m the engineer’ – so I told him, ‘well I’m never hiring you for that.’ [Laughs]

But in the tape, he says, ‘That’s a 17-yard gain. He now has 4 catches for 78 yards. They’re 3 for 7 on third down.’  He gave instant numbers like that throughout the entire game, so I asked ‘who’s your stat guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t have a stat guy,’ so I asked ‘well who’s your spotter?’  Again, ‘spotter? I don’t have a spotter.’ I was so impressed that he could handle all of that. We hired him for the network within a year after that and he’s been a great addition ever since.

The answer is yes, I recognize the resources are different.  I tell people NFL games are easy compared to Division II games, because you have a statistician, spotter, all the press notes you want, all the information and video you want.  If you can do a high school football game well, you can do an NFL game. That doesn’t mean I’m giving someone from high school an NFL gig, but I don’t want anyone to ever be discouraged in saying ‘I know I’m only doing high school or Division III games,’ because it’s not that far of a leap. 

BC: I compare sports talk radio in the way it’s changed to Major League Baseball because it used to be, put the mic on and take calls; baseball used to be throw the ball, hit the ball.  Baseball has gotten so specialized with analytics and everything in radio is now analyzed and debated should we take calls, should we use guests or radio bits, how much audio and music beds should there be.  Both have modernized. Similarly, how have play-by-play broadcasts changed?

HD: Great question.  I don’t know that it’s changed as much, but if you listen back to old broadcasts; World Series, NBA, Super Bowls – the game ends, they give the final score and throw it right to a break.  The Super Bowl ends and they would just go right to a commercial! What I would say changed the most is the pre and post-game shows being longer. We get everybody we can to talk about the game.  If you’re a fan, you want to hear from the players to know what happened, what did it feel like? And you want that from the losing side too, which never would have been done in the old days.

Part of the reason for longer pre and post-game shows is bigger rights fees.  In order to pay for those, you need a certain number of commercials. But when I first started, we would go on-air for the Super Bowl at six o’clock for a 6:18 kickoff – we had an 18 minute pregame show.  Then we expanded it to start at 5:45 – a half hour pregame show! 

Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego – the story is John Elway’s last chance at winning.  We talked to him at the hotel and he gave us 14 minutes. To this day, I think it was the best interview we’ve ever done, but I couldn’t air more than six minutes of it!  We had to air the parts talking about how can they beat the Packers and the road to the Super Bowl. I will tell you, the half of the interview that did not air was better than the half that did, but we needed to prioritize specific quotes.  I was so frustrated by that, so I went to our bosses and told them they need to give us more time. They have to be able to sell the Super Bowl and let us do a longer show. So for Super Bowl XXXIII, we added a one-hour optional pregame show called Super Sunday to see if affiliates would take it and it was awesome, but we still didn’t have enough time!  Super Bowl XL, we added another hour and then XLV, we added another hour, XLVIII we added another.  Now we have six hours of pregame, but as little as 21 years ago, we had less than 20 minutes, which is crazy.

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The fans are also smarter because of the access to information they have.  They know the game better, so you can be more technical on the broadcast. When we do a broadcast, we’re blacked out in the cities of the game, so if we’re doing a Jacksonville-Tennessee game Thursday night in December and you’re listening in Seattle, you’re a diehard fan.  You’re not a casual fan. We can be more in depth and technical. We can say “Cover 2” or the “A-gap.” It’s still important to teach, but the audience is smarter than they used to be with the information they have.

There are also many more former players and coaches on the broadcast than there used to be.  They give a different perspective and take the audience into the huddle. Also, audio technology has changed – you can hear the puck hit the post, a thunderous dunk or the swoosh of the net at the buzzer, and we incorporate that into our broadcast.  It’s all part of today’s audio experience. 

BC: You mentioned that Seattle fan listening to the Titans and Jaguars game in December, they might be a diehard fan, but they also might have money on the game.  What’s the thought on bringing sports wagering into a broadcast?

HD: For the first 29 years that I’ve done this, gambling was completely off limits for every sport.  It was never a discussion. Now the NHL has a team in Vegas and the NFL is going to Vegas. The NFL just sent us revised guidelines for advertising because for years, we weren’t able to take advertising dollars from casinos and now all of a sudden we’re allowed to.  I don’t think we’re at the point where on the broadcast we’re going to talk about the line or the over/under. At some point, it looks like there will be in-stadium betting and once the NFL opens it up, we’ll open it up. There’s an audience that cares about it, but they’re not tuning into us to hear the spread.  They tune in to hear what’s happening. They want to know the score, but they don’t need us to tell them the betting line is 4.5. At some point? Maybe, but not yet. We might eventually decide we could sell a show specifically to gambling, but in terms of within the play-by-play, I don’t think we’re there yet.

BC: Do you do mock broadcasts when trying to pair an announcer and analyst?

HD: Very rarely.  It’s difficult budget wise, but generally because we’re the network and we can be more selective, everyone who I will consider hiring already has a tape.  It’s very rare that we hire someone who hasn’t already done the job somewhere. Occasionally, television will do a mock broadcast and let me see it, but to see how two people will work together, I’ll put them on a less important game to start.  I won’t put a pair on the NCAA Tournament together if they haven’t worked in the regular season together. We’ll take a Tuesday night regular season game in February to see how a pair will mesh, but I have the advantage of choosing from the cream of the crop.

BC: Can you tell after one game?  Do you need to hear a full season to see how broadcasters will develop together?

HD: If I don’t think they mesh together after one game, it’s unlikely they’ll have a second game together. Chemistry can develop, but if it’s bad, I don’t think it’s going to get fixed and there’s no need to try when I know they’re each good enough to work with someone else.  There’s really not a lot of that because we have the luxury of hiring from some of the best in the country. They don’t need a lot of coaching. Some guidance, but the critiques I give to the people I’m hiring is different from the critiques I give the people I’m not hiring. 

BC: How important is it to have a play-by-play announcer with personality?  Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan they’re funny, they have personality, is that something generally you look for?

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HD: Personality is more important on TV than radio.  Description is more important for radio than personality.  Relay the information, describe what’s happening, get excited about what’s happening.  Passion is more important than personality. Personality can help and can make you better, but we don’t need a comedian.  The analyst needs to have personality more so than the play-by-play voice because the play-by-play announcer is there to describe what’s happening, while the analyst needs to relay the information with an entertaining delivery.  A play-by-play announcer can have all the personality in the world, but if I don’t know where the ball is, it’s irrelevant for radio.

It needs to sound fun because at the end of the day, it’s sports.  If we’re not having fun, the listener knows. We’re at a football game, basketball, hockey game.  We take this seriously and dead air is terrible. A commercial doesn’t play, that’s terrible [Laughs].  But big picture, sports is a release and putting it into perspective, the worst day at our job is better than the best day for a lot of people at their job.  It’s an awesome job. I like talking about the job, I don’t like talking about me [Laughs].  I think I have a very good ear, but it’s not a skill like a heart surgeon, so I get uncomfortable talking about myself because someone else can do this job well.

BC: But you do influence what millions of people hear on the radio in a given year, so there is an interest in how you go about the job.

HD: I never thought about it that way.  That’s interesting, but I consider myself part of that target audience.  I’m a diehard sports fan, so when I’m working on a broadcast, I just try to think about what is it that I would like to know.  

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

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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