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How 101 ESPN Created a Decade of Dominance

“There was some thought in the past that someone would step up and try to take the station on. I think that speaks to the power of this brand.”

Demetri Ravanos

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There aren’t a lot of stations quite like 101 ESPN. From the on air product to the station’s digital offerings, to management’s willingness to embrace emerging trends like covering gambling and hosting eSports events, Hubbard Broadcasting has never been afraid to let its St. Louis sports talker innovate. Listeners are on board too.

The reason for that is probably best explained in a simple sentence from mid day host Anthony Stalter. “St. Louis is a sports city through and through.”

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101 ESPN is a station anchored in both the morning and afternoon by a definitive local sports voice. The station’s PD is a lifelong resident of the city. It’s strange that the best explanation for 101’s success comes from a guy that hasn’t lived his whole life in St. Louis, but then again, Stalter’s explanation is dead on, because it isn’t overthought. In a town full of sports fans, the sports radio brand that has been dominant is the one giving listeners the most local sports conversations surrounded by the least bullshit.

“Nobody was doing it on FM with a big signal,” Hubbard St. Louis’ VP and Market Manager John Kijowski told me when I asked why he thought there was an opening to launch the station ten years ago. The city had two sports stations, both on smaller AM signals, and according to Kijowski, neither of them catered to the city’s hardcore sports fans.

“They were doing a lot of – how do I clean this up? ’T&A’? Guy humor? And then some serious sports talk. I just didn’t think it had to be that way. I thought it can be fun and entertaining. Certainly there are parts that should make you mad and make you laugh. Sports is all about emotion, right? I felt like what I was hearing over there was more T&A and political than good sports talk.”

Bonneville, who owned the cluster at the time, had a struggling Rhythmic AC station on the 101.1 frequency. That is where Kijowski was going to put his new sports station.

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“When Bonneville decided to go down that path, they thought that from a company standpoint, they had a stronger ability to sustain some of the early battles if it took some time to get the thing going,” Jason Barrett told me. Before he was the president of Barrett Sports Media, Jason was the program director that launched 101 ESPN.

Barrett had been unemployed for nearly six months when Kijowski reached out to him. Prior to that he had programmed another sports station in town, 590 The Fan. The environment at 590 according to Barrett wasn’t great due in part to financial pressures facing the station.

“The two years of market turmoil at 590 wasn’t exactly what everybody wanted,” said Barrett. “The ownership group had big plans and a successful model in Atlanta but it just didn’t translate the same in St. Louis.”

It made Kijowski’s choice of a guy that had been trashed in local papers and blamed for the station’s failures as his very first sports PD curious to say the least. Barrett says if you were sitting in the room for his and Kijowski’s first meeting, it wouldn’t seem so strange that they ended up working together.

“Having some market experience helped,” Barrett told me. “I had learned firsthand what not to do at 590 and gained a few relationships in the process. Then, on top of it, John and I, the first time we met we just clicked. Our philosophies on radio and vision for the brand was an instant match. I think he liked that I had something to prove and my arrival would create some instant chatter. That just drove me more to make sure I rewarded his faith in me. To this day he’s one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.”

To make the station a serious ratings contender Barrett felt a major play-by-play partner (which 101 ESPN landed when it acquired the St. Louis Rams broadcasts prior to launch) was important. So too was adding regular contributors that could break news about the local teams. To help set the tone he hired the city’s top three newsmakers, Joe Strauss, Jim Thomas and Derrick Goold from The St. Louis Post Dispatch and added Brian Stull and Brian Feldman as station reporters.

The key to success though would come from featuring live and local programming throughout most of the day. The long-term goal was to be local M-F 6a-7p but Barrett knew 101 ESPN would have to carry at least one show from ESPN Radio at launch. He planned on it being The Herd with Collin Cowherd, but that wasn’t the national show that ended up on air.

“It’s about two months to launch and we were in a big meeting,” Barrett says. “Keep in mind I had just been out of work for six months after a rough two-year run. If there were things that they wanted to do, I was willing to go along with it because I didn’t feel I had earned the right yet to influence any key decisions. I was just happy to have a chance to build the brand.”

Kijowski was passionate about launching with a local morning show. Barrett made plans to put Cowherd in the middle of 101 ESPN’s lineup, and that was what was pitched to Bonneville executives during a fall meeting. But Greg Solk, who was the company’s Senior VP of Programming and Operations at the time, called Barrett’s bluff.

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“He said ‘so that’s the plan, right?’ and I said ‘Yeah, local in the morning with Cowherd in the mid days,'” Barrett told me. “‘And you believe in that plan?’ he asked. I said I did, but he saw it on my face and said ‘I don’t think you believe that.’ I was uncomfortable for a moment but so glad he said that because it gave me the confidence to turn to John and say ‘He’s right. It should be Mike & Mike in the morning and then we start with local at 10am. I loved Colin’s show but Greeny and Golic just fit the market better.”

That was how the initial lineup was built. Mike and Mike wound up producing good results for the station until August 2015 when Bernie Miklasz announced he was leaving the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to take over 101 ESPN’s morning show. Since then 101 has featured local hosts on the air from 7 am to 7 pm.

“They trusted us and we’ve served them well with our output. If we were going to make this move it was going to strengthen what we had,” program director Hoss Neupert said of ESPN.

Neupert never had second thoughts about the move. St. Louis is a town that loves sports, but its devotion is to the local teams.

“During football season Mike & Mike did really well because they talked a lot about the NFL, but sometimes a big baseball game would be missed or there was no talk about a Blues game that ended in controversy,” he told me. “Mike & Mike may have mentioned that or Golic & Wingo may mention it, but St. Louis sports fans now know it will be there.”

Miklasz had a previous relationship with the station. He joined the station a few months after it launched, hosting a mid day show, and was at the station until 2014. When he agreed to return in 2015, it was in part because he saw 101 ESPN as a multi-platform brand where he could write, broadcast, and do a podcast under the same umbrella.

“I always wondered in my mind wondered what it would be like if I went all in on radio,” Bernie told me. “I never had the guts to take the plunge, because all over I see radio stations changing formats and people coming and going.”

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For Miklasz, it came down to the people he would be working with and for that made him comfortable enough to commit to leaving the newspaper and making radio his primary focus.

“Kijowski had the vision. I appreciated and respected Jason Barrett’s aggressive attitude and desire to always go for it. Then, Hoss Neupert had that same type of attitude. It just got to the point where it was like I like these people. I respect them and what they’ve done.

“Look, I wanted to be a part of this team, so it was time for me to take this leap. It’s like any other job. There are good days and bad, but I took the jump and haven’t looked back once.”

Michelle Smallmon produced Bernie Miklasz’s show when she was at 101 ESPN the first time around. After that she left for Bristol to work on ESPN Radio’s Jorge and Jen and the Ryen Russillo Show. She returned to St. Louis in January of 2018 to become Bernie’s co-host on the morning show.

“The primary difference now is that I am talking on the air for three hours, and not sitting in a producers booth monitoring the show!” Smallmon told me in an email. Still, she says she approaches each show with that same producer’s mindset.

“As I approach each show and topic, I still look at it from a producer’s perspective. What’s the story? What are the secondary angles? Why does this matter to our audience? How can we find an informative and entertaining way to discuss the story? I had to shift from worrying about booking guests and finding sound to compliment a topic, to developing my opinion, anticipating Bernie’s take on it, and thinking about how we want to structure our conversations.”

Does the switch to a local morning show mean 101 ESPN listeners will never hear Bernie and Michelle talking about the kind of national topics covered on Mike & Mike or now Golic & Wingo?

“It depends on the time of year,” Miklasz says noting that the day we spoke the St. Louis Blues were still in the NHL’s Western Conference Finals. He calls the Cardinals “absolutely a foundation” of his shows in the Summer.

There is one area where Miklasz treads lightly and still hasn’t figured out a definitive strategy for national sports talk. “Sometimes I wonder whether people, because there was so much animosity about the way the Rams left and the way the league allowed it to happen, whether we’re turning people off when we talk too much NFL.”

One of the constants through every iteration of the 101 ESPN lineup has been the afternoon show The Fast Lane and the man steering that ship, Randy Karraker. Even as his partners have changed throughout the years, Randy has continued to be viewed as the voice of the St. Louis sports fan. With Karraker at the helm the afternoon show has been a consistent ratings success for the past decade.

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“It’s interesting. I didn’t feel pressure,” Karraker told me of his hire in August of 2009. Despite casting a long shadow with fans in the city, he knew that his first partners on The Fast Lane, former Ram D’Marco Farr and long time St. Louis Bilikins play-by-play man Bob Ramsey, were the right people to build a three man collaborative effort with.

“JB had the vision,” Ramsey told me in an email. “He hired the best talent in the market in Randy Karraker (the best I’ve ever worked with), found an ex jock who could handle himself in the very capable D’Marco Farr and found a decent third man in me who would morph to fit a given situation: analytic when needed, a foil to challenge partners and guests, and quite frankly a real smart ass who could make you laugh. “Ramsey said the show’s strength was in Barrett’s demand for “formatics excellence and detail.”

Karraker and Farr had a relationship before the show began, and each said they knew they could rely on the other for great content. Farr took it a step further, saying that if Karraker was involved, he knew the majority of St. Louis’s sports fans would be tuning in.

“If you could boil down St. Louis, and I mean everything about St. Louis, into one person, you would get Randy,” Farr told me. “I mean, he defends St. Louis fiercely and he’ll also call out the warts at the same time.”

The Fast Lane has gone through multiple lineup changes since 101 ESPN launched in 2009. The current crew includes former Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson and Chris Rongey alongside Karraker. Rongey, the latest addition came in the wake of Farr heading back to the West Coast.

That move may have coincided with the Rams leaving St. Louis for Los Angeles, but Farr insists that he didn’t leave St. Louis intending to follow the Rams.

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“Regardless of what happened, my family decided it was time to go back West,” he said. “We had some aging and ill family members, so our presence was needed (in California). I think I said this on my last show. If the Rams had stayed in St. Louis forever, we would still be going back west. That is just where our lives took us at the time.”

Ramsey credits the foundation Barrett and Neupert built for some of the afternoon show’s success despite lineup changes, but he is blunt about where the real credit should go. “The key for relevance and continuity is Randy Karraker, period.”

Former PD Kent Sterling told me in an email that the writing was on the wall for the Rams as soon as rumblings of a move to LA began. In his estimation, those started in 2011. “The combination of bad football and distrust for owner Stan Kroenke drove interest south. The staff did a great job of covering the team, but St. Louis will always be a Cardinals town. In a research project, we found that St. Louisans were more likely to be NFL fans than Rams-specific fans.”

Farr was in an interesting position the day the Rams officially announced their move in 2016. “The day it was announced, I am driving the show. So that means I am the one telling St. Louis that the team is moving to Los Angeles,” he says. It was strange, here’s a former Ram telling St. Louis that the team is moving to Los Angeles. It was hard. It’s still hard when I think about it.”

Bernie Miklasz saw the Rams leaving as a shot to his credibility. He had been on the radio for months saying the team was not leaving. That wasn’t just an opinion. In Bernie’s mind, it was a fact based on a conversation he had had with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I’ve told this story on the air, and I don’t feel like I’m breaking any confidences now. Frankly, I don’t care if I am. I actually had dinner with Goodell before the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. He invited me out during Super Bowl week because he wanted to sort of get the lay of the land in St. Louis.

“He looked me straight in the eye, in fact it sort of hurt my reputation. He looked me straight in the eyes and said ‘We don’t want that team to go anywhere. We don’t want to leave St. Louis,’ and he seemed very passionate about it. 

“I even said ‘Hang on, don’t you want to put a team in LA? Kroenke does have his escape clause and he can probably get a stadium built.” I’ll use his words literally. He looked me in the eye, almost pissed off and said ‘Why the f*** do we need LA?’”.  

Miklasz also received a phone call from Rams owner Stan Kroenke around the same time. Kroenke told Miklasz he didn’t like the coverage he was receiving. He brought the team to St. Louis and was a Missouri native after all. Why would he want to hurt fans and a city that are so important to him?

Despite those conversations, Stan Kroenke revealed plans to build his new stadium in Inglewood, California in 2015 and then on January 20, 2016, NFL owners voted 30-2 to move the Rams back to Los Angeles.

St. Louis took the exit hard. To this day, Randy Karraker’s show during the football season still focuses on hating the Rams, and he has no trouble defending doing the show that way. The way the Rams left was an insult to the city.

“I honestly think that if the league and the team would have been more honest about it, I think we would feel better about it, but for the league to tell the people that wanted to build a stadium ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ and for the Rams’ CEO Kevin Demoff to say ‘we want to be here’ was totally disingenuous,” he says. “They had no intention of being here. If they would have just said that this was a business decision and the team saw a chance to be in the country’s second biggest market, I think St. Louis fans would have felt maybe not good about it, but better about it.”

Stalter actually has a positive view on the Rams leaving. It’s not to say that he is glad the team is gone, but he notes that the idea of St. Louis fans only caring about the Cardinals seems to have changed when the NFL team left town.

“There’s still a large contingent that just wants to hear Cardinals content, but the fact that the Blues have a winner now coupled with the fact that the Rams are no longer here, you have a lot of people that are just St. Louis fans now.”

Smallmon said the love the people of St. Louis have for their city and its teams was never more evident than on June 13 of this year. That was the morning after the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup.

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“Because this team took us on such a wild ride, the main challenge we faced was being able to accurately convey what this meant, not only to us personally but to the city,” she said. “We were all a little delirious that morning, but I think that was the beauty of it. We often use a feature on our show called ‘mic drops’, where listeners can leave us audio messages. That was my favorite part of that show in the hours after the final horn sounded. Hearing St. Louisans expressing pure joy and celebrating their team and their city. It was a really special day, and one I’ll never forget.”

The Blues will call 101 ESPN their radio home next season, and Kijowski and Neupert are exploring all kinds of ways to take advantage of the relationship.

“We’re talking about a side channel for the farm team and a dedicated all Blues channel,” Kijowski tells me. When I ask him about any concerns he has about something special getting lost on the HD spectrum he insists that if it is promoted right, NHL fans have the dedication to their favorite sport to go and find it.

“Sales as you can imagine is crazy excited,” Neupert says. He has been meeting with PD’s of other stations in the Hubbard cluster in St. Louis since the station and the team made an official announcement. “They realize the bigness of having a major play-by-play and the advantages of utilizing it. Each one looks at their shows and thinks about the different things they can do.”

Neupert even says talent from other stations in the building have discussed the affiliation with the team as a way to dip their toes into the sports radio waters.

“KSHE (101’s classic rock sister station) and the Point (101’s alternative sister station) have on-air talent that came to me right after we made the announcement to say ‘Anything we can do?’ and trust me, they will! I know we have untapped talent that can contribute, and the Blues are open to being creative with anything we want to do.”

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For as welcoming as the Hubbard staff can be to people moving to St. Louis to work there, it is still a city built on the idea that most folks that were born there will raise their own families and then die there. Barrett and Kijowski were willing to consider outsiders when they were building the station’s first on air staff, but never lost sight of the parochial nature of the city.

“We had the anchors of Randy Karraker and Bernie Miklasz, so the outsiders could filter in,” Kijowski said. He also points out that having guys like D’Marco Farr, Chris Duncan and Brad Thompson on the station have helped hammer home the local identity the station is so proud of. “Having loved, and truly beloved, St. Louis athletes makes this St. Louis! St. Louis! St. Louis! That lets you sprinkle in some new voices and outside guys.”

Two such outsiders that got sprinkled in during the station’s history were Zach McCrite, who came to St. Louis from Louisville, and Bob Stelton, who is from Seattle but just like the Rams, moved to town following a stint in LA.

Rather than having McCrite come to St. Louis, Barrett went to Louisville to meet the man that wanted to work for him. It was one day at an area bar that McCrite learned just how important it would be to know St. Louis if he wanted to thrive in the job.

“So, we go to a local restaurant and he throws a piece of paper in front of me. It’s a ‘how well do you know St. Louis’ test,” McCrite told me in an email. “And it was stuff like ‘What’s Albert Pujols’ jersey number?’ Five. Okay, I got that. Another one was something like ‘St. Louis is called the Gateway To The what?’ West. Okay. Got that. But then there’s this word association part of the test. He throws a St. Louis-derived word or phrase and I write down the first word or phrase that comes to mind. I only remember one of those and it was the one I had no idea on at the time. The word he gave me was Oshie. I knew I had heard the name, but I couldn’t place it.

“So, I’m sweating and I’m thinking ‘what do I write here? I can’t leave it blank, but I also don’t want to guess wrong.’ So, I just put ‘Oh Shit.’ Turns out, TJ Oshie was, at the time, a third-year player for the St. Louis Blues. He certainly found my blind spot.”

Stelton had the parochial nature of St. Louis sports fans impressed upon him the second he got to town. He heard it from Barrett. He heard it from his partner Bryan Burwell. “I had two very clear thoughts: I was going to consume as much as I could as quickly as I could about the local teams. I was going to watch every moment of every game and give my honest take on what was happening. I moved downtown (despite it not being a great area) so that I was in walking distance to all three arenas/stadiums. And I wasn’t going to try and pretend that I knew something that I didn’t.”

According to Stelton, that honesty and openly asking listeners to fill in the gaps in his knowledge is part of what helped him get over with fans. The other part was being paired with a guy listeners viewed as a heel.

“A large majority of the listeners didn’t like Bryan for whatever reason, so, they seemed to automatically gravitate to my opinion or thoughts, even when he and I had the same exact take on something. When Bryan was let go and it became a solo show, that’s when the ratings took off and the listeners seemed to fully accept me despite me being a guy from the West Coast.”

Stalter says it isn’t hard to win over St. Louis fans. “Once you say ‘this is my home,’ people will embrace you,” the Illinois native, who came to 101 ESPN from Detroit told me.

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Stalter is one of those outsiders Kijowski talked about benefiting from being paired with a beloved St. Louis athlete. After being moved from producer of The Fast Lane to hosting The Turn in mid-days, Stalter was paired with Chris Duncan, a member of the 2006 World Series champion Cardinals and the son of former Cardinals catcher and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

“When Hoss first paired me and Chris together, he gave me the best piece of advice. He said if you have to play it a little bit slow at first, and be likable as opposed to overly opinionated, that’s okay,” Stalter shared.

Chris Duncan is no longer a member of The Turn. It’s not something anyone is happy about, but Duncan is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. In January of 2019, it was announced that Duncan, who had already been on indefinite leave, would not be returning to the station. Stalter fought back tears as he made the announcement on air.

“Show-wise, it didn’t matter,” Neupert said of trying to figure out the show’s next step while Duncan’s leave was still indefinite. “The poor guy had seizures during the show at times. Stalter was great about being a pro and picking up the slack. It’s easy not to worry about ratings or sales when you’re dealing with real life. So, for us it was always about let’s do things the right way and be supportive. Yeah we gotta take care of the business side, but let’s be human first.”

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Now that it is time to figure out what happens next, Neupert says he won’t rush anything. “We’ve been thinking behind the scenes about what we’re going to do. We have to find the right fit and there’s no real timeline on it.”

Stalter says he and Neupert have been grappling with the idea of what the show will be going forward. As Neupert said, they can take the time to find the right person. Stalter just wants to make sure the next iteration of The Turn keeps “the vibe of informing and entertaining.”

101 ESPN has always been local and forward thinking. The approach has earned them strong ratings and a couple of Marconi nominations as the best sports station in the country. For example, they cut back on live phone calls in favor of the more compact mic drops. The website has served as a platform for original video, written, and podcasting content. The promotions and programming departments have taken chances too by creating live events around eSports.

The current approach to new strategies and ideas remains consistent with what Barrett introduced in 2009. He made sure the people he wanted to hire knew he wanted them. He invited Bob Stelton to sit in on a staff meeting the first time he visited St. Louis to get an idea of the working environment. He met with McCrite in Louisville to make sure he knew what he was in for, and he didn’t object to having to win over Bernie Miklasz, who was wary of what he had heard about him following two tough years at 590 the Fan.

Stelton echoed a sentiment about the environment Barrett and Kijowski created that I heard from a number of people. The staff was professional, but also behaved like a family. More importantly, nothing was sugarcoated.

“He’s absolutely my kind of PD. Very invested, very passionate and creative. But most importantly, very honest. I have huge respect for that.”

Barrett left the station in May of 2011 to join Entercom and launch 95.7 the Game in San Francisco. Now, Barrett serves as a consultant for a number of sports radio stations across the country.

“They are the unstoppable machine in the market right now,” Barrett says of 101 ESPN. “There has been talk over the years about someone trying to take them on but it hasn’t happened because it’s a well run brand by an excellent radio company and it’d take a lot to slow them down. John, Hoss and Hubbard’s executive team deserve a lot of credit for taking what we started in 2009 and lifting it to even greater heights.”

Sterling, another former PD, also acknowledges that the station is thriving today and isn’t surprised to see Neupert at the helm of a winning product.

“I’m very pleased for Hoss Neupert’s success as the PD. It’s a better station today than the one I left, and it was a pretty damn good station then, so Hoss has done a hell of a job.”

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“The one thing I hope you take away from this is that we are a family here. That matters to us,” Neupert told me. “We want to succeed for each other.”

Randy Karraker echoed that sentiment. He told me that between being asked for input, not just on who he wanted to work with, but on what personalities could thrive with the support structure set up by management, he felt valued. He had a personal stake in 101 ESPN’s success.

“It felt like home,” he told me. “I told John Kijowski that early on. I said “I’ve never been at a place where I’m walking down the hall and it feels like home.’ Everybody to work with here is great. The facilities are great. They want you to feel comfortable. I think that is part of the reason for the success. Everybody here feels that way.”

John Kijowski also wants to succeed for St. Louis. He and the higher-ups at Hubbard know the best way to do that is to talk as much about St. Louis as possible.

“This thing has changed everything,” JK says as he picks up my phone. “People don’t go to the 10:20 news on TV in St. Louis to find out the score of the Cardinals game. They have the score right on their phone. The reason you have to have live and local shows between 6a and 7p is because it’s not about the score. It’s about opinion. It’s about perspective. And you have to have strong personalities. That is why people still believe in sports talk radio.”

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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