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Everyone Appreciates Zach Gelb’s Grind

“I don’t like to look too far ahead, I have an incredible opportunity being 25 and doing a show Monday through Friday. If I try to think too much ahead, it will be a disservice to the audience.”

Brandon Contes

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You could say Zach Gelb was born into sports talk radio. Growing up the son of a longtime WFAN employee may have triggered Zach’s desire to work in sports radio, but it’s his own hard work that led him to where he is today.

When he was a kid, he’d go to work with his dad, Bob Gelb who produced Mike and the Mad Dog and later moved into sales and marketing for the station. Zach quickly grew an affinity for the industry and knew it was something he wanted to make a career out of.

Zach Gelb | CBS Sports Radio

From hopping on-air with Joe Benigno at eight-years old, to hosting internet radio shows in his parents’ basement, to building a professional sounding station at Temple University, Zach’s educational years always featured sports radio.

But his young career has never been without networking, taking chances and seeking opportunities to prove himself as a rising star in the industry. At the age of 25, Zach began the year 2020 as the new weeknight host for Entercom’s CBS Sports Radio, where you can hear him on their national network of stations Monday – Friday from 6 – 10pm ET.

Brandon Contes: The first time I heard something on-air from you was two years ago, when Boomer and Gio played your “I’m a professional broadcaster” rant [Laughs] with you yelling at your producer.

Zach Gelb: [Laughs] Of course. We were watching the NBA Draft lottery and they were taking forever, interviewing everyone associated with the top draft picks. It was obnoxious how they were dragging it out. My board-op told me to get to a read, which I already did. And then in the middle of the rant he was in my ear again reminding me about the read. I knew we still had a minute at the backend, so I was going to squeeze it in there, but again he says get to the read! That caused me to go off for a second, we were laughing about it afterwards, but it definitely got a lot of exposure when Boomer and Gio had fun with it the next day.

BC: It was a light-hearted, fun moment, but I still give credit to the producer and board-op that’s able to accept the on-air ribbing and realize the entertainment value in that moment. But people hear yelling at someone behind the glass and they go back to Mike and the Mad Dog – nicely produced, never hesitating to blame something on the producer. The funny part is – you’re in a unique spot because for years, their producer was your dad.

ZG: [Laughs] When I was talking about it the next day with Eddie Scozzare (Boomer and Gio’s board-op who held the same role for Mike and the Mad Dog) and Al Dukes (Boomer and Gio producer), they were getting a kick out of it. Eddie called it the cycle of abuse, but if we’re being honest I have a great relationship with everyone I work with behind the scenes, especially because it wasn’t that long ago when I was running my own board and producing my own show, while programming a station.

I have a great appreciation for the people behind the scenes and love their input. A successful show and what makes a great host is someone who comes in with ideas for guests and segments, but then I’ll ask how can we improve this? Because sometimes as a host, we might think we know everything, but it’s good to have people to bounce ideas off.

BC: Obviously you grew up around it, but did you always want to work in radio?

ZG: When I was eight years old all I wanted to do was skip school and go to work with my dad. One of my first on-air encounters, Ray Martel was producing the WFAN midday show. Martel is a big New England Patriots fan, and I grew up a Patriots fan too. I wore a Tom Brady jersey to the studios. Joe Benigno saw me, and they thought it would be a cute bit to have a kid on-air talking smack with Benigno. [Laughs]

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In the car ride home, I told my dad I wanted to do sports talk radio for a living. From there I started doing shows in my parents’ basement in high school and it developed into where I’m at today.

BC: Were those shows in your parents’ basement just for fun? Was it a podcast or broadcast anywhere?

ZG: It was on a network that’s no longer around called Shovio. Sid Rosenberg was on it, Leslie Gold The Radio Chick, Buc Wild, and they had an amateur channel which Sid suggested I try. I built some NFL connections, I went to the Super Bowl and got to interview Adam Sandler from Radio Row. I was doing that show when Rob Gronkowski was a rookie, I found him on Facebook, sent him a message and he came on for an interview. That’s also when I joined Twitter, I joined to send Kurt Warner a tweet and he came on the show after the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl the second time. I received necessary reps, even before I went to college.

BC: And then you went on to Temple, did you get to know Matt Rhule while you were there?

ZG: Yea I got to know Matt very well. I broke the story that he was leaving the Giants to become head coach at Temple. I would have him in studio, I would go to his office and Matt is still a guy that comes on with us to this day. We’re working on getting him on the new show soon.

BC: What station did you do your first professional show?

ZG: Right out of college, I did an afternoon drive show, producing a sports station and the irony is I was also running a Catholic station as a Jewish man which I get a kick out of. But it was Connoisseur Media and 920 The Jersey. Then I was hired to do Eagles postgame for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philly and soon after I spoke to Eric Spitz to start doing some shows with CBS Sports Radio. Last fall I moved to SiriusXM and now I’m back with CBS Sports Radio.

BC: Your dad has worked at WFAN throughout your whole life, but were you listening to Mike and the Mad Dog when he was producing or were you too young at that point?

ZG: I was younger, but for as long as I can remember I was listening. My birth was announced on-air!

Two early FAN encounters that stick with me, first when I met Don Imus. I remember my dad coming home and talking to my mom after work and even when he had a rough day, he would never curse in front of me or my sister. But with Imus, he would refer to him as the grouchy grandpa when talking in front of us. I was probably four or five the first time I met Imus, we were in an elevator and my dad said, ‘Zach this is Mr. Don Imus’ and I said ‘oh yea! the grouchy grandpa!’

Another time when I was with my dad, Mike and Chris were talking about famous Jewish baseball players, and I was in studio, as a kid, shouting names like Shawn Green in the background. Mark Chernoff quickly came in to tell the producer my shouting didn’t sound good off microphone so stop doing it. And now Mark is one of my bosses. [Laughs]

BC: You also interned at WIP in Philly, with another legendary radio host.

ZG: Yea, I interned with Angelo Cataldi which was great. What you get on-air with Angelo is what you get off-air. Angelo is so benevolent with his time. To this day, if you ever worked or interned on his show, you’re part of the family. Even as an intern I would sit in production meetings and offer suggestions of guests I had contacts for, Tom Glavine or Joe Theismann, and that helped us develop a relationship. Angelo gets to the studio around 3:30 in the morning and he was always helpful and great with his time in showing me how to think about things and present them on-air.

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BC: So Mike Francesa, Chris Russo, Sid Rosenberg, Angelo Cataldi, that’s some incredible names and talent to grow up around, watch first hand and learn from. It doesn’t get much better for a kid that wants to work in radio.

ZG: I think I have some of the greatest education that anyone my age received in broadcasting because I grew up around it and I would talk to them and network at a young age. To be able to learn from Sid Rosenberg, Mike and Chris, Angelo and Howard Eskin, it really helped.

BC: I’m sure it’s also fun for them to see you come back as a host because you being a middle school kid, high school, college, those days probably don’t feel very long ago to them, so to see you hosting on a national stage now at 25, it’s gotta be cool to watch that growth.

ZG: Absolutely. A lot of hosts like to give back because they remember me, that goes with players and coaches too. Matt Rhule, I first interviewed him when I was in college and now I’m on a national stage. They respect that grind.

The first time I interviewed Jim Nantz, I was in college. A few weeks ago, when he was doing a game in Philly he still invites me up to the broadcast booth and I think he appreciates the craft, the grind and the hard work. Kevin Harlan once said I’m better than he was at my age and – my jaw hit the floor – pinch me, there’s no way he said that. But they enjoy seeing the progression and it helps me realize the hard work is paying off.

BC: Do you have a show prep method? Do you listen to a lot of other shows, take in a lot of opinions, load up on stats and information?

ZG: I know some hosts say they never listen. I don’t buy that because people in this business are a fan of this business. Are there times I’m in my car listening to music? Sure, but it’s important to listen because you can develop a relationship with other shows.

As far as preparation its 24/7, my philosophy is simple. Give a product that’s compelling and entertaining. You want to encourage fan interaction on-air and on social media and you need to get guests that are some of the biggest names in sports. Don’t put someone on for the sake of putting them on and we’ve done that exceptionally well.

In the last two years on weekend overnights, we made national news. Whether it was Hue Jackson talking about Baker Mayfield, Bob Wylie about Freddie Kitchens, Donovan McNabb saying Carson Wentz needs to get to an NFC title game or the Eagles need to look for a new quarterback in the next couple years.

Social media is so important, we need to get those clips out, send them to local writers because not everyone’s listening to the show for four hours so pushing that content out on social and getting others to share it is very important.

BC: How about hosting nationally vs locally. You grew up around local radio, but they’re not talking about Hue Jackson and Baker Mayfield much on WFAN, do you like having the freedom to create different topics?

ZG: I like the options, it keeps you on your toes. For example, in New York you can do four hours on Carlos Beltran and the Mets easily. On the national stage, you need to find a larger conversation. You need to mix in the Astros and bring in the discussion of should players be suspended for the sign-stealing scandal? Broaden the conversation and invite the listener into the discussion so they’re not getting into their car saying he’s just talking about the Mets again.

Taking a topic and branching into conversations that fit nationally can be challenging, but it’s also the fun part, as is interacting with fans from all over the country and having those diverse opinions join the discussion.

BC: You’re 25 years old, you have a full-time gig on a national platform, what are you chasing? Is it a different time slot? A bigger platform? Going back to local, staying national? Are you even able to look ahead?

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ZG: I want to grow the show, develop as a broadcaster and take advantage of the opportunity I have right now. I don’t like to look too far ahead, I have an incredible opportunity being 25 and doing a show Monday through Friday. If I try to think too much ahead, it will be a disservice to the audience. You’re only as good as your last show in this business and you don’t want to slip up.

BC: It’s happened quick, to get where you are at 25 is a testament to your hard work and talent, but going from being a kid shouting in the background of a Mike and the Mad Dog broadcast, to internet radio, college radio, 920 The Jersey, local radio, part-time radio, to where you are now as a national host, have you been able to enjoy the progression? Absorb the ride?

ZG: No question, I appreciate it greatly and it shows hard work pays off. I don’t get complacent, I’m hungry as ever, grinding and booking my own guests, continuing to network. If anyone gets upset in this business, I always find that comical. You can be frustrated, but if you get upset and start to resent the business – there are so many people that would love to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work everyday and do this for a living. I have fun with it and don’t take myself too seriously. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life just with what’s happened the last couple months.

BSM Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Chris Fowler Knows You Know He Isn’t In Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

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

Derek Futterman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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