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A Defining Time: NFL Diplomacy, NBA Audacity, MLB Absurdity

As the NFL finally apologizes to outraged black players and the NBA dangerously proceeds amid coronavirus threats, baseball is committing labor suicide writes Jay Mariotti, identifying lasting sea changes in the Big Three leagues.”

Jay Mariotti

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Evidently, the gods were fed up. So they punked us, turning 2020 into an American comeuppance, making us reassess who we are and where we’re going in the trials of hatred, wellness and the Trumpian condition. Amid crisis, the strong are separated from the feeble, the astute from the foolish, the honest from the corrupt and — sorry, I must — the authentic leaders from the reality TV fatheads.

Sports is no different. Extraordinary events have brought defining days for the country’s three major leagues, and in each case, we already can see where the future is headed. A triple whammy of racial injustice, a pandemic and economic upheaval requires uncommon guidance in an industry that often can’t get out of its way in normal times, much less when many are asking what’s possibly next — anyone checked on Bigfoot lately? — in our unending year from hell. The operative questions: Which leagues will pivot, survive the storms and carry on? And which will crash?

Put it this way: If sports can be compared to a cartoon show right now, Roger Goodell is Sheriff Woody, Adam Silver is Hercules and Rob Manfred is Elmer Fudd.

In a turbulent week of dangerous racial backlash, the NFL might have been saved from years of mayhem by its pullstring toy of a commissioner. In a remarkable but essential change of heart, Goodell endorsed peaceful kneeling protests with the help — I could not make this up — of a league media employee “embarrassed’’ by his bosses’ silence all week. Goodell found himself at another existential crossroads in what has been his most glaring weakness: relations with African-American players who comprise 70 percent of league rosters. In one corner was one of football’s most prominent white figures, Drew Brees, who quickly apologized after infuriating black America with pro-flag, pro-military, anti-Kaepernick views regarding kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ In another corner were Patrick Mahomes and more than a dozen black players, demanding in a powerful video montage — as secretly masterminded by Bryndon Minter, an NFL social media creator — that the league “condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people’’ and “admit wrong in silencing players from peacefully protesting.’’ And in yet another corner, President Trump was exacerbating the raging fire as only he can, weighing in more demonstratively on Brees and the flag than he has on the horrific police-brutality killing of George Floyd.

Trump Faults Saints Quarterback Drew Brees Over Anthem Apology ...

“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high…,’’ Trump tweeted before reiterating his view on pre-game sideline protocol: “…We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!’’

What Trump was doing was challenging Goodell and the league’s most powerful owners, white billionaires such as Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, as he did three years ago, when he “instructed’’ the league on how to deal with kneelers inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s stance: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.’’ It didn’t take long for the NFL and its broadcast partners, pressured by advertisers, to stop airing the protests and allow the demonstrations to fizzle out. But after the eight-minute, 46-second knee-choke of Floyd by a twisted Minneapolis police officer, the players wanted new answers to the same questions. Would Goodell side as usual with his money partners, knowing the league has a fresh collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association that extends through the decade? Or would he finally say something smart and avoid potential a mass walkout by players who still think Kaepernick, last gainfully employed in the league four years ago, has been blackballed?

The string was pulled on the talking doll. Shockingly, Goodell sided with the players, delivering a blow to Trump and showing how a policy flip-flop is more sensible in a chaotic moment than stubbornness. “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” he said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter. … Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.”

Yet before we nominate Goodell for a Nobel Prize, consider none of this would have happened without the work of Minter. In a project that should have come from the mind of Goodell, Minter reached out to New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas, who had been strongly critical of Brees, the man who throws him passes. “Want to help you create content to be heard around the league,’’ Minter wrote via direct message, as first reported by Yahoo Sports. “Want to help you create content to be heard around the league. I’m a NFL social employee and am embarrassed by how the league has been silent this week. The NFL hasn’t condemned racism. The NFL hasn’t said that Black Lives Matter. I want (to) help you put the pressure on. And arm you with a video that expresses YOUR voice and (what) you want from the League. Give me a holler if you’re interested in working together, thanks bro!”

Thomas hollered. The rest is history, a video titled, “I am George Floyd.’’ Should we nominate Minter for the Nobel Prize? Or maybe make him commissioner?

Drew Brees' apology met with more criticism while some Saints ...

If this was the NFL’s zero hour, the resulting vibe is hope, a feeling further bolstered by Brees. He didn’t have to say another word. Instead, he answered Trump’s tweet by doubling down on his apology. “Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote on Instagram. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities. We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?’’

Trump isn’t succumbing easily, tweeting, “”Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?” Thus, this will be a test of Goodell’s sincerity and will. Has a sports commissioner ever been wedged in a more sensitive position, having to choose between a president or Black Lives Matter?

A cynic — and I can be one — might smirk at the wishy-washiness of it all, how suddenly Goodell and Brees changed their minds in the face of social-media outrage. And let’s see, if and when the coronavirus allows the NFL to start a season, how the protests play out. Will the league and networks be respectful, stick to Goodell’s apology and televise kneeling scenes if dozens of players choose to do so all season — and for seasons to come, as long as they so desire? Or will the league, with backlash from owners, coaches and players not supporting the protests, incrementally push the movement from view again? The kneeling sessions, Goodell must realize now, will be ramped up to maximum, relentless levels.

“Years ago seeing Kaepernick taking a knee, now we’re all ready to take a knee together going into this season without a doubt,’’ said NFL veteran Adrian Peterson, a former teammate of Brees. If not, Peterson says he won’t play, adding, “Are they going to try to punish us all? If not playing football is going to help us save lives and change things, then that’s just what it has to be.’’

Dabo Swinney Gets Criticized For Wearing 'Football Matters' Shirt ...

If only college football could strive for better awareness. Racism charges are flying across the landscape, starting with the great Dabo Swinney down yonder at Clemson. A white assistant coach, Danny Pearman, apologized for using the N-word in a 2017 practice. Swinney’s statement didn’t exactly condemn the incident: “We have to all accept the challenge and bring about positive change and growth.’’ Over the weekend, a photo surfaced of what appears to be Swinney wearing the phrase FOOTBALL MATTERS on a t-shirt. His quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, had to play defense attorney, tweeting, “Coach Swinney’s shirt, in any way, is not mocking the Black Lives Matter movement. He has been wearing the shirt for months in meetings.” Memo to Dabo: Ditch the shirt.

The NBA has no such racial issues. An unlikely leadership triumvirate — boss Silver, Walt Disney Company executive chairman Bob Iger and an NBA star mentored by Iger, Chris Paul — found Kumbaya as the first U.S. power league to announce a resumption of play. Their common ground wasn’t American pluck or any such self-serving nonsense other than, of course, money: the $1 billion-plus the league will lose if it doesn’t stage a remaining piece of the regular season and entire postseason for its TV partners, including Disney-owned ESPN, which would lose $500 million in ad revenue if the season isn’t completed. The players also want to be paid, so here we go, coronavirus be damned, a 22-team rollout scheduled to begin training on July 9 and real games on July 31 in the Disney-owned sports complex at DIsney-owned Walt Disney World. Some are referring to Silver, Iger and Paul as trailblazers. And the commissioner, I must say, is going balls-out like Hercules.

But I would wait on all hosannas until we see what the almighty virus thinks. Because, for all anyone knows, Silver and his braintrust might be reckless superspreaders who enable outbreaks that send players fleeing, shut down the season and tarnish the league forever. Hey, what could go wrong inside a bubble of 1,600 people, including three family members per player after the first postseason round? And testing every person in the bubble once a day, as people come and go while the season progresses — that’s supposed to make us feel comfortable? I don’t need to remind you that basketball, as a close-contact indoor sport, is particularly vulnerable to spread of an infectious disease. And I don’t understand why Silver is so bullish on teams continuing to play games when a player tests positive for the virus — when, not if — whereupon the player is quarantined for at least seven days while everyone else keeps running and sweating and posting up. Is this not a health gamble of epic proportion? At least the league doesn’t want anyone to leave the bubble, but these are men in their 20s and 30s who think they’re immune from the virus and don’t take no for an answer. If LeBron James wants to go out one night with his guys, the league is going to say no? If Paul wants to play golf with Iger, the league is going to say no?

And what if James and/or Paul contracts the coronavirus somewhere in Florida and spreads it among their teammates and other teams? Not to pick on those two — it could be any player — but transmission remains high in the U.S., if not currently in the Orlando area. Hundreds of people will be arriving from all points of a country ravaged by COVID-19. Even Silver admitted, on TNT’s “Inside The NBA, that he is “choosing among multiple bad alternatives given the pandemic that we’re dealing with.’’ So when I say the odds of completing the season are as good as the Phoenix Suns winning the asterisked title, or Conor McGregor’s UFC “retirement’’ sticking, tell me:

Why, again, are we doing this?

Wealth trumps health, pun intended.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets 5-year extension

“The belief is we would not have to shut down if a single player tested positive,’’ Silver said. “”We’ve been dealing with a group of experts plus public health authorities in Florida, and the view is if we’re testing every day and we’re able to trace in essence the contacts that a player has had, we are able to contain that player and separate him from the team. We have learned a lot more about the virus since we shut down in March. The data is demonstrating that for the most part — there are exceptions — that healthy young people are the least vulnerable.”

What about older coaches and officials? “There are people involved in this league who are more vulnerable,’’ Silver said, “so we’re going to have to work through protocols.’’ In other words, so what if 69-year-old Mike D’Antoni and 65-year-old Alvin Gentry are sacrificed, as long as James Harden and Zion Williamson can be showcased on TV?

Though fraught with peril, the NBA’s return is symbolic as the most woke league on Earth, much too evolved from the top down to encounter the NFL’s racial dilemmas. Gregg Popovich is 71 and subject to age protocols, but with the San Antonio Spurs considered non-factors in Orlando, he will make his presence known via activism. He posted a video on the team website firing on his favorite target, Trump, saying he’s “embarrassed as a white person’’ about the manner of Floyd’s death and that “the country is in trouble, and the basic reason is race.’’ Said Popovich, also the U.S. Olympic men’s coach: “It’s got to be (white people) to speak truth to power, that call it out no matter the consequence. … To actually watch a lynching. We’ve all seen books, and you look in the books and you see black people hanging off of trees. And you are amazed. But we just saw it again. I never thought I’d see that, with my own eyes, in real time.”

Even when not playing games, the NBA is socially relevant. Michael Jordan could have donated $1 million to organizations “dedicated to ensuring racial equality’’ and earned universal praise. He and his Jordan Brand gave $100 million.

Coronavirus: MLB, MLBPA reach deal, giving players full service ...

Major League Baseball, meanwhile, is just dead. Ignoring dire warnings that it faces irreparable damage if the season is canceled, owners and players continue to wage a hideous labor war. At this point, taking a side is unnecessary because the general public has stopped caring. Apathy is a lethal concern. To not play a game for more than 17 months, from the last pitch of 2019 to the presumed first pitch of 2021, is suicidal for a sport that has been fading for years in importance and TV ratings. Manfred is either Eimer Fudd, Goofy or Dopey, preferring to have his deputy engage in letter-writing crossfire with the union’s top negotiator, who accused MLB of “a cynical tactic of depriving America of baseball games.’’

Yep, the union thinks the owners don’t want a season and are trying to deflect blame onto the players. All of which is disgraceful, as if ignoring George Floyd, a deadly pandemic and the 40 million who’ve filed jobless claims in this country. Baseball deserves to go away and never return.

I stand by my conclusion in March: Sports in America should shut down until 2021 and reboot toward a new way of life. If you disagree, consider what happened last week when Alabama, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Marshall welcomed athletes back to campus for training.

All had multiple players test positive for COVID-19.

It’s only June.

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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BSM Writers

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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BSM Writers

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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Barrett Media Writers

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