We’ve entered the infection phase of this ill-advised, money-grabbing, Ghostbusters-like battle to resume sports amid a pandemic, as a familiar soundtrack hums ominously: “I ain’t afraid of no COVID.’’ I wasn’t shocked to hear from an agent friend confirming that one of his NBA players had tested positive for the coronavirus, which, I assumed, would prompt the league or the player’s team to immediately test the agent and any family members and friends who’d been in close contact.
I assumed wrongly.
“Those of us who have been around him haven’t been tested yet,’’ he texted Thursday, saying it was difficult “to get in anywhere’’ in a virus-pounded state.
A day passed. “Still haven’t been tested yet,’’ he wrote.
Another day passed. Finally, he decided to proceed urgently without the team’s help. “Pulled up to (a public testing site) and got lucky. 30-minute wait. (The team) was taking too long,’’ he wrote, adding that the player’s girlfriend and others also were tested and nervously awaiting results.
My thoughts turned to Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. He’s the one league boss positioned to be remembered as a miracle-worker … or the madman who oversaw a colossal disaster in his Let’s Save Society Bubble at Disney World. Unlike Major League Baseball, the NFL and college football — whose seasons are imperiled by too much human interaction with the outside world — Silver has created an isolated environment that seemingly gives his league a chance to complete its postseason in early October. Yet already, before players arrive in the Orlando area, there is a crack in the plan, concurrent with a 65 percent rise in U.S. coronavirus cases over the last two weeks.
Why couldn’t the NBA or the team secure tests for an infected player’s inner circle? According to league protocol, a player who tests positive “will remain in self isolation until he satisfie(s) public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician.’’ Understood. But what about loved ones, their health and the health of those with whom they’ve been in contact? It’s disturbing they had to wait days before finding their own pathway to tests, increasing their risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.
As it is, the $200 billion sports industry is hoarding medical resources — including tens of thousands of tests — as surges overwhelm hospitals, strain laboratories and force desperate test-seekers in hard-hit Florida, Arizona, Texas and other states to wait for hours in chaotic car lines, often to no avail. The ongoing fear is that the country’s health-care systems will implode, and, in an ideal world, sports would set aside its zeal to recoup lost fortunes and use its influence to help America get well. But hey, the commissioners keep telling us, the White House has urged sports to play on, never mind that some of those leagues — hello, NBA — have excoriated President Trump for years. For that matter, consider the protests of Texas Rangers employees who say they fear for their health — “We are terrified for our safety,’’ one told ESPN — and feel pressured to report to work at new Globe Life Field in an organization blitzed by the virus.
Those are glaring examples of how a fraught, delusional venture into the unknown represents a daunting whack-a-mole game for sports, a dam that could burst at any moment in coming weeks. In what feels like only Round 2 of a 15-round brawl, these houses of cards depend entirely on testing protocols that will determine whether seasons are miraculously finished or collapse in an avalanche of infections and spreads. Yet with preseason training set to begin, the NBA and MLB appear to be viewing coronavirus infections — which can cause victims to become violently ill or die; have the potential to spread wildly through teams, leagues and communities; and do particular damage statistically within Black America — as no less severe on a diagnosis scale than a sprained ankle.
Test positive, self-quarantine for at least seven days and no longer than 14 days, then return to your NBA team.
Test positive, self-quarantine, produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, show no symptoms for 72 hours, then return to your MLB club.
Suck it up, get your ass back out there and risk your life because — to paraphrase the immortal Mike Gundy — we need to run money through the leagues and broadcast networks.
Sports reflects a divided America, split politically and geographically about the dangers of the pandemic, with leagues bullrushing back to a desired new normalcy. Are the owners and commissioners any different than the Mask Truthers who create the cultural disconnect? “It appears America isn’t just dealing with a deadly strain of coronavirus — it’s also dealing with a deadly strain of stupidity,’’ said the social commentator, Trevor Noah. It’s still difficult to wrap my brain around the lunacy that baseball and basketball seasons are starting, soon to be joined by football camps, while infection numbers are exploding, states are backtracking on reopenings and people continue to die in large numbers.
In one corner, we have Malcolm Jenkins, the activist and NFL Players Association committeeman, speaking the truth: “Until we get to the point where we have protocols in place, and until we get to a place as a country where we all feel safe doing it, we have to understand that football is a nonessential business. And so we don’t need to do it. And so the risk has to be really eliminated before … I would feel comfortable with going back.” In the opposite corner is Tom Brady, idolized by millions as the greatest quarterback ever, recklessly disregarding virus-related orders in ravaged Florida by continuing to hold workouts in public settings with Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates. Apparently believing that his TB12 wellness plan is bigger than All Things COVID-19, Brady — now a month from his 43rd birthday — used Instagram to post a photo of himself drinking water beside a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’’
Tell that to the families of at least 123,000 dead Americans, who might want the NFL to call out Brady and another COVIDiot, Russell Wilson. It was good to see DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, strike first. “They’re not in the best interest of protecting our players heading into training camp, and I don’t think they are in the best interest of us getting through an entire season,” Smith told USA Today.
It’s one thing to test perilous waters, quite another to attack COVID-19 as some sort of heroic war mission. If so, the leagues are kamikaze pilots venturing into a harrowing air raid. Emboldened by business and athletic egos that have pushed them to become massive successes, the leaders of this resumption movement are striving to somehow be larger than the health crisis of our time, as if they’re action figures trying to take down Godzilla, King King and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. They actually think they can pull off the historic upset, in the tradition of major sports upsets such as Miracle On Ice, which suggests their audacity to proceed with live games involves more than financial interests. Never mind that competitive integrity will be shredded. The traditional purpose of sports — crowning a champion — has been blown out by the overriding goal of finishing a season, making back lost money and conquering the virus.
In Silver’s case, legacy is largely at play. Aware that he was the first commissioner to shut down a league, after Rudy Gobert’s positive test on March 11, Silver and his messengers aren’t afraid to send a bold message: The NBA’s plan is too big to fail, which sounds much like, “I ain’t afraid of no COVID.’’ But when they say that, are they aware Gobert says he hasn’t fully recovered? The Utah Jazz center told the French sports publication L’Equipe, “The taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100 percent. I can smell the smells, but not from afar. I spoke to specialists, who told me that it could take up to a year.’’
A year, he said. How is that newsflash going to fly among teammates — including Donovan Mitchell, who still thinks he caught the virus from Gobert — and opposing players inside Silver’s Magic Kingdom? And how about rumors that LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers players have been secretly scrimmaging at a billionaire’s Bel-Air mansion? If athletes can be so dismissive of a government quarantine, do we really expect hundreds of players and support staff members — most in the category of millennials and Gen Zers who don’t grasp COVID-19’s inherent seriousness — to faithfully stay in the bubble for weeks and months? Should I bring up abstinence, the implausibility of NBA players not having sex for extended periods? When family members are allowed in the bubble after the first playoff round, will they follow orders? And what about Disney employees, those who cook and clean and maintain the bubble, who currently aren’t required to test in the bubble? If this pipedream has any chance in hell of working, every detail must be airtight. Isn’t that impossible, when human behavior can’t be controlled?
I’m just being real. Silver prefers to think hopefully.
“We believe we’ve developed a safe and responsible way to restart the season,” he said on a media conference call. “We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now. We can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely. We must adapt. We’re coming back because sports matter in a society. They bring people together when we need it the most.”
His thoughts are echoed by MLB, which wrote this to union members in a 101-page operations manual concerning health and safety: “This is a challenging time, but we will meet the challenge by continuing to work together. Adherence to the health and safety protocols described in this manual will increase our likelihood of being successful. We hope that resuming baseball will, in its own small way, return a sense of normalcy and aid in recovery.”
Sports doesn’t matter to society any more than Hollywood matters, Broadway matters, music matters. So why have those entertainment industries shut down for the calendar year while sports marches on? Why have Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Guns N’ Roses and all other musical acts canceled 2020 events at new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles — where one construction worker died in a fall and 18 others have tested positive for COVID-19 — while two NFL exhibition games remain on schedule for Aug. 14-15? Because sports is powered by television and the assumption that game-starved fans will watch in record numbers, even in buildings without spectators, regardless of predictable obstacles: coronavirus victims, defections by athletes who decide they don’t trust the risks, injuries caused by long layoffs and short preseasons, and the lack of energy without fans whose importance to the live sports experience is taken for granted.
The anticipated TV ratings, backed by advertisers also anxious to energize their brands, is why the risks are worthwhile for leagues. Silver knows a crash is possible, which would leave a permanent stain on the league and how he is remembered. Already, several prominent players — Nikola Jokic, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick Jones Jr. — are among the most recent roll call of 16 who tested positive, meaning at least 30 players have been infected and probably many more. Which poses another problem: Will leagues be transparent about who tests positive during the season, such as if a superstar is infected? Face it, if James or Giannis Anteteokounmpo failed a test, it would create a public outcry to shut down the NBA. Same goes for the other leagues. Wouldn’t it be convenient for everyone involved — including ESPN, which has abandoned all pretenses of independent journalism concerning its business partners — to call the injury an ankle sprain? If so, Silver and other commissioners better be watchful of the gaming industry they’ve been eagerly courting. If you want gamblers to bet on games during a pandemic, you’d better be honest with them about COVID-19. Or else, you’re committing consumer fraud.
Privacy laws might protect leagues and teams when they decline to identify names. So they want fans to watch and gamble — and, technically, pay for TV sports packages — without knowing who has tested positive. Is that ethical? No. Said Andrew Friedman, baseball operations president of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “We’ve had some people in our organization test positive, none that have resulted in symptoms that have been problematic. It’s very much a personal thing that if any want to share, it’s up to them.”
It’s another reason to pause and wonder: Why are they doing this?
Allow the imagination to wander. Just as there are billions of reasons for leagues and networks to resume, there are billions of reasons why the plan might not succeed. At least Silver knows that, saying, “If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus throughout the community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping. We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens, but we feel very comfortable right now with where we are. We’re working closely with the Players Association, Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be. It hasn’t been precisely designed. I think we want to get down on the ground and start to see how our test is working and how protocols are working, and then we’ll make decisions as we go.’’
When examining the four major sports leagues and college football, the NBA does have the best shot. There is no faith that MLB boss Rob Manfred, who has failed at labor talks and game pace and sign-stealing justice and pretty much everything else, will pull off a 60-game regular season and postseason without disruptions and an eventual crash. Tests are being administered only every other day, unlike the NBA’s every-day procedure, further jeopardizing players and support staff as virus carriers who will be in contact with family members after long days at local ballparks, not to mention road trips and hotels. Baseball players, by nature, are the least likely to abide by protocols. “What happens when we all get it?’’ tweeted Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson, speaking for many.
The NFL has the advantage of a regular season that doesn’t begin until early September, allowing commissioner Roger Goodell to take notes and adapt. But football, as a collision sport played by sweating and breathing warriors, is the riskiest of all coronavirus challenges. “The NBA is a lot different than the NFL because they can actually quarantine all of their players or whoever is going to participate. We have over 2,000 players, even more coaches and staff. We can’t do that,” Jenkins said. “So we’ll end up being on this trust system, the honor system, where we just have to hope that guys are social distancing and things like that. And that puts all of us at risk, not only us as players and who’s in the building, but when you go home to your families. You know, I have parents that I don’t want to get sick.’’ In that vein, college football has zero chance as long as reckless young people jam into bars and spread the virus among themselves and fellow students, with an elite program, Clemson, shaming itself with 37 coronavirus cases. Hockey, like basketball and football, is defined by non-stop contact and in-your-face proximity, giving commissioner Gary Bettman time to study the NBA bubble. And golf? We’d have thought the one socially distanced sport would have few problems, but the COVID-19 dramas build by the day, with Brooks Koepka among players dropping out of the Travelers Championship after caddies tested positive.
“It’s pretty clear this virus isn’t going anywhere,’’ said PGA Tour boss Jay Monahan, warning of “serious repercussions’’ for those not obeying policies. That didn’t stop CBS analyst Nick Faldo, who should know better, from mocking Koepka’s absence. Faldo, ticked off about Koepka’s remark that golf announcers should “shut up and listen’’ in his opposition toward networks placing live microphones on players, said this on the broadcast: “I was looking forward to hearing some more fascinating stuff from him, but unfortunately he wasn’t around this week. I know he’s watching at home, because he loves listening to we analysts and our scintillating insights. He’s probably poolside in his thong, you know, enjoying himself.’’
No, that animal would be tennis king Novak Djokovic, throwing a dance party and infecting himself and others. Koepka actually was taking the responsible approach.
All of which makes me ask once more: Does someone have to die before sports is shut down? Actually, the baseball and football seasons could be canceled by one statewide order in, say California, where five MLB clubs and three NFL teams would have to scramble — to where? — to play home games. If governor Gavin Newsom was forced to close bars in Los Angeles County this past weekend, why would he open stadiums for even spectator-less games? The public health chief in Houston, Dr. David Persse, says he won’t hesitate to shut down Minute Maid Park, which would put the cheating Astros out of their misery. Here is where Silver has another edge: No way Florida governor Ron DeSantis, father of America’s second coronavirus wave, would cancel the NBA season.
Even when it reaches the point where he should, to save lives.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
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.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
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?”
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.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.