As ESPN prepares for the August 17th launch of their new national radio slate, we have had a chance to familiarize ourselves with the talent and time slots for each show. The sheer amount of talent and depth on their roster is truly astounding. Demetri Ravanos spoke with Jay Williams, Brandon Contes spoke with Keyshawn Johnson, and I had the privilege of speaking with Chiney Ogwumike, host of Chiney and Golic Jr, on the opportunity, her future in the WNBA, and being part of a team that is shattering the backboard and glass ceiling for athletes and broadcasters, as they have become ‘the first’ in many respects.
ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Production David Roberts spoke on the duo. “They are relevant, youthful, energetic and committed to being the very best. Chiney is the first African-American woman on network sports talk radio Monday-Friday in the country. It’s a testament to her talent and unlimited potential.“
Chrissy Paradis: There is definitely this stereotype that exists as well that females aren’t helpful to one another or they can’t be a resource in a competitive industry. I’m like, that could not be like any further from the truth. Because, who doesn’t want for another female to succeed in a business setting?
Chiney Ogwumike: Big facts. And that hasn’t been my experience I just think until we have Enough numbers to tell that story, then that will change. We’ll do it one by one, right?
CP: Right! And, it’s interesting because you and I have a lot in common already, I know that you are a big Annalise Keating / How To Get Away With Murder fan…
CO: Oh my gosh. Don’t even play me right now—
CP: I struggle with if I could just hang out with Olivia Pope or Annalise Keating for a day, who would it be and I go back and forth. And when I was looking online and saw Viola Davis (who plays Annalise Keating on How To Get Away With Murder) followed you, I was thinking, ‘Okay, this interview was meant to be!’ When they did the crossover episodes. I think that Annalise did get that TKO in..
CO: Yes! Yes! The funny thing is that I used to tweet so much about Scandal, I was a live tweeter. I feel like, that, to me, was the biggest follow I’ve ever had on social media. I went nuts.
CP: And that actually is one of my questions, which three powerful, boss women, would you like to spend a day with, Viola Davis being one? Are there two others you’d like to add?
CO: Let’s see, the people that I’d love to hang out with. One is, obviously Viola Davis, and two, Naomi Campbell. Three, Beyoncé.
CP: That is a lot of talent and power in one room! I did want to start out with something serious. I was on your Instagram. The first feature piece that you had worked on with ESPN was the Breonna Taylor piece. What did and does that opportunity mean to you?
CO: Yeah, I think for me it was my first opportunity to provide a voice, for those who have been overlooked.
And I think it’s not just women, especially in sports, but black women in sports, and those women I know because I play in the WNBA. So, as we we’re coming to return to sports in the middle of these pandemics with coronavirus and racism and everything that is happening in society; by nature of my not playing the season because of my medical history, meaning my injuries, not having enough of a runway to play, I didn’t want to put my body in unnecessary risk after overcoming these injuries.
My first opportunity within the company was to help story-tell the league that was returning—basketball is back and the women came back first. The WNBA! But, this is the message that they want to show by playing, this is what they are feeling through their communities. And for me, I was moreso a vessel. I was sharing the mic with people that I love and care about that made a courageous decision to go into the bubble and leave their families and to, possibly leave the safety and security of their homes to do this. So, that’s where the genesis of this piece came from.
I thought that I was going to be in the bubble, playing with my sister but my own personal choice was supported by my team and coaches and organization. And I’m so lucky that my own personal choice, sort of created an opportunity for me to highlight them in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if I were in the bubble.
The piece is celebrating the women of the WNBA who have been doing this, even though people do not know that. This is their purpose in the middle of this moment. I was just lucky and fortunate to be put in a position to execute that with ESPN.
CP: It’s a message that is so powerful. And you’ve done great work in bringing awareness to social issues, injustice, voting awareness. It seems that you are as transparent and genuine on air as you are off air. What is your process and school of thought on preparation?
CO: The first lesson I learned at ESPN, is that you have to be authentically yourself, because as humans we can tell when we are bottled up or we are not showing our entire selves. So number one, is me being authentic and speaking on the things that I care about passionately, authentically.
And then secondly, it’s about relationships. I think it’s all about relationships. The beauty of me getting this opportunity, is that I know about a lot of stories that are hidden in plain sight. Because I’ve been hidden in plain sight. I’m the 6’3 black woman that would pace the halls at ESPN—
CP: You’re selling yourself short, right now!
CO: Ahh, I know, I honestly would run from hit to hit just trying to get everything done! So, a lot of people, they knew me but they didn’t know my grind. My process is: preparation, being myself authentically, because if you’re not you can tell it and people know it, and then lastly, it’s speaking to the relationships that you know, and that you’re passionate about.
I think by nature of me having this opportunity at such a young age, and having a new perspective, I didn’t realize I when I said yes to this opportunity, I was the first black woman in this category or the first WNBA Player in this category with a national ESPN Radio show. I think the idea is that by being in the room, we’re now seeing what was hidden.
And that’s not just me, that’s my perspective that could create new stories that can come to the light. So, when I go into interviews, I know that we’re doing something special because we’re doing something different than what was before. We’re creating a new platform for others, like me to hopefully follow too. So, I think it’s all about authenticity and preparation and then, it’s just storytelling, from your real life experiences.
CP: I wrote down a tweet of yours during The Last Dance, ‘Every success requires sacrifice. Every win takes failure. Every star shines brightest in the dark.’
I enjoyed the reaction videos you made about the series because you do have so much to contribute in that you’re an expert in both arenas.
What advice would you have for young people, young women trying to break into the sports media industry that feel like they’re facing obstacles?
CO: Women, I understand the obstacles, because as much as there are obstacles for everyone, there are added obstacles for women because we are questioned on our opinion, especially in sports. It’s not limited to just one group of people or one gender of people, I think, the way I like to discuss these challenges is that now, we’re all in a special point in society where we have been forced to stop and to look at one another and to humanize one another, not just care about ourselves, our pastoral vision, and not just look at our phones, do our jobs, go home and not worry about your impact.
Now, we are all thinking about, and have time to breathe and digest the impacts that we have with words, with actions; and not just on ourselves but on our neighbors, our friends, our family and even the strangers that we meet in our day to day encounters.
I think one thing we realized is everyone in life has challenges. No matter how much you have or what you look like there are going to be challenges. If you aspire to do something more, because we’re all a part of this new rising generation, this millennial generation, where we’re not following in the exact footsteps of those who came before us, we are creating our own path.
Before, the ladder of success used to be ‘alright, for you to be successful you have to go to high school to go to college, and then you have to go to graduate school. You have to wait for your time and get tenure to get the opportunity. We’re in this technological generation, where we can fast track our own success based on our own creative genius.
You can create an app, or you can start a company, while you’re working at those steps on the ladder to get somewhere. You can have a hustle and also a side hustle, not realizing that your side hustle helps your main hustle. Through working and creating a platform, whether it’s academics being your main hustle, now having that platform helps your side hustle be even more successful.
So, for a lot of people that feel like these challenges are too much, understand that we’re in a generation where we aren’t doing things the same way. We are creatively finding ways to build our own cultural impact, our own financial impact, our own societal impact. And we’re not alone, there are so many. We’re the generation of the doers and the changers, the not ‘staying on autopilot’ type of generation.
Whether you’re a black woman, a white woman or whether you’re a man or a woman or however you identify as, every obstacle will be tough but everything can be achieved by seeing that you’re capable and finding allies that can help you enhance that. So that’s always been my message. Like through me doing the hard stuff, hopefully it will create an opportunity for an executive to say ‘oh she can do it. I’m gonna hire a whole slew more’. And now that I know what’s possible, we can open the door for so many others. And it’s not just one person, one look, one kind, it is all of us that are capable of doing things differently and creating change in real time, not just waiting for it to happen.
CP: As it does come back to authenticity and relationships, how is your relationship with Golic Jr. and what do you like the most about Mike’s style?
CO: I love everything about him, you can never let him know that though. I love everything about him. I love his family and I love how he treats people and I think that’s why I feel so great about this partnership. We are very similar.
We were the most different looking human beings, right? We’re opposites, but I think where we are friends is that we are the same in everything that matters and that’s where society is now.
We come from big loud boisterous, groundbreaking families. We both play sports; his football, mine basketball. We both care about having intellectual discussions, but also being authentically ourselves, as we are both millennials, in this generation. So, It’s a seamless partnership, it’s the seamless introduction of a new team and a new show. I think what people have seen, especially with Golic & Wingo’s last show, is that he has such a big heart.
He focuses on everything that matters and then uses sports to bring it all together. That’s what he learned from his father, his mother and his siblings. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that family? That’s why I’m really thrilled to work with him and I’m the lucky one because I have someone who I know is going to be my family in this.
There are not many people in this business that you will wake up at three in the morning to drive to get there at four to do a radio show with. You have to actually really like someone to their core to agree to do that. But for him, I would do that because there was something about him that I just really, really loved.
I think that everyone has seen that with his father and how we’re saluting his Hall of Fame career. I think now Junior’s going to step into his own shoes and show people his own impact and I’m so excited to have a front row seat, courtside to see all of that happen.
CP: I feel like Golic Jr. is the person you want on your team. He is the person who truly wants you to honor what is important to you, and still you can lean on him for advice or help. It seems like this makes for a very symbiotic relationship and very helpful dynamic should you resume playing basketball again?
CO: The cool thing about ESPN is that in this show, in this pair, you have two former athletes, right? And the cool thing ESPN, I think with me, took a unique role because I was doing both and they haven’t really had many people—I don’t know if there are many people that actually play and broadcast at the same time.
So, I think they saw it as an opportunity where we could have some really cool engagement and experiences. By playing, I’m around players in the WNBA and NBA. That allows me to say one thing on air and then get hit up by a player that’s been listening. The next thing you know that player is accessible to coming on air.
Between my relationships as a current athlete and his understanding of that, and ESPN’s valuing of that, it allows the show to be whatever we want to make of it and be creative in how we do it.
And the beauty of the WNBA, is that it’s during the summer so you know if the choice comes towards her to play during our show time, there can be creative solutions to anything.
I think even so much so that Jr. will probably be cool coming to LA to do a show and I would be cool to come into Connecticut. It’s all been very versatile, very mobile, very open minded because I think the realization has been that no one is a ‘one trick pony’ anymore. If we can figure out different ways to do different things, especially with these young people that are unashamed to try new things, why not experiment and see what happens? I think that’s where Junior‘s at in supporting me, where I’m at in supporting him and where the company’s at in supporting us.
CP: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Congratulations! Can’t wait for the debut.
Mike Golic Jr. has a response to the same question I asked Chiney, in case you were wondering about the drive, respect and connection the partners share approaching the launch. Here is what he said about Chiney Ogwumike:
“As far as Chiney and I’s relationship, we are genuine friends which is such a cool thing to say about a person you’re getting to work with. So often you forge those relationships as shows get going and start growing. We’ve been friends off-air since she started at the company. Being peers age-wise helps that a lot, but we have so many similar interests in music, shoes and life. And what’s even cooler is we’ve been able to translate that friendship on-air in a way that isn’t always easy to do. She’s a blast to work with, has such great instincts and throws 100% of herself into this,” Golic Jr shared.
“My expectations for us as a team are to bring locker room conversations that we’ve both been a part of to the national stage. We have a unique background where both hosts on a show have a backgrounds in high level athletics. It’s going to be a fun, high energy shot of life for your car ride home. We can’t wait to get everyone involved from our friends, to the biggest names in sports, and everyone listening at home or in the car.”
It is incredibly rare to be a true fan of any show, from it’s inception. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be a OG/CG fan with so many others who have been eagerly anticipating the unstoppable and incredibly dynamic duo of Chiney & Golic Jr.
Chrissy Paradis is a BNM columnist and veteran sports radio producer. She’s worked in Las Vegas, Washington DC, Raleigh and Hartford helping personalities such as Rob Dibble, Tim Brando, Steve Cofield, Adam Gold and Joe Ovies. You can contact her on Twitter @ChrissyParadis or by email at Chrissy.Paradis@gmail.com.
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.
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.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
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.”
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+.
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.