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Q&A with Mike Taylor

Demetri Ravanos

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I like Mike Taylor a lot. We didn’t have a previous relationship before I started writing for BSM. He is just a guy that started liking my posts on Twitter and I thought “I like him because he likes me.”

Mike has been on 760 the Ticket in San Antonio for eleven years, and I was interested in talking to him about the weird season the Spurs had and how NFL loyalties are divided in San Antonio. Instead, our conversation was wide ranging, covering everything from marriage advice, to racial identity to Sea World.

What I hope stands out is just how much Mike loves San Antonio. His focus isn’t just parroting the A-block on SportsCenter. He has strong opinions on the local taco places and has been known to invite listeners to join him at his favorite barbecue spot for lunch.

The interview does start with a lot of Spurs talk though. You should know that this conversation took place on April 10th, just as the Spurs had clinched a playoff spot and were yet to be kicked around by the Warriors.

DR: The Spurs finally clinched a playoff spot, but it was in question this season, probably longer than ever before. So, was this a new experience in covering the team for you?

MT: Yes. The goals are lowered and nowhere near as lofty as they usually are. It’s been weird covering what has just become another good team in the league and not the same old Spurs.

DR: So what have you had to do differently and how have listeners responded differently? I would imagine there are so many people in your audience that have known the Spurs as one of the NBA’s best teams for their entire adult life.

MT: That’s right. My oldest daughter is 20. This is the 21st straight year the team has clinched a playoff spot. She has no idea what it is like to not see them in the postseason.

It’s weird man. I’ve been here eleven years and I’ve never had to worry about things like lack of energy or locker room drama and players only meetings. It’s been like a soap opera this season, and maybe that is normal for other places, but we’ve just never had to deal with that down here.

The biggest difference is I have had to be so harsh. You have to keep it real though. This season I’m talking about coddling players and mystery trips to New York. It has been really different.

DR: Has this experience made you wistful for how easy things were before or did it make you realize how boring covering the Spurs had been?

MT: (Laughing) It depends on the day, man. If we’re light on content it’s great, but on days when I have other things I want to get to, I don’t have time for all of this drama.

This is a town that obviously loves the Spurs, and it loves the Cowboys. All of that red carpet treatment bullshit, we get our fill of that with the Cowboys. The appeal of our basketball team is the almost collegiate atmosphere. Guys are low key. They mostly stay off the grid. It’s been fun at times for radio, but it is weird for a fan.

DR: San Antonio isn’t the only market that has dealt with this. I am sure this is something that stations in Detroit and San Francisco have talked about too. We’re coming off the BSM summit where we had this panel of programmers talking about how it is important to separate politics from sports talk, even sometimes when the two worlds collide.

In San Antonio though, you have Gregg Popovich. He has been one of the most vocal voices for the resistance in the sports world. How much does that bleed into the sports show?

MT: At first a lot, because it was so out of nowhere. Every morning I would say “Wow! Did you hear Pop? Let’s play the audio.” It caught me off guard. His first rant was right after the election. By now though, I think the fans are tired of hearing it. Even the ones that really agree with him.

The team has struggled this year and I hear from fans, even the ones that agree with him, “Dude, you’re 14-25 on the road. Why don’t you talk about how we fix that?”. If they were winning all year and Kawhi Leonard wasn’t AWOL I don’t think it would be as polarizing.

It’s not like he can’t focus on his job and rip the president. A lot of us do that every day. Right now though, a reporter asks about the game and gets a 15 second throw away answer, but if someone has a question about Trump he’s got eight great minutes.

Keep in mind too that this is one of the reddest states in the country. San Antonio is a military city full of blue collar, conservative-type people. Even people that didn’t vote for Trump, you know, this is Texas. There are certain things we don’t talk about at the dinner table, and politics is one of them.

When it first happened you had people saying “I can’t believe he did that” and people that were calling me to say they were right there with him. Now it’s kind of grown tiresome. Not with me, but that is most of what I hear on Twitter and emails.

DR: It’s gone from “I can’t believe he did that” to “I can’t believe he is still doing this.”

MT: Yes! This team is the KGB of the NBA.

DR: Ironic.

MT: (Laughing) Yeah. Trump loves the Russians, and Pop hates Trump, but I joke with the beat writers that being around the team everyday has to be like covering the Kremlin. You get so little information about the team, and when he does answer questions you either get some vanilla, throw-away answer, a half-truth or a bold-faced lie.

DR: So, you’ve been there for 11 years. Do you feel like you’ve gotten to know Gregg Popovich at all? Have you spent any quality time with him? I understand he keeps a very tight inner circle.

MT: (Laughing) Absolutely not! He doesn’t like me very much, and that’s okay, because I know it’s nothing personal. When I was doing afternoons, I used to do the post-game show from the arena every home game. I used to try to get to the locker room right after the game. It got to the point that I just quit going in there.

I asked him some silly question about point guards one night. He looked at me like I was a jerk that had just asked about his dead relatives. Then he goes “Does anybody have any questions that make sense?” I thought “well geez, I thought that was a decent question.” But the next two games I went in there with completely different questions and got the exact same answer from him. “Does anybody have any questions that make sense? I’d be happy to answer them.”

He was delivering a message that he had no time for me or for the team broadcast. So that’s my only personal interaction with him. It was him treating me badly, and that’s okay. I had lunch with (Spurs GM) RC Buford once and it went well. He was great, but as far as Pop, absolutely not.

DR: So outside of the Spurs, I know you said San Antonio is wild about the Cowboys. What else moves the needle in your town?

MT: It depends. You can never really go wrong with college football. We have a lot of what I call “t-shirt Texas fans.” They don’t have a degree from there. They probably can’t tell you where a science building is on campus, but damn it, they’re Longhorns man! I’m sure you see a lot of that with Duke fans where you are.

DR: I graduated from Alabama. I see it when I’m here and when I go back there.

MT: Yeah, it exists here because San Antonio is about 60 minutes from the campus. So it’s UT football, the Spurs, the Cowboys and after that it is a crap shoot, man.

I don’t like to do a whole lot of national stuff, because I’m bookended by national shows. I want to keep it as local as possible. So thank God I have worked for managers in the decade plus that I’ve been in San Antonio that don’t care what I talk about. They just want to know if the needle is moving and if they can sell it.

My program director, who I have worked with for five years, has never once dictated content to me. That’s a luxury. I get that I am lucky in that regard. This morning we talked about McDonald’s handing out free food to kids getting ready to go take the STAR test. I can talk about whatever I want. There are listeners that get bummed when I do talk sports.

This time of year is great. We’ve got the playoffs, so that will be half the show. The other half will be literally whatever I want.

DR: How much did the Astros winning the World Series register in San Antonio?

MT: Only a little. It’s a terrible baseball town. There are baseball fans here, but not enough to do segments everyday. During the regular season I might do an Astros segment, but only if something extraordinary happens. I did a segment or two during the World Series last year, but it’s not like it was half the program.

DR: You talked about moving from afternoons to mornings. I’ve mostly done mornings in my career too and have always struggled with how to balance staying informed with getting enough sleep. How do you do that?

MT: Dude, honestly you just don’t. They moved me to mornings in 2013, so it’s been a minute. I was thinking about this today knowing you were going to call me. I think, unless you tell me otherwise, that I am the only solo morning host in a major or mid-major market that has to do things the way I do everyday.

It’s all me. Everything you hear out of the speakers in the morning is my work. I am the James Brown and the Howie Long of this show. I have to gather all of the info and form the opinions about all of it. I’ve got a board op who does a great job for me, but he is a part-time employee. I am the only full-time guy working on this show and it is hard.

I’m 43 years old and I’m not trying to be dramatic, but you read all this stuff about there being a certain amount of sleep you need per night or you will either have health problems or you’re going to die early. Man, that is the truth. I have these six year old twins, which I get aren’t the company’s problem, but it is hard to have kids that young at home and have to get up at 4 am.

You don’t want to sacrifice being a decent father and a decent husband, but you can’t skip out on the attention you have to give to prepping your show each day. So I try to keep my day down to a routine so I get to bed on time and am up at 4 AM to have time to catch up on what I missed.

It is a never ending ass-whip. Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. I love doing the show. It’s just all the stuff that leads up to it.

DR: So which have you decided is better, chronic health problems or early death?

MT: (Laughing) Leaving radio! I’m not trying to get myself in trouble here, and I don’t think I will. I’ve got like a year and a few weeks left on this deal I’m under. After that, I am not trying to continue doing the show this way.

At some point I am going to need a co-host or a full-time producer or a different time slot. Otherwise, I may have to get out, honestly. Like I said, I am 43. I’m lucky as hell. I love the people I work for. It’s that shift. It’s going to run me out of the business if I don’t get help.

I’m not saying I want to sleep until 5:30 and mail in the prep everyday. When you have some help, it becomes a different kind of prep. If I can get some help everyday and change my prep routine, then I could probably do 10-15 more years in mornings.

DR: You talked a little bit about your future. I wonder how much you think about iHeartradio’s future, given everything the company has been going through. You also have this weird element that most iHeart employees don’t. You’re right there at corporate headquarters.

MT: Yeah, you know, to corporate’s credit, they’ve pretty much left us alone. I think they know it would be unfair to use us as guinea pigs. If I hear from corporate, it is someone in sales or management reaching out to say they are a fan of what I’m doing. When I first got here there was that eye in the sky that I was afraid of, but I learned that I was going to be left alone.

I don’t fear getting fired or losing my job. Hell, the company owns 800 radio stations. The next biggest company I want to say is Cumulus, right? And they might own 400 stations.

DR: It is Cumulus and I think they own less than that. For some reason I want to say 325.

MT: And they fired chapter 11 too, did they not? So the problem is industry-wide. As long as I continue to have good ratings and make the company money, I’ll be fine.

That is the benefit of being the step-child station in the building. All of the pressure is on these big FMs and the news talker down the hall. It’s cheap to operate our station.

Everyone everywhere is having to change the way they operate. It wouldn’t shock me if in 3-4 years the company is a lot smaller, but I am going to continue to do my deal and not worry about it.

DR: Your wife works in the media too, right? TV news?

MT: Yeah. She is the news director for Spectrum here. It’s their local 24 hour news channel. It’s on in both San Antonio and Austin. It’s why we actually live in Austin.

She’s a rockstar man. She handles me and the kids. She puts up with my crazy schedule and she runs two news rooms. She’s a badass.

DR: So do you have any secrets to making a media marriage work? Between the schedules and sometimes being pulled in different directions professionally, can there be a blueprint at all or is the goal always “let’s just get through today”?

MT: Sometimes it’s both because the kids have crazy schedules too. Let’s just say I don’t get to go home and catch up on Netflix. There are a lot of domestic chores I have to get done everyday, and if I fall short, I have not done my job. My wife works so much. It’s a daily grind, from the x’s and o’s standpoint, but we love each other very much. That is never in question.

You gotta be willing to lose an argument, I guess. But doesn’t that go for every husband? Lose an argument, but you can’t placate her. If you just want to tap out of an argument, as long as it seems genuine, she’ll go for it.

DR: Because of that pull in opposite directions, there was a time that you were living in Green Bay, Wisconsin and still doing the show for San Antonio.

MT: Oof! Yes.

DR: Forget for a second that you were doing a show for a community that is always 60 degrees from a place where it is always -60 degrees. How did the show feel different to you during that time, and how did it sound different to the audience?

MT: Well, fortunately I had built a relationship with my people, who I call “Thunderdome.” That was around the time that we were traveling a lot with my wife’s work. Now finally we’re just about settled.

I don’t think it would have worked, except that I had already been there for five years at that point. If that had happened when I was only in San Antonio for a year or eighteen months, I don’t know that they would let me do it. Listeners would be more apt to say “To hell with that guy. What does he know about us? He moved!”.

My wife wouldn’t have taken the job if I wasn’t established in my job. We talked about it. We went to our respective managers. I sat down and said “I’m thinking about moving to Green Bay,” knowing they could have fired me. But they didn’t. They went out and got me my own gear and said “As long as you can get on the air everyday, go do your thing from wherever you need to do it.”

Thank God for the NBA package. I was able to watch Spurs games. I’m glad it happened in the internet age. You can do radio from space now if you really need to, and I’ve gotten used to doing the show abroad, because since we have started traveling for my wife’s job, we have lived in Green Bay, on the Texas coast, Austin, back to San Antonio, to a little town called Tyler, Texas, and back to Austin.

The key is my heart is always home. I live in Austin, but I can tell you fifty times more about what is going on in San Antonio. I just sleep in Austin. My heart is in San Antonio.

DR: I know you had that base of knowledge before you started moving around, but what do you do day to day to make sure you’re plugged in to the community and that the show sounds like a show in San Antonio in 2018?

MT: Well, again, thank God for the Internet. I read so much. I subscribe to our paper there. I have all of the local news station apps and will look at their newscasts as much as I can. We only live about 60 minutes away, which is not far, but not exactly close. I will go down there as much as I can.

Whenever I do go to town, I try to make sure I do something funny. Maybe make a video at some landmark or go downtown. Any time I’m there I try to mention where I’ll be eating lunch.

I do all that because we don’t have a marketing budget. My show is a word of mouth show. We don’t do topics unless they are based in San Antonio, and if I do talk about something that’s happening outside of the city, it’s gotta have a local angle. You bring it back to San Antonio and talk about it in a way that people here are talking about it.

It’s a big city with all different types of people. There are a lot of transplants, so you can get away with not being 100% local all the time. I’ve been on air there for so long though that I have a really good feel for it.

DR: Neilsen says the market is 53% Hispanic. Does that have an influence on your show at all? I don’t mean “are you talking soccer?”. I mean does it change the way you deliver content?

MT: Of course. I’m half Mexican, thank God! I like to joke that I’m a Mexican when it’s convenient. I only turn white when there’s a cop around.

I’m kidding. But if you listen to my show, you’ll hear a lot of Hispanic discussion. I try not to alienate white guys or black guys or anyone that simply doesn’t care, but it’s there. You’ll here a lot of Spanglish. We have to do a cartel report every couple of weeks, because unfortunately I am able to kill a segment with who got their head chopped off near the border, which is only 90 miles to the south.

I have a lot of regular callers and characters that are Mexican. Sometimes I’ll slip into the stereotype for the joke, and it’s genuine. I can get away with it because my mom is Mexican and I know what I’m talking about. I grew up with and around Hispanic people.

Yes, I have absolutely made an effort to make that culture a part of my show, because it is such an important part of this community and of my audience. I go and do a remote, and I’ll tell you, when people come out, it’s way more than 53%, brother.

DR: Does that put a limit on just how successful the show can be? Not the way you do it, I mean, but the fact that the market is 53% Hispanic.

MT: I think so. The details of the are demographic studies and information that are way above my head, but if I got hired tomorrow to do a radio show in Chicago, I’d have to change things up.

When I got the interview for this job, I told the bosses that my show was going to be any and all things local. That’s what I want to be. First, I am any and all things Texas and after that it is any and all things San Antonio.

If I got fired tomorrow and then found a job doing radio in Oklahoma, the first thing I would do is learn Oklahoma history and get my hands on anything I could not just about Oklahoma sports, but the culture. You have to relate to the audience in local radio, man.

DR: When my partner and I first got to Raleigh, I was in rock radio at the time. The way we learned the market was we took the morning guy on the country station in the building out for lunch. He was a native and had been on air there for 20 years and we just said “okay, tell us everything.” How did you do that in San Antonio?

MT: I did the same thing. I just walked around the building and asked everyone “Tell me where to go” and then I went. I wasn’t trying to bullshit anybody like I knew the place before I knew the place.

Even on air I was honest. I’d say “I’m from Ft. Worth. All I know is Sea World and the Alamo. What else should I know?”

DR: (Laughing) Wait, is Sea World still there?

MT: Barely. There’s no killer whale shows.

DR: Then why the hell is it still there?

MT: Well, it’s mean to make them jump through hoops. So now you just go look at them in a tank.

DR: Oh. That makes more sense. I thought you were saying that all the animals were just gone. If you think about it it is kinda mean to make them jump through hoops.

MT: Yeah. You can still go walk around and see dolphin shows and sea lion shows, but it’s a dump. It’s still there. The Alamo is still there. I already knew about all that.

What I wanted was to go eat at a restaurant where I might get hepatitis. Tell me the local places, the pure blood Mexican places, the holes in the wall. I want to go there.

That’s what I sold them on in the interview. I am going to indoctrinate myself in this city. I’ll be able to run for city council in a year.

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 interim 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. One month 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 caused by exertion. 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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NHL ON TNT STUDIO

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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LUNDQVIST 4

By broadcasting both locally and nationally in addition to working in a specially-designed business operations role, Lundqvist is staying around the rink in his retirement while facilitating the growth of hockey. Despite the profusion of young talent, dynamic action and jaw-dropping plays, viewership of the sport on ESPN and TNT’s linear channels has dropped 22% from last season, according to a report by Sports Business Journal.

For Lundqvist though, he does not feel much has changed from playing regarding his responsibility to advance the reach and appeal of the sport. He played professionally for 20 years, beginning his career in his home country of Sweden, primarily in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the 2004-05 season, his final campaign before arriving in New York City, Lundqvist had won the award for most valuable player. Furthermore, he was recognized as the best goalie and best player, leading Frölunda HC to its second Elitserien championship in three seasons.

His NHL debut came five years after he was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers but unlike many rookies over the years, he came polished and prepared to embrace the lights of Broadway. Following an injury to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was inserted into the starting lineup and, from that moment on, virtually never came out.

By the end of his first year, he had been named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender. Additionally, he remains the only goaltender to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 30-plus win seasons.

“I think the league is doing a great job of growing the game,” Lundqvist said. “In the end, it comes down to the product and right now, it’s a great product. I feel really good about, the best way I can, to promote the game [by] talking about it, but… it feels like I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”

One means through which Lundqvist attempts to grow the game is within the studio demos he performs with the NHL on TNT, displaying different facets of the game in a technical manner. The show also embraces the characteristics of their analysts and implements them in lighthearted segments, such as zamboni races, putting competitions, Swedish lessons and, of course, musical performances.

“I’m huge on mindset and the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I love to talk about that type of stuff and give the viewer a better understanding of what goes through their heads. In terms of personality, I don’t know if I can say [that] I’m a serious guy because I love to have fun and laugh and do fun things.”

Lundqvist thoroughly enjoys what he is doing both locally and nationally, and he ensures he surrounds himself with people he wants to be around. There are plenty of other broadcast opportunities for former hockey players, such as moving into the booth as a color commentator or between the benches as a rinkside reporter. At this moment though, he is more focused on being immersed in his current roles, performing them to the best of his ability while ensuring he allocates time to spend with friends and family.

“I see myself more as an analyst in the studio more than traveling around and being in the rink,” he said. “I think that’s another thing with the schedule; it works really well with my schedule to have one or two commitments with the networks, but then I have other things going on in my life that I commit to.”

Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between playing professional hockey and covering the sport from the studio in terms of preparation and synergy. Yet the end result is not as clearly defined since “winning” in television is quantifiably defined as generating ratings and revenue. Undoubtedly, Lundqvist is focused on doing what he can to bolster hockey’s popularity; however, he also wants to enjoy this new phase of his career being around the game he loves.

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“In sports, you win or you lose,” Lundqvist explained. “With TV, you want to be yourself [and] you want to get your point out – but at the same time, if you do it at the same time you’re having a good time, I feel like that’s good TV.”

Once their careers conclude, many athletes think about pursuing a post-playing career and oftentimes end up taking on a role in sports broadcasting. On MSG Networks alone, there are plenty of former players who take part in studio coverage on live game broadcasts, such as Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres, Bryce Salvador of the New Jersey Devils, and Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. At the national level, Turner Sports employs Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky for its studio broadcasts, while ESPN’s top studio crew includes Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.

All of these former professional hockey players had an obligation to regularly speak with media members, answering questions about games and the season at large. Lundqvist maintained a professional relationship with journalists and beat reporters, and he most enjoyed taking questions when the team was doing well. Regardless of what the end result of a game was though, he had a responsibility to divulge his thoughts and, in turn, be subject to criticism and/or negative feedback.

His stellar career and persona all came from emanating a passion for the game – and it continues to manifest itself beyond the television screen. Listening to those passionate about the game discuss it usually engenders euphony and lucidity to viewers, analogous to the sound of the puck hitting the pads or entering the glove. It is a timbre Lundqvist created 27,076 times throughout his NHL career (regular season and playoffs) in preventing goals, and one he now aims to explain en masse.

“The reason why I kept going to the rink and put all the hours in was because I really enjoyed it,” Lundqvist said. “If you decide to go into media or whatever it might be, I think the bottom line is [that] you have to enjoy it and make sure you have good people around you.”

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Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

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Diamond Sports has been anything but a diamond in the sports world. As subscribers leave cable and satellite for streaming services, companies are dropping RSNs nationwide because they are too expensive to carry. This has caused an impending bankruptcy for the company, which owns the local rights to dozens of sports teams nationwide. It is also putting the NBA, NHL, and MLB at major financial risk. 

In the short term, it is known that teams will still broadcast on their RSNs even if they aren’t getting the paychecks they were promised in previous rights deals. This will affect teams’ ability to pay players and could even create an unfair advantage among the haves of the sports world like the Yankees and Lakers and the have-nots. The NFL doesn’t face the same problems that the other leagues are facing because its rights have been nationalized.

With the NFL’s continued television dominance, college conferences also bundling up games together for more money, and the MLS guaranteeing themselves television revenue after packaging local and national rights together, could we see the other leagues follow suit? It is an option that is much easier said than done but it seems like we are moving closer to it becoming reality. 

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

The biggest problem the NBA and other leagues would face are that the local rights to all of its teams don’t expire at the same time. If the league were to sign a deal that included giving all local rights to a streamer, the amount which the league was getting paid would be very unique year after year. It would be crazy for a streamer to pay a huge chunk of money to the NBA all at once if the number of teams they have local rights to changes every year.

It would also be insane to pay an astronomical amount if the streamer is only getting the local rights to small-market teams like the Cavs and the Pistons. A major market team like the Lakers doesn’t renew their local rights until 2032. We’re still in 2023. How does that affect the league’s operating costs? 

The NBA would also have to figure out whether teams whose rights don’t expire yet deserve to be included in the pot of money garnered from selling local rights to a streamer. Whether they are or they aren’t, does it put each team at different competitive advantages and/or disadvantages when trying to acquire free agents or front-office personnel?

One of the most interesting puzzles to figure out is what influence a league owner like Washington’s Ted Leonsis has in this potential measure when all is said and done. Leonsis just acquired complete control of the regional sports network — currently named NBC Sports Washington — that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games for millions of dollars, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.

What does Leonsis do with his network if his team’s games can no longer air there? Can his team opt out of participating in a potential league offering? Or if the games continue to air on his network but are simulcasted locally on the streamer that wins local rights on a national scale, does the streamer have the ability to pay less money for rights?

If so, does that make the deal as lucrative for the NBA? And what does that mean for retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast pay to Leonsis and other RSNs they’re still carrying?

The league will face a similar problem with the Lakers, Bulls, Knicks and other franchises that either wholly own or partially own a part of the RSNs where they broadcast their games. 

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions which is why they are written here in this column. Unfortunately for the leagues, they don’t have the answers either. But if the NBA figures out a way to nationalize their product even more and make streaming games more appealing by ending local blackouts, it’ll benefit the game more than it hurts the game. 

NBA, NHL, and MLB games are still some of the highest-rated programs locally in many markets when you look at how they rate vs. other cable and broadcast offerings. But at this point, the ability to charge everyone for a program that only ten percent of subscribers are watching is a losing business proponent.

The leagues should start from scratch and sell a mass package of games for maximum profit. It gives fans a more centralized location to watch their favorite teams and puts the leagues on a much more steady path than where they could be headed sooner rather than later.

Diamond in the rough to sparkling jewel of light? Only time will tell.

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Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?

“We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right?”

Jeff Caves

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Having gratitude for your life is all the rage. If you, like me, have trouble starting your day with positive affirmations and maintaining a positive outlook about your job, read on! 

We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right? Here is another version. Try a few affirmations of gratitude instead.

“I HAVE A JOB.”

With interest rates rising, inflation increasing, and spending down; corporations are laying people off. PayPal laid off 7% of its entire workforce. Amazon let 18,000 go. Alphabet (Google) said goodbye to 12,000 jobs. Radio sales managers need to hire people like you – experienced sellers with a track record of bringing home the bacon. 

I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”

You solve a problem for your company when it comes to revenue. You know people, and you sell advertising better than anything they can come up with…so far. 

Yes, they are trying to replace you, but Zoom Info reports iHeart’s self-serve spot buying service,  AdBuilder, is doing under 5 million in business. You have time to solidify your value. Be happy you are the rainmaker. 

I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”

Sports talk radio is the ultimate companion to millions of listeners. They aren’t robots, and your stations improve their lives by talking about what they care about 24/7. Celebrate selling access to callers, Twitter followers and FANS who go to games. You also get to work with local celebrities that everybody knows but you know best. We all need a connection to other people and want to be seen and heard. 

“I GET TO CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF.”

In this job, you determine your value, feelings about your work, and who you work with. You get to set a strategy and talk to the businesspeople you want to help and do business with. It’s like running your own business with a tremendous support staff. Try to do it independently, and you will appreciate accounting, traffic, production, and sales assistance. Those wins produce deposits in your bank account.  

I HAVE COMPETITION!”

That format competitor across the street does things differently and sometimes better than you or tries to imitate you and looks terrible. They motivate you to beat them to a new account or put a moat around your best clients so they can’t be touched. They keep you sharp and willing to try new things. Good competition schemes to take money from your station, and your management needs you to protect them. And they also provide a place for you to work one day. The FTC wants to eliminate non-competes so you can walk across the street this year.  

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