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Sports Radio Has Been Like A Wild Ride For Scott Ferrall

“I did the filthiest show ever and it was repulsive and disgusting and absolutely kick ass. People dug it fast and hard.”

Tyler McComas

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It’s easy to do a raunchy show with no restrictions. Extremely talented hosts have done it on the years, arguably even some of the best, but you can really tell how gifted someone is at sports radio when they’re doing a clean show. That’s the opinion Scott Ferrall has, who’s probably more qualified than anyone to speak on the subject, seeing as he’s made his career doing both unrestricted radio with no rules and network shows that operate under strict guidelines. 

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There’s arguably nobody in sports radio that’s had the wild time Ferrall has had over his career. He’s done multiple shows at strip clubs, appeared on David Letterman twice and has even been in movies. He truly understands the entertainment aspect of sports radio. 

Maybe he’s always had that in him, seeing as he looked up to Howard Cosell at a very young age. But his loud, opinionated, funny and entertaining persona has separated Ferrall from the rest of the pack since his early days in radio. 

His journey has taken him from the Indiana basketball beat covering Bob Knight, to hosting on Howard 101 to calling games for an NHL team and a whole lot more. His journey should be both talked about and celebrated in equal sense. 

Tyler McComas: So Howard Cosell is your idol growing up and then a major publication compares you to him. Can you even describe that feeling? 

Scott Ferrall: I mean it was crazy that the Wall Street Journal said that. I’ll never forget it and I have it to this day in my house. It was the one thing that, I guess, mattered to me in media. I’ve had millions of stories written about the show and about my career – magazines, newspapers, everywhere. I respect all those, but that was the one that really stood out. When I woke up and saw that I was on the cover the Wall Street Journal with one of those dotted pictures that they used to be famous for and it said I was Generation X’s Howard Cosell I just really thought I had arrived.  

TM: Did you ever get to meet him? 

SF: No, I didn’t. But it’s strange, I always said on the show that the Monday Night Football booth they did, and everything he did, in sportscasting and boxing, his interview style, his smarts, he’s a genius. That’s what appealed to me. I thought he was smarter than everybody and I thought they were very entertaining.

I’ve always said they’ve never been able to replace him. Ever. They’ve been chasing that dragon since the day that ended. It’s never ever lived up to that. When they were in there, Gifford and Meredith and him in that booth, forget about it. That was it. Those are the ones that last forever, booths like that.

TM: Early in your career you’re covering IU hoops and Bob Knight. He’s never been nice to the media. Did that give you confidence that, man, if I can cover this guy I can interview anyone? 

SF: That’s an interesting theory, because that’s pretty much the deal. I wanted to go be around Bob Knight as a kid. I wanted to be Howard Cosell and then I wanted to cover Bob Knight. I just felt like, what could be cooler than being around that guy?

I’ve always said that the guy had a huge influence in my life. Just a gigantic piece of me came from that guy. Being around him every single day for five years and covering that team seeing them win a national championship in New Orleans in the last game I ever covered, that was pretty special. I love him and I’m one of the few. He meant a lot to me and he always came on my show for all these years later. He called me ‘asshole’ for 35 years. He said, ‘I can’t believe somebody would marry you, asshole!’ and then, ‘I can’t believe they let you have kids, asshole!’. If he was your friend, he was a really good friend. If he was your enemy, I always said, you should probably move.

Bob Knight tells Dan Patrick he's never returning to Indiana and ...

TM: Was there anything ever more thrilling than doing a show at a strip club? 

SF: I worked at a lot of them. I have a couple of different stories I can throw at you. One of them was when we had a strip club golf tournament in the Bahamas and got raided by like The Federalis. They came crashing into the golf course and there was a lot of bad things going on. That was pretty wild.

Then I did the Playboy Pillow Fight, or something like that, in Indio and Palm Springs, California. That was just rather wet and naked. I’ve done shows like that over the years and they’ve always been pretty wild. That kind of stuff got me a reputation, then I ended up doing tons of stuff with Penthouse and then all of them when I worked with Howard Stern. There were a lot of porn stars and everything else. It’s strange, that’s like a wild ride.

I’m down with meeting whoever, athletes, rock stars, entertainers, actors, actresses, whether they’re on the big screen, which I’ve done, I’ve done a couple of movies, that’s cool, or working with porn stars, I’ve done all that and I’m cool with it. But I know it’s something that probably my wife doesn’t dig that much or that I want my kids around, but it’s funny. I’ve always said that they wanted to bang my wife. So what’s the difference?

TM: So what’s that balance? At that time, you’re obviously who you were on the air. How’s balancing that with your family? 

SF: Pretty much, when I stopped doing shows for Howard Stern on Howard 101 and I had to go back and do Vatican radio at CBS Sports radio, it was clean, family sports talk. I think at the time I did the filthiest show ever and it was repulsive and disgusting and absolutely kick ass. People dug it fast and hard. There were a lot of pranks flowing. I was just the craziest show ever. Then I had to go and do this really candy ass show but it was a good show.

The show had to be thought out, in terms of, I think it’s a lot harder to be smart and clean than it is to be dirty on the air. I mean it’s easy to just be filthy. Most people would love to do an uncensored, raw, completely no-rule show. And then they all started doing podcasts so now everybody does whatever they want. But radio, that doesn’t happen. On AM or FM radio it would never happen with the FCC and everything else. When I went to Howard 101 on satellite radio that was unheard of. Now everybody’s cussing so it’s no big deal. But you find out who’s good when you have to do a clean, family sports talk show, or any show for that matter, which has to be clean and sophisticated.

They didn’t want me doing anything dirty at CBS, they can barely handle suck or ass or anything like that. I did a completely different show so I say it all ended when I stop doing dirty for Howard. I love Howard and I always will. He’s the man, I look up to him, and it’s the greatest thing I ever did in my career. It was a blast. But it was too easy to do that raunchy style, and now I’m doing clean TV every day and radio, again.

TM: Most hosts only joke about it, but what’s it like when the FCC is really coming after you?

SF: Well, they went after me several times. Nothing ever materialized with any of it so I never really did anything that I felt was worthy of it. They tried to get me in Miami and that didn’t work. Then they tried to get me in New York and that didn’t work. After a while, they just realized I wasn’t doing anything that bad and I think when I went away and did satellite, they forgot about me. Then I came back and started doing it clean, while trying to be really sophisticated and smart. I think they got a whole new impression of me. I think they were all blown away, because I’ll be honest with you, when I got the gig to go back to CBS Sports Radio they were scared to death of me and they felt that I would last for about five minutes doing clean radio.

My goal was to blow them away. I won them over after about four years and then the last three years I rode that surfboard in deep barrels and it was fun. I got along with everybody and the bosses that didn’t originally want me there, wanted me to be there until the bitter end, when I left to go to SportsGrid. I had a great run there and they didn’t think it would happen. The suits that ran that place wanted no part of me. Chris Oliviero is the one that brought me in from Howard to CBS again. I had already left CBS once and they didn’t like me, so to get back there and win them over and be successful was capitalism at its finest.

$35/m All Picks Easy

TM: What’s a move you made in your career that you thought was risky at the time, but ended up being a great decision? 

SF: I mean I guess going to do the hockey for the Atlanta Thrashers was very risky. I walked away from a lot of money to do it, but I loved hockey more than I love money. I’ve always said that I wanted to do it. It was an expansion team, it was pretty exciting and the whole thing was pretty cool how it evolved. The guy that basically ran the Olympics came to me and said, we’re trying to sell hockey in the south. I was really popular in Atlanta. I was gargantuan in Atlanta doing my show from 3 to 7. I owned Atlanta. Who can sell hockey to rednecks better than me? I think that’s why they gave me the shot.

They put me in a room and I called a game with no rosters or anything. I looked at the Blues and the Red Wings, that’s who was playing, and all I did was make everyone in the room’s jaw drop. I did a bunch of fights that were exaggerated, and I did it until I was like soaking wet sweating and they were just staring at me like I was going to drop dead or something. And then like 20 minutes later they gave me the gig.

At the end of the day I did it, it was a grind, I didn’t like it because of the sameness of it every day. The buses, the planes and the hotels. I guess I was just used to doing a show and I was crazy. At the time I was young and wild and I partied. The team sucked, they won like 11 games the whole year. So at the end, they didn’t want me to stay and I didn’t want to stay, either. Luckily for me it was a good deal. They paid me for four years and I only worked for one. I always say it’s the best job I ever had. I got paid a lot of money to do nothing.

TM: Have you listened to anyone where you say, hmm, he reminds me of a younger version of myself? 

SF: Gabe Morency who I worked with at SportsGrid. When I met him the first time he was doing Hardcore in Toronto. It was like the satellite version of our SiriusXM. It was a hard-core, uncensored sports channel that they ran up there. He was doing a show up there with a whole lot of heavy metal, radical high-octane show and he had a gravelly voice like me and wild like me. He used to say he wanted to be me.

When I first met him, he was younger and a rock and roller. He was in a metal band and switched to do sports talk. At the time, when I first started, it was just me doing it, right. That’s how it evolved. And Jim Rome got into it and it kind of grew from there. Now there’s 5 million shows that are national here.

TM: Is anything off limits right now, when it comes to guests on the show? 

SF: I try to get really cool people that people dig and they do something that matters. I had Tony Hawk on last week and we go back. He’s a magnificent dude. He’s a giant and a titan. Guys like him, who I have a relationship with, Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons GM, coaches, players and GM’s around the league, a lot of play-by-play guys and analysts, great writers and actors, actresses and I love putting comedians on.

I’m constantly putting comedians on and I try to do it at least once a month, where we have a kick ass comedian on. We had Dan Soder on from Billions the other day. I bring back Howard guys. Every guy that I met Don Jamieson Gino Bisconte, all these comedians. I’m going wherever cool people are and try to get them on the show. I love getting unique guests. I love getting players right off the floor at the games. That’s what I like doing.

TM: Do you feel like your style over the years set you up to do a show during a pandemic with no sports?

SF: We’ve done it. I’ve been on every single day and we’ve been live doing the 4 to 6 Eastern on SportsGrid every day. I’ve had great guests on and we just dig for killer stories that we can turn into topics for the show. My guys get involved, I’ve always been a guy that supports others being involved in the show. I’ve done a lot of shows with the other SportsGrid hosts. The show isn’t just constantly doing the normal thing. It’s different doing the show from home every day and never leaving my crib. You would think I’d be in this plush penthouse in New York City and I’m sitting in my house with green screens and cameras, lighting, cable lines out of the room, it’s crazy. But we’ve just done it every day like normal.

TM: I can’t imagine a sports radio host being on Letterman these days. You were twice. How was that? 

SF: Honestly, that was like floating. That’s how gigantic David Letterman is. When I got to do his show, for me, it was like I was floating and like it wasn’t even real. I couldn’t fathom that I was going on Letterman. And then, it wasn’t just once, it was twice. It’s funny, I’ve seen people go on there multiple times, way more than me, but for me, just once, was exotic and twice was just absolutely crazy. The fact that he would have me back on again was just absurd. I must’ve done something right.

CBS To Present 'David Letterman: A Life On Television' Monday ...

I won’t deny that I was lit. When I went out there I was so nervous and so excited but so lit. Like absolutely lit. I went out there and was predicting who was going to win the title games, because it was around the Super Bowl, I started doing kicker windmills on stage. Dave was cracking up, the audience was roaring. I was whipping my leg a million miles an hour and I have no idea what I was doing. My leg could’ve flown off my body. And then the other time I did Letterman, and I thought I had the top the first time, I was wild, I did my thing and I made him laugh. Paul and him were going back-and-forth.

Second time I did it I announced that I was leaving radio to do the Thrashers gig and I stripped down all through different jerseys until I got to the point where the final thing I had on my body was a Thrashers jersey. That’s how I announced I was going to the NHL. I remember going off the stage on Letterman and my boss called me and fired me, I said, it’s a little late. I already signed with the hockey, but nice knowing you

BSM Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Chris Fowler Knows You Know He Isn’t In Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

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

Derek Futterman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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