This is my turf, the beach community of Santa Monica, where I moved to worship the sun and escape the crime and deep freeze of Chicago. And I’ve just watched paradise degenerate into Hell On Earth, CA, 90409. We are almost 2,000 miles from Minneapolis, but looking around, the world feels as bleak as it did when a racist cop pressed his knee for more than eight minutes against the neck of George Floyd, killing him.
Over there on Ocean Avenue, where I drive my bike most days, a row of police officers is firing hard rubber bullets and smoke bombs into a sea of protesters ignoring a curfew. Across the street, where I swam for years at a resort pool, a fire extinguisher is thrown from an apartment building, among many projectiles — rocks, glass, golf balls, M-80 firecrackers — hurled at police. And Chez Jay, the dive bar by the famed pier where Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrote “Good Will Hunting’’ and John F. Kennedy rendezvoused with Marilyn Monroe … rat-a-tat-tat, there goes a round of pepper spray balls.
“STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE,’’ reads a sign.
“END THE HATE,’’ reads another.
Lawlessness is one-upping sunshine as the prevailing mood. Protesters throw bottles, telling the cops to “(bleep) yourselves,’’ but the police don’t make mass arrests until later in the night. Looters are everywhere — busting windows, storming into stores and pharmacies and stealing merchandise from establishments that have been shuttered for months by the pandemic. Helicopters are hovering, innocent people are running for shelter. If anyone is wearing a mask, it’s a rarity. A grocery store where I’ve shopped is surrounded by a SWAT team, snuffing out the food looters. Blocks away, a police car is on fire beside Civic Auditorium, where they handed out Oscars in the ‘60s and once hosted Pink Floyd, Queen, Bowie, Springsteen and the Eagles.
Welcome to the Hotel California. Such a lovely place …
Fortunately, I don’t live in the thick of the skirmish lines. But this is the area, on the westside of Los Angeles, where I walk, eat, drink, socialize, shop, write, exercise, sip espresso and visit the doctor and dentist. What started as a downtown L.A. curfew extended to two nights of stay-home orders in response to mass rioting and looting throughout a sprawling metropolis, returning us to isolation just as COVID-19 lockdowns were easing, businesses were opening and you actually could sit down at a restaurant or get a haircut. Forget about that cheeseburger, beer and sideburns cleanup when the governor deploys the National Guard, last summoned to the L.A. streets in 1992, when the cops who beat Rodney King were freed by a not-guilty verdict.
Were the military Humvees, carrying Guardsmen with M-4 rifles, hauling ass down the 10 freeway? Why, yes, they were, settling after dark in locations throughout town, including the courthouse where O.J. Simpson lost the civil suit. And that crackling. Was that a round of fireworks or gunfire? Why was I hearing Rage Against The Machine in my head? There always will be blue skies and oblivious surfers in these parts, but anarchy is the new SoCal vibe. Yes, that was sports troublemaker JR Smith in a TMZ video, kicking the hell out of a white man who allegedly smashed his car window in a residential neighborhood somewhere in the L.A. fray. “I chased him down and whipped his ass,’’ Smith said in a video. “This ain’t no hate crime. I ain’t got no problem with nobody who ain’t got no problem with me. It’s a problem with the mother(bleeping) system. That’s it. … One of these mother(bleeping) white boys didn’t know where he was going and broke my (bleeping) window in my truck.”
A more measured social observer, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, captured the biggest picture with appropriate dignity. “Those people out there are demonstrating for something that is very valid,” he told KTLA. “The idea that all men are created equal is not really applied to our justice system.’’
He’s right. Why would an evil cop let a little old pandemic stop him when there’s hatred to vent, a neck to suffocate and an unarmed black man to murder? Why let the most catastrophic health crisis of our time interfere with an enemy no vaccine ever will cure? We could push a reset button on life as we’ve known it, which sounds like a fine idea right now, and there still would be a white police officer brutalizing a fellow human being for no other reason than the malignant growth of racism.
If this isn’t the 21st-century apocalypse, what is? One hundred million Americans have been killed by the coronavirus, 40 million are jobless, at least 1.5 million are homeless, scads of COVID-iots won’t wear masks to safeguard themselves and others from infection — and now, as if on cue from the usual demons heckling in the balcony box, our red, white and blue canvas is covered by mayhem, flames, sirens and mass destruction that might only be getting started. Of course, police brutality, civil unrest and the resulting violence would rear their wicked fangs with the worst timing imaginable, further battering a nation crippled by a pandemic that has conflated hellishly into political, economic and wellness divides.
Pleaded Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, who extended the overnight curfew to 5:30 a.m. Monday: “With liberty comes the responsibility to be able to peacefully protest. We cannot, though, protect our ability to protect life when we see people are looting. We cannot protect our ability to protect life when we see fires set in dense urban areas that not only endanger firefighters, but could put buildings or residents up in flames. We’ve seen this before in Los Angeles. When the violence escalates, no one wins.”
As for President Trump, is he still threatening White House protesters with “vicious dogs’’ and “ominous weapons?’’ Or do more infantile tweets await from the man who created much of the madness?
It’s difficult to think about much else when the country is a war zone. Needless to say, sports is only on the minds of degenerate gamblers and, I suppose, the leagues and broadcast networks desperate to recoup lost fortunes. This is no time to insult an American intellect that is pummeled and exhausted yet still armed with perspective. Don’t say the fires that burned in Minnesota, the demonstrations demanding justice for another victim who couldn’t breathe, ever could be soothed by — mute the ESPN theme music — the return of live games. Don’t suggest we can escape an inane presidency of Twitter bombs, currently flagged by a yogi tech titan who fasts on weekends and meditates in Myanmar, by simply sitting back and watching round balls dribbled and batted in quiet buildings.
But soon enough, after a respectful pause, we’ll again read the leaked stories that continue to incrementally push a $200-billion industry toward a resumption of games. If the summer continues to be intense — and why wouldn’t it? — does it make even less sense than before to carry on with basketball and baseball and, at some point, pro and college football? The sports-obsessed Spike Lee, when asked when Hollywood film production might resume, said this to Vanity Fair BEFORE Floyd’s death: “They ain’t doing a thing until the vaccine. I know I’m not going to a movie theater. I know I’m not going to a Broadway show. I know I’m not going to Yankee Stadium. Corona is a bitch. Corona is not playing. You (bleep) around, you’re going to get killed, you’re going to die. I’m not ready to go.” Are similarly smart people really going to watch a ballgame when, in addition to the lurking virus, your city is burning on 15 other TV channels? Will athletes and their families be able to focus on games amid the unrest when, as it is, they are imperiled by virus outbreaks no matter how many tests are readily available?
Logic makes a strong argument for American sports to shut down until 2021. Why not monitor the national condition, as well as the re-openings of European soccer leagues to see if the pandemic strikes back in those countries? Oh, I forgot. Billions of dollars are at stake, with team owners and network executives aghast at the thought of dented empires, while some players are convinced they’re invincible and bigger than any silly virus. Until we hear otherwise, assume the NBA is returning in late July and that Major League Baseball will continue to wage its internal labor battles — so inappropriate, so dumb — before deciding whether to play an abbreviated season or fade into much-deserved oblivion.
I must say, even when idle, sports has managed to hammer home its considerable influence in the hours after Floyd’s death. The immediate outcry might be recalled as more important than any games scratched out in the fraught months ahead. Who needs LeBron James trying to win a playoff series in an Orlando quarantine bubble when he’s posting a photo of Derek Chauvin’s knee juxtaposed beside a photo of Colin Kaepernick kneeling on a sideline? There is a time and place for social activism in sports. This is the time and place, after the murders of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Michael Jordan, formerly activism-phobic, answered criticism from “The Last Dance’’ docu-series by condemning police brutality, writing in a statement, “I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry. I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.”
We have yet to hear from current sports G.O.A.T. Tom Brady, who has been disproportionately visible during the pandemic — cussing up a storm with Howard Stern, telling golf razzer Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that’’ after a miracle birdie, irresponsibly hawking coronavirus-aimed supplements — but somehow can’t lash out against racism even when challenged by a HOCKEY star, Evander Kane.
Still, sports spoke, with backlash from an unexpected source, North Carolina Central basketball coach LeVelle Moton, who told ESPN Radio that he’s alarmed by the silence of Power Five basketball and football coaches — you know, the legends — in the wake of Floyd’s death. I agree. The quiet is deafening, as LeBron would agree.
“Do you understand NOW?’’ asked James, reminding the world why Kaepernick protested against police violence.
Then there was Jaylen Brown, the young Celtics star, driving 15 hours from Boston to lead a peaceful protest in Atlanta, near his hometown of Marietta, Ga. “Being a celebrity, being an NBA player, don’t exclude me from no conversations at all. First and foremost, I’m a black man and I’m a member of this community,’’ said Brown, a vice president of the National Basketball Players Association. “We’re raising awareness for some of the injustices that we’ve been seeing. It’s not OK. As a young person, you’ve got to listen to our perspective. Our voices need to be heard. I’m 23 years old. I don’t know all of the answers. But I feel how everybody else is feeling, for sure. No question.”
If and when the games resume, they will distract us for a nanosecond — maybe — from the turbulent scenes nationwide. But sports can’t delete the sick images of a creep as distinct and despicable as Chauvin, as we enter a fourth month (or is it the sixth or 10th?) of battling a devil ghost that has drained a country’s spirit and bank accounts. There can be no diversion. We’re too far gone.
Basically, the tinderbox that is America needs something, anything, that will function through the chaos and not break down in crisis. This is how sports can re-enter the murk if it so audaciously insists — and how a progressive league such as the NBA is positioned to at least get up and running while a graying, labor-torn, out-of-touch fossil such as MLB is ill-equipped to lead in tumultuous times. And I say that knowing the Players Association submitted a proposal to play a 114-game season — a marked increase from the previous 82 — that allows all players to opt out of the 2020 season over coronavirus concerns. The owners will reject it, and then what?
If sports must return, it might as well launch with its best shot to succeed. That would be the NBA, led by a woke commissioner presiding over a predominantly African-American league. Whether it was James’ tweet … or Brown’s march … or Stephen Jackson speaking out about his friendship with Floyd … or Steve Kerr trashing Vice President Mike Pence for a White House tweet that denounced the mass protests … or teams releasing statements condemning racism and violence against the black community … let’s just say the response was exactly what we’ve come to expect from Adam Silver’s league. “This is murder. Disgusting,’’ Kerr tweeted. “Seriously, what the hell is wrong with the U.S.????’’
A ballgame never has seemed more frivolous and inconsequential. But here is one reason America still can bond with sports: The NBA gets it. And it will remind us, even inside a Disney World bubble fraught with peril, that pro basketball maintains a social conscience that baseball woefully lacks. For several days, I’ve also seen sports people beyond the NBA, athletes and coaches and executives, rail against the relentless scourge of racism. Even Joe Burrow, himself only 23, was savvy enough to wax responsibly as an NFL rookie: “The black community needs our help. They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen and speak. This isn’t politics. This is human rights.’’ But, disturbingly, I had to search hard to find related baseball tweets before seeing this from the thoughtful Sean Doolittle, who wrote, “Racism is America’s Original Sin. It was here before we even forged a nation and has been passed down from generation to generation. And we still struggle to acknowledge that it even exists, much less atone for it.’’
Why not more MLB-based reaction? Maybe because only 68 of the 882 major-leaguers on Opening Day rosters last season — 7.7 percent — were African American. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who showcase a statue of racial groundbreaker Jackie Robinson outside a stadium near the rioting, didn’t have one black player … and 11 teams had no more than one. The sport that once heralded Henry Aaron and Willie Mays as its greatest stars has lost a generation of talented athletes to basketball and football, with African Americans comprising 75 percent of NBA rosters and 70 percent of NFL rosters. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was quick to issue a statement: “As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.” To which veteran receiver Kenny Stills, speaking for many players, replied, “Save the bull(bleep).’’
We’re still waiting for a statement from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who does not get it and never will.
Not to generalize, because the likes of Doolittle, Marcus Stroman and Paul DeJong are as enlightened as any modern athlete. But baseball isn’t exactly brimming with social awareness. Can you believe some players have said they won’t obey COVID-19 protocol rules that ban sunflower seeds, chewing tobacco and the spitting necessary for both functions?
“Wait, what? I’m 100 percent gonna spit,’’ Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon, the four-time All-Star, told Sports Illustrated. “That’s ingrained in my playing the game. Whether or not I’m dipping or chewing gum, I’m still gonna spit. I have to occupy my mind. It’s like putting things on autopilot. I don’t have this idle time where my consciousness wanders. I fill my time with thought processes that are like a cruise control.”
There’s woke. And there’s wack.
When I see the brainpower and energy invested in the rush to resume sports — the race to be the first major league back in business on U.S. soil — I wonder why such efforts and dynamism aren’t redirected to where they’re truly needed: medical science, race relations, leadership. In the case of baseball, such missions are laughable. MLB has tried to advance its role as a comforting, restorative balm, which is especially hokey with the league in its usual self-destructive labor mode. Once again, owners would rather portray players as greedy, pandemic-deaf ingrates than embrace a gift of the calendar: a July 4 holiday, in the heat of a volatile summer, that could present the sport in a rare positive light. Imagine a temporary truce, a mutual willingness to table their money differences and give the country a patriotic mental-health option.
Silly me. Meet the new commissioner, same as the old commissioner, representing the same ownership mindset that almost killed baseball in the mid-‘90s … and might bury the sport forever if the season is canceled because of financial contretemps that never have been more galling than amid a national crisis.
All of which leaves the NBA poised to lead at some point, near or far, as MLB crashes. Not that a cumulative wokeness can stop a virus outbreak, of course, one that could end a season as abruptly as it stopped on Rudy Gobert Night. As an indoor endeavor played by men in shorts who sweat and spray saliva on every possession, basketball is the one sport in which positive tests are inevitable. Which could lead to disarray, in particular if athletes and family members foolishly slip away from the “campus’’ and venture into Orlando, then spread whatever they might catch throughout this so-called Magic Kingdom of roundball. Remember: America may be over the pandemic, but the pandemic is not over.
At least the coronavirus has a puncher’s chance for an eventual cure. Racism is untreatable, terminal, beyond hope. My suggestion, for a pure sports fix, would be to find a happy place where children are enjoying a game for the fun of it.
Wait. The park where I watched fathers toss balls to their kids? You may have seen it in the news footage, caught in hatred’s crossfire.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Beyond The Mask: Henrik Lundqvist Embraced 2nd Career in Sports Media
“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal.”
Plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar, Henrik Lundqvist found himself beneath the bright lights once again, poised to put on a worthy performance. Just as he aimed to stop pucks from going in the net as the star goaltender of the New York Rangers for 15 seasons, Lundqvist sought to captivate viewers as half of a musical duo featuring former NHL forward Paul Bissonnette.
Their performance of “Good Riddance” by Green Day was in tribute to Rick Tocchet, a former NHL on TNT studio analyst who recently departed the network to serve as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Lundqvist serves as a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the NHL, breaking down players and teams throughout the broadcast and bringing his own unique style to the set. His pursuit of a post-playing career in sports media was no guarantee from the moment he retired in August 2021; in fact, he never intended to stop playing the game and competing for a Stanley Cup championship at that time.
During the 2019-20 season, Lundqvist had lost playing time to young goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, and by the year’s end, his deal was bought out by the team. In an effort to continue playing, Lundqvist signed a contract with the Washington Capitals – marking the first time in his NHL career that he would not step between the pipes for the Rangers.
Lundqvist never played a game for the team though, as it was discovered in a medical exam that he would need open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve while also having an aortic root and ascending aortic replacement. Less than two months after the successful five-hour operation, he was back on the ice rehabbing and attempting to make a full recovery – but a few months in, he began to feel unexpected chest pain. Following a medical checkup, Lundqvist was told he had inflammation around his heart. It was a significant setback that required him to step off the ice, take off his goaltender equipment and rest for several months.
After discussions with his family and friends, Lundqvist determined that the risk of taking the ice outweighed the rewards and officially stepped away from the game. Rather than conjuring hypothetical scenarios wherein he did not experience the misfortune and played for the Capitals, Lundqvist looked to the future amid the ongoing global pandemic and thought about how he could best enjoy his retirement.
“I was just mentally in a very good place,” Lundqvist said. “I didn’t have a choice; I guess that makes it easier sometimes when the decision is made because you can’t go back-and-forth – ‘Should I?’ ‘Should I not?’ Yeah, I wanted to play but it was just not meant to be for me.”
Before any definitive resolution on his future endeavors was made though, the Rangers announced that the team would retire Lundqvist’s No. 30 in a pregame ceremony during the 2021-22 season, making him just the 11th player bestowed that honor in franchise history. As a five-time NHL All-Star selection, 2011 Vezina Trophy winner, and holder of numerous franchise records, Lundqvist had the accolades to merit this profound distinction.
Moreover, he was an important component in growing the game of hockey and contributing to the greater community, serving as the official spokesperson for the Garden of Dreams Foundation and founder of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. He also was a two-time recipient of the organization’s prestigious Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, honoring the player “who goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
Throughout the night, attendees regaled Lundqvist with chants of “Hen-rik!” and were treated to flashbacks of some of his memorable career moments. The night was of monumental importance for Lundqvist, during which he expressed his gratitude to the Rangers’ organization, former teammates and fans. Then, Lundqvist — referred to as “The King” — promptly took his place among team legends beneath the concave ceiling of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“When I look back at my career, I know, to me, it was all about preparation; how I practiced and how I prepared for each game at practice,” Lundqvist said. “There’s no regrets, and I hope people, when they think about how I played, [know] that it was 100% heart and commitment to the game.”
Before this ceremony though, Lundqvist and Rangers owner James Dolan had held several meetings with one another. The purpose of these conversations was to determine the best way for Lundqvist to remain involved with the team, its fans, and the community. In the end, he was named as a lead studio analyst on MSG Networks’ broadcasts of New York Rangers hockey before the start of the 2021-22 season: the start of his foray in sports media.
This past summer, Lundqvist negotiated a new deal with Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden Entertainment in which he maintained his in-studio responsibilities while increasing involvement in other areas of its sports and entertainment ventures. In this new role, Lundqvist supports the business operations for both companies, assisting in digital content development, alumni relations, and partner and sponsor activities.
When Lundqvist is not in the studio or the office, he can often be found at Madison Square Garden taking in New York Rangers hockey, New York Knicks basketball, or one of the arena’s renowned musical performances. Usually, when he is in attendance, he is shown on the arena’s center-hung video board as an “NYC Celebrity” and receives a thunderous ovation from the crowd.
“The network is just part of it, but it feels great to come there,” Lundqvist said of Madison Square Garden. “Every time I go there – to see the people that I’ve known for so long – but also I love that place; I love The Garden. I think the energy [and] the variety of things that happen there is something I really appreciate. It feels really good to be a part of that.”
Sitting alongside former teammate and studio analyst Steve Valiqutte and sportscaster John Giannone, Lundqvist appears in the MSG Networks studios, located across the street from the arena, for select New York Rangers games. From the onset, he brought his allure and expertise to the set and appealed to viewers – so much so that national networks quickly began to take notice.
“I enjoy watching hockey [and] talking hockey, but the main thing to me is the team; the people that you work with,” Lundqvist said. “The guys on the panel [and the] crew behind. I really enjoy that part of it and having a lot of fun off-camera.”
One month later, Lundqvist was on his first national broadcast for the NHL on TNT where he and Bissonnette famously performed a cover of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica that went viral on social media. It had been known that Lundqvist was a musician, famously performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in his Rangers uniform to celebrate the end of the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
In fact, during his retirement ceremony, the Rangers gifted him with a custom-made guitar painted by David Gunnarsson, the same artist who used to paint Lundqvist’s goalie masks.
Aside from occasional music performances, Lundqvist brings an esoteric base of knowledge to the NHL on TNT panel as its only goaltender. Whether it be through player breakdowns, interviews, or dialogue with other analysts, Lundqvist has a perspective to which few professional hockey players can relate. There are various goaltenders among local studio panels surrounding live hockey game broadcasts, and Lundqvist is in a unique situation with MSG Networks in that he and Valiquette are both former goaltenders. Yet on Turner Sports’ national coverage, he is the only voice speaking to this different part of the game.
“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal,” Lundqvist explained. “Yes, you need to stop the puck, but a huge part of being a goalie is analyzing what’s going on. We can never really dictate the play so you need to analyze what’s happening right in front of you.”
In broadcasting at both the local and national level, Lundqvist is cognizant of the differences in each network’s studio programs. Lundqvist says appearing on the MSG Networks studio panel is more about being direct with the viewer, whereas the NHL on TNT views its panel as being conversational in nature. With Turner Sports, Lundqvist also asks his colleagues about the different teams around the league since he is most familiar with the Rangers both as a former player and studio analyst.
“I’m closer to the Rangers; I see more of what’s going on,” Lundqvist stated. “When you work [national] games, maybe you focus in on teams on the West Coast or [part] of the league you don’t see as often. You try to talk to the other guys on the panel and the crew and figure out things that are interesting about those teams.”
Hockey is a team sport, and Lundqvist felt grateful to play with his teammates and face his competitors over the years. Now as an analyst though, it is his job to analyze their games and critique them when necessary; however, he does not try to be excessively critical.
Lundqvist knows the trials and tribulations associated with the sport and can relate to scenarios many players face on a nightly basis. Therefore, he thinks about his own experience before giving an opinion, especially a critique, instantiating it with comprehensible, recondite knowledge and/or by recounting a similar situation.
“I’d much rather give them positive feedback obviously because I know it is a tough game,” Lundqvist said, “and sometimes it might look like an easy mistake, but if you can give the viewer a better explanation of why he did that, they might have a different view of that mistake.”
Now metaphorically being beyond the goalie mask, Lundqvist’s vision of the game has evidently shifted. He discerns just how intense the schedule is and the rapid pace of the game, axioms he was aware of while playing but inherently avoided thinking about. He has implemented his refined viewpoint of the game accordingly into his analysis, simultaneously utilizing the mindset and savvy he cultivated on the ice. It is, quite simply, a balancing act.
“I think people can be pretty quick to jump on guys and critique them,” Lundqvist said. “That’s where maybe you take an extra look and try to understand why it happened and give those reasons. I think that’s where it helps if you played the game [for] a long time and just love the game [because] you have a pretty good understanding of why guys react a certain way.”
The challenge tacitly embedded in the jobs of most studio analysts – Lundqvist’s included – is in presenting the information to the audience in a manner through which it learns without being confused. It is a delicate craft that takes time and genuine understanding to master, especially related to promulgating hockey analytics as Valiquette does on MSG Networks and within his company, Clear Sight Analytics.
“There’s a lot of educated viewers out there, but there’s also a lot of people that maybe don’t watch as much hockey,” Lundqvist said, “so you want to find that middle ground where you kind of educate both sides.”
By broadcasting both locally and nationally in addition to working in a specially-designed business operations role, Lundqvist is staying around the rink in his retirement while facilitating the growth of hockey. Despite the profusion of young talent, dynamic action and jaw-dropping plays, viewership of the sport on ESPN and TNT’s linear channels has dropped 22% from last season, according to a report by Sports Business Journal.
For Lundqvist though, he does not feel much has changed from playing regarding his responsibility to advance the reach and appeal of the sport. He played professionally for 20 years, beginning his career in his home country of Sweden, primarily in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the 2004-05 season, his final campaign before arriving in New York City, Lundqvist had won the award for most valuable player. Furthermore, he was recognized as the best goalie and best player, leading Frölunda HC to its second Elitserien championship in three seasons.
His NHL debut came five years after he was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers but unlike many rookies over the years, he came polished and prepared to embrace the lights of Broadway. Following an injury to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was inserted into the starting lineup and, from that moment on, virtually never came out.
By the end of his first year, he had been named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender. Additionally, he remains the only goaltender to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 30-plus win seasons.
“I think the league is doing a great job of growing the game,” Lundqvist said. “In the end, it comes down to the product and right now, it’s a great product. I feel really good about, the best way I can, to promote the game [by] talking about it, but… it feels like I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”
One means through which Lundqvist attempts to grow the game is within the studio demos he performs with the NHL on TNT, displaying different facets of the game in a technical manner. The show also embraces the characteristics of their analysts and implements them in lighthearted segments, such as zamboni races, putting competitions, Swedish lessons and, of course, musical performances.
“I’m huge on mindset and the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I love to talk about that type of stuff and give the viewer a better understanding of what goes through their heads. In terms of personality, I don’t know if I can say [that] I’m a serious guy because I love to have fun and laugh and do fun things.”
Lundqvist thoroughly enjoys what he is doing both locally and nationally, and he ensures he surrounds himself with people he wants to be around. There are plenty of other broadcast opportunities for former hockey players, such as moving into the booth as a color commentator or between the benches as a rinkside reporter. At this moment though, he is more focused on being immersed in his current roles, performing them to the best of his ability while ensuring he allocates time to spend with friends and family.
“I see myself more as an analyst in the studio more than traveling around and being in the rink,” he said. “I think that’s another thing with the schedule; it works really well with my schedule to have one or two commitments with the networks, but then I have other things going on in my life that I commit to.”
Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between playing professional hockey and covering the sport from the studio in terms of preparation and synergy. Yet the end result is not as clearly defined since “winning” in television is quantifiably defined as generating ratings and revenue. Undoubtedly, Lundqvist is focused on doing what he can to bolster hockey’s popularity; however, he also wants to enjoy this new phase of his career being around the game he loves.
“In sports, you win or you lose,” Lundqvist explained. “With TV, you want to be yourself [and] you want to get your point out – but at the same time, if you do it at the same time you’re having a good time, I feel like that’s good TV.”
Once their careers conclude, many athletes think about pursuing a post-playing career and oftentimes end up taking on a role in sports broadcasting. On MSG Networks alone, there are plenty of former players who take part in studio coverage on live game broadcasts, such as Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres, Bryce Salvador of the New Jersey Devils, and Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. At the national level, Turner Sports employs Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky for its studio broadcasts, while ESPN’s top studio crew includes Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.
All of these former professional hockey players had an obligation to regularly speak with media members, answering questions about games and the season at large. Lundqvist maintained a professional relationship with journalists and beat reporters, and he most enjoyed taking questions when the team was doing well. Regardless of what the end result of a game was though, he had a responsibility to divulge his thoughts and, in turn, be subject to criticism and/or negative feedback.
His stellar career and persona all came from emanating a passion for the game – and it continues to manifest itself beyond the television screen. Listening to those passionate about the game discuss it usually engenders euphony and lucidity to viewers, analogous to the sound of the puck hitting the pads or entering the glove. It is a timbre Lundqvist created 27,076 times throughout his NHL career (regular season and playoffs) in preventing goals, and one he now aims to explain en masse.
“The reason why I kept going to the rink and put all the hours in was because I really enjoyed it,” Lundqvist said. “If you decide to go into media or whatever it might be, I think the bottom line is [that] you have to enjoy it and make sure you have good people around you.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
Diamond Sports has been anything but a diamond in the sports world. As subscribers leave cable and satellite for streaming services, companies are dropping RSNs nationwide because they are too expensive to carry. This has caused an impending bankruptcy for the company, which owns the local rights to dozens of sports teams nationwide. It is also putting the NBA, NHL, and MLB at major financial risk.
In the short term, it is known that teams will still broadcast on their RSNs even if they aren’t getting the paychecks they were promised in previous rights deals. This will affect teams’ ability to pay players and could even create an unfair advantage among the haves of the sports world like the Yankees and Lakers and the have-nots. The NFL doesn’t face the same problems that the other leagues are facing because its rights have been nationalized.
With the NFL’s continued television dominance, college conferences also bundling up games together for more money, and the MLS guaranteeing themselves television revenue after packaging local and national rights together, could we see the other leagues follow suit? It is an option that is much easier said than done but it seems like we are moving closer to it becoming reality.
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
The biggest problem the NBA and other leagues would face are that the local rights to all of its teams don’t expire at the same time. If the league were to sign a deal that included giving all local rights to a streamer, the amount which the league was getting paid would be very unique year after year. It would be crazy for a streamer to pay a huge chunk of money to the NBA all at once if the number of teams they have local rights to changes every year.
It would also be insane to pay an astronomical amount if the streamer is only getting the local rights to small-market teams like the Cavs and the Pistons. A major market team like the Lakers doesn’t renew their local rights until 2032. We’re still in 2023. How does that affect the league’s operating costs?
The NBA would also have to figure out whether teams whose rights don’t expire yet deserve to be included in the pot of money garnered from selling local rights to a streamer. Whether they are or they aren’t, does it put each team at different competitive advantages and/or disadvantages when trying to acquire free agents or front-office personnel?
One of the most interesting puzzles to figure out is what influence a league owner like Washington’s Ted Leonsis has in this potential measure when all is said and done. Leonsis just acquired complete control of the regional sports network — currently named NBC Sports Washington — that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games for millions of dollars, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.
What does Leonsis do with his network if his team’s games can no longer air there? Can his team opt out of participating in a potential league offering? Or if the games continue to air on his network but are simulcasted locally on the streamer that wins local rights on a national scale, does the streamer have the ability to pay less money for rights?
If so, does that make the deal as lucrative for the NBA? And what does that mean for retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast pay to Leonsis and other RSNs they’re still carrying?
The league will face a similar problem with the Lakers, Bulls, Knicks and other franchises that either wholly own or partially own a part of the RSNs where they broadcast their games.
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions which is why they are written here in this column. Unfortunately for the leagues, they don’t have the answers either. But if the NBA figures out a way to nationalize their product even more and make streaming games more appealing by ending local blackouts, it’ll benefit the game more than it hurts the game.
NBA, NHL, and MLB games are still some of the highest-rated programs locally in many markets when you look at how they rate vs. other cable and broadcast offerings. But at this point, the ability to charge everyone for a program that only ten percent of subscribers are watching is a losing business proponent.
The leagues should start from scratch and sell a mass package of games for maximum profit. It gives fans a more centralized location to watch their favorite teams and puts the leagues on a much more steady path than where they could be headed sooner rather than later.
Diamond in the rough to sparkling jewel of light? Only time will tell.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?
“We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right?”
Having gratitude for your life is all the rage. If you, like me, have trouble starting your day with positive affirmations and maintaining a positive outlook about your job, read on!
We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right? Here is another version. Try a few affirmations of gratitude instead.
“I HAVE A JOB.”
With interest rates rising, inflation increasing, and spending down; corporations are laying people off. PayPal laid off 7% of its entire workforce. Amazon let 18,000 go. Alphabet (Google) said goodbye to 12,000 jobs. Radio sales managers need to hire people like you – experienced sellers with a track record of bringing home the bacon.
“I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”
You solve a problem for your company when it comes to revenue. You know people, and you sell advertising better than anything they can come up with…so far.
Yes, they are trying to replace you, but Zoom Info reports iHeart’s self-serve spot buying service, AdBuilder, is doing under 5 million in business. You have time to solidify your value. Be happy you are the rainmaker.
“I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”
Sports talk radio is the ultimate companion to millions of listeners. They aren’t robots, and your stations improve their lives by talking about what they care about 24/7. Celebrate selling access to callers, Twitter followers and FANS who go to games. You also get to work with local celebrities that everybody knows but you know best. We all need a connection to other people and want to be seen and heard.
“I GET TO CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF.”
In this job, you determine your value, feelings about your work, and who you work with. You get to set a strategy and talk to the businesspeople you want to help and do business with. It’s like running your own business with a tremendous support staff. Try to do it independently, and you will appreciate accounting, traffic, production, and sales assistance. Those wins produce deposits in your bank account.
“I HAVE COMPETITION!”
That format competitor across the street does things differently and sometimes better than you or tries to imitate you and looks terrible. They motivate you to beat them to a new account or put a moat around your best clients so they can’t be touched. They keep you sharp and willing to try new things. Good competition schemes to take money from your station, and your management needs you to protect them. And they also provide a place for you to work one day. The FTC wants to eliminate non-competes so you can walk across the street this year.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.