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Listeners Love Larry Krueger, But They Don’t Need Him

“I think this is actually one of the positive attributes of being here is that people have sports in the proper perspective. They don’t need a tragedy or a pandemic or death in the family to remind them of that.”

Brian Noe

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Originally from San Francisco, Larry Krueger does afternoon drive in the town he grew up in. His grandfather was a cable car conductor way back after World War I. His dad worked for the city attorney’s office for 40 years. Larry’s Bay Area roots — and his love for the Giants, Niners, and Warriors — run deep. He also considers his familiarity with the area to be his home court advantage. Larry has always understood what the audience wants because it’s the place he’s always called home.

Krueger To Stay By The Bay - Radio Ink
Courtesy: KNBR.com

Larry stars alongside Tom Tolbert and Rod Brooks on the legendary radio station KNBR. We cover a lot of ground in this interview including the sensitivity level of certain local teams and how Bay Area fans have been mislabeled. One of Larry’s most interesting views is why the local audience wants sports radio but doesn’t need it. Larry also talks about his identity crisis, why it’s best to not talk to a friend often, and how family and football might factor into his future plans. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What did you learn from your time working with Gary Radnich?

Larry Krueger: He treated people so well when we’d be out in public. I just learned to treat everybody great. Sports talk radio is the toy department of life so nobody wants somebody who’s dour, and down, and bummed, and bitter when they meet them publicly. They want somebody who’s up, and fun, and enthusiastic. He treated people so well. He was on TV and radio so he was recognized all the time everywhere we went. People would want five minutes of his time. He was just so generous with his time because I think he felt like his popularity was tied a lot to the public, so he treated them well. I always kind of knew that was the case, treat people well, but to see it carried out I think really hit home.

BN: What’s the biggest difference between working with Tom Tolbert and when you worked with Gary?

LK: They’re similar in that I don’t know which direction they’re going to go. They’re not formulaic guys. They’re independent thinkers. They’re different in just their mindsets. Tom played the game at a professional level. Gary played it at a collegiate level. I think there are some lessons to be learned when you play professionally that you don’t get if you don’t.

They’re very similar in a lot of ways, but Tom is much more micro and Gary was much more macro. Tom will go deeper into some of the actual nuts and bolts of strategy in the different sports. He likes to kind of break down things where Gary didn’t really like to break things down. He would push back with humor often. [Laughs] He didn’t want to break it down. He wanted to laugh and just joke and have a good time. They both want to have a good time, but I think Tommy is a little bit more into the strategy and the game within the game. Gary likes people and the impact of everything on people. He’s looking at it more from the fan’s perspective I think.

BN: What is the key ingredient that makes your show with Tom and Rod a success?

LK: I would just say that we don’t have a meeting before the show. We don’t leave the show in the pre-show meeting because there is no pre-show meeting. I think that’s a huge key. I know there are a lot of program directors that are like, ‘Get in here two hours ahead of time and you guys hammer it out. He’s going this way, and you’re going that way, and then he’ll counter with this.’ No. Jeremiah Crowe doesn’t believe in that. The program directors prior to that didn’t believe in that. This is big market radio. They point you to the studio and they hold you accountable for the ratings. You’ve got to figure it out from there. I think that’s good because it’s organic. We don’t know if we’re going to talk about funny stuff in the first segment, or a death, or something incredibly sensitive. Especially in the last year, it’s been a very trying year, and despite the fact that a lot of people want to be very planned out with their commentary, we don’t leave it in the pre-show because we don’t have that whole let’s do the show before the show.

BN: What are the differences between Jeremiah and previous programmers Bob Agnew and Lee Hammer?

LK: Every programmer I’ve had here has given us total autonomy to do the show how we see fit. I think Jeremiah let’s the shows breathe a little bit more. He’s not giving us daily feedback or segment-by-segment feedback. I think some of the guys before would try to give you daily feedback or some kind of weekly feedback. His feedback is more like hey I’ve been listening for the last four or five weeks, this is what I hear. I kind of like that because it takes the importance out of each show. Anything can be said once but this is what I’m hearing consistently. I think what you hear consistently is a better way to evaluate. I like the way he does that. He doesn’t micromanage at all.

BN: KNBR has been labeled as being overly positive toward Bay Area teams. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

LK: That’s a great question. I think that is a fair assessment to be honest. I worked with Russo at Mad Dog Radio. I used to be an affiliate relations person for a network so I’ve listened to a lot of sports radio in other markets. I think there’s more of an antagonistic relationship in a lot of these markets. One time I commented to a guy who was doing sports updates for me on Mad Dog, I’m like dude, every score you just gave, the team lost to the other team. Nobody beat anybody. Everybody lost. The Celtics lost of the Nets tonight. The Knicks lost. I said just think about that for a second. Everybody lost. I think the atmosphere is hyper-negative in this industry coast to coast so I prefer a little bit more positivity.

I also think it’s tied to the business relationships. When you’re the flagship station — we had a competitor this year who after a 49er game just filmed himself saying, ‘I hate Nick Mullens,’ at the top of his lungs. That kind of I’m the voice of the fan, people here are a little bit more sophisticated. I don’t think that jives that well to be totally honest.

You also have to remember the Giants own a part of the station. Being the flagship station is a different deal than just being a station in the market. I think that’s the balance. When you’re a 50,000-watt station and you were the only show in town for a long time, you have to be entertaining, you have to get the fans going, but you also have to maintain relationships with your partners or you’re not going to be in it for the long haul. I do think we’re a little bit more favorable across the board toward the home teams here than what I’ve heard around the country. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but I definitely think it’s the case.

BN: Sometimes teams are very sensitive about what the flagship station is saying about them. How would you rate the sensitivity level of the teams in the market?

LK: I do the 49er pre and postgame show with Dennis Brown and John Lund in addition to doing my Monday through Friday show. The 49ers are so big time it’s unbelievable. I’ve talked to the head of broadcast over there, the owner, general manager, head coach, I’ve talked to every major executive, I’ve never once had anybody even suggested to me, hey your tone, or your this or that. I’m known as somebody who gets it right as far as facts; I spend a lot of time to try to get it right. Part of that could be it. But also they’re just big time. It’s like New York or LA, they don’t have rabbit ears. It’s amazing.

KNBR's Larry Krueger: You can go home again
Courtesy: Ben Fong-Torres

I’d rank them number one. Then I would rank the Giants and the Warriors number two. Easily the most sensitive franchises have been the Raiders and the A’s. If you said something about the Raiders, you just wouldn’t get a Raider. That would be it. You had to decide what you wanted to do. Do you want players on your show or do you want to have freedom to say what you want to say?

I would say the 49ers are number one. You can absolutely say — they don’t want you to go crazy — but as long as you’re somewhat fair and somewhat on topic, there’s total latitude to say pretty much what you want, when you want. I like that. As somebody who does a postgame show, you know the way the NFL is, the NFL is passionate and every game means everything, and we’re taking phone calls. I’ve lived through the Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula eras. There were times I had to say this is just not going to work anymore. I’ve been incredibly critical of the teams at times, and the 49ers I would say are the best I’ve ever been around as far as that. They just will not try to in any way impact what you’re going to say.

BN: How about the way fans have been labeled in that area as being passive or less caring; do you think that’s accurate at all?

LK: No, I don’t. People here have incredible passion for their teams. It’s just this is California. We’re not locked in our house and there are a lot of great things to do in California. The weather is fantastic. The ocean is there and the mountains are there. There’s skiing and surfing and you can do them in the same weekend. It’s practically all year long. The people here, they love sports radio but they don’t need it. They need in other parts of the country. Need it. Here they like it, they want it, they prefer it, but they don’t need it. So you better be good.

I think this is actually one of the positive attributes of being here is that people have sports in the proper perspective. They don’t need a tragedy or a pandemic or death in the family to remind them of that. The Warriors could have an NBA championship parade and there could be people literally calling up going why are there so many people gathering? That wouldn’t happen in other towns. Here there are people that are so in to what they’re in to, that they’re disengaged on that level. In other words you’re never going to get them, really. But I think that’s healthy because that’s society. Sports is an aspect of our society. It’s not society. I think the perspective that people have here is healthy to be honest. I really do.

BN: When you’re competing for ratings against Damon Bruce, has that had any impact on your friendship?

LK: He just called me the other day. He was my producer in 1995 when I worked for Ron Barr’s Sports Byline USA. We’ve been friends ever since. We don’t talk as much as we used to. [Laughs] I’ll say that. We’ve only talked like once or twice in the last year even though we’re still friends and we’re still represented by the same agent and we have a lot of history. I have nothing but good things to say about him as a person and I’m sure he’s got nothing but good things to say about me as a person. But he’s competitive and I’m competitive. I’m the kind of person that would say I kicked your butt more than you’ve kicked my butt, so it’s best just not to talk.

BN: Since 2011, you’ve had another station to compete against in The Game. How has it impacted your approach to the job with a rival station in the market?

LK: I think competition makes people better. I’m a believer in America. I’m a believer in capitalism and competition. Jim Harbaugh used to say iron sharpens iron. I just think competition makes us all better. I love that they’re there. It keeps everybody on their toes.

To be totally honest it’s probably the reason I got back on the air in 2011 because suddenly there was competition. There are two shows in town. Before that it was like, do you want me on your team or not? Then after that point it was like, do you want me on your team, or do you want me against you? [Laughs] I think competition is always a good thing. I think it makes everybody better. I think it’s been a real positive. It gives people more choices and it makes us be on top of our game. You don’t have the announcer that’s going on and on and on about the eleventh rated topic that he himself is super passionate about, but the audience couldn’t give a crap about. That doesn’t happen anymore because there’s somebody down the dial who’s probably playing the hits. So play the hits.

BN: What was it like for you during that time [between ’05 & ‘11] not being on the air in the Bay Area?

LK: It was like an identity crisis to be totally honest. It was like, was I a sports talk host who just wasn’t working, or was I doing what I was doing and not putting everything into it? It was a constant thing. I did really well away from radio. I made really good money but it also felt more like work.

To me it all comes down to how you feel on a Friday and a Sunday. When I’m doing sports radio, Sunday comes up and I don’t care. It’s like any other day of the week. Why? Because I love what I do. I don’t really care if tomorrow is Monday morning and I have a whole other workweek. I don’t look at it as work. When I didn’t do sports radio and I did other things for money, I cherished Friday afternoon. The weekends went by too fast and the weekdays went by too slow.

BN: What were you doing outside of sports radio?

LK: I did sales. I sold siding, like fiber cement siding that you put on buildings. It was great. I sold millions of dollars of that stuff but it just wasn’t — [Laughs]. The other thing I learned, anybody who does this for a living could do well at sales. It’s all about talking and holding the audience.

BN: Having previously worked for Mad Dog and ESPN Radio, what would you say are the biggest pros and cons of doing a national show?

LK: Well the pros are definitely that you have a greater variety of topics. And I love talking to people. There’s great passion around the country. There’s very little passion in this part of the country for college football, and yet there’s great passion around the country for college football. I like the national platform from that perspective; you have people that are super passionate all around the country. I think it’s really interesting when you start taking calls and you go to the different regions of the country, the different accents, their perspectives. It’s really refreshing.

As far as the constraints, I felt like you have to go with the NFL or NBA story. Baseball nationally doesn’t go. Baseball locally, if you’re in New York on the FAN, talk Yankees all day. But you get on Mad Dog Radio and you start talking tons of baseball, it’s like ugh, when are you going to talk basketball or the NFL? On the national platforms I think they’re too reliant on the NFL. NFL stories that aren’t even stories can get pushed for days sometimes with no legitimacy just because it’s the NFL and people want to go with the biggest national story. That’s the downside I think is that it’s a little bit overdone as far as the NFL and NBA breakdown. I’ll hear NBA breakdowns throughout August. It’s like bro, I don’t want to talk any more NBA. Let’s put it away.

BN: Looking to the future, are there any goals on your list that you’d like to accomplish?

LK: One of the things that we haven’t talked about at all is that I went to Sac State, and out of college I got a job scouting in the Canadian Football League with the Sacramento Gold Miners. I left the Gold Miners and went to the Arizona Cardinals and was doing personnel for them until I kind of decided that one of my real goals in life was to have kids and have a family. I’m one of four kids. I just saw football personnel evaluation as not conducive to building a family. That’s truly what I’m best at. At some point I feel like I’ve got two kids in college right now, I’ve got a couple more to go, but someday, somehow, someway I’m going to get back into football player personnel because that’s what I’m good at.

BN: Do you think that focusing on your family or other non-sports things makes you more interesting as a sports host?

LK: Absolutely. You can’t relate to somebody if you don’t have a mortgage, if you don’t have a kid, if you don’t have a wife, if you don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend, whatever it is. You have to have life experiences. One of my favorite guys to listen to, he’s one of my good friends, is Jody Mac. He’s an older guy but he’s got life experiences and you can hear it. He brings it to the air. I love that. That’s what I love about Dog too. He’s got passion but he’s also has lived. That’s what I love about Radnich. He always used to have a saying; I’ve lived a little.

With plenty of emotion, Gary Radnich says goodbye after 24 years at KNBR
Courtesy: KNBR

The one thing I learned from being involved in scouting in my 20s, and all the other scouts were in their 60s for the most part, is that old people know a lot and young people know very little. We should shut up and listen more to older people. I don’t know why we don’t honor older people in our society the way other societies do. That’s a bigger question probably for another time, but I just think older people have knowledge, and they have perspective, and they have wisdom, and we don’t take the time to listen enough.

What we’re doing is about relatability. The best hosts are the ones who relate. How do you relate if you haven’t lived? How do you relate if you have nothing to compare it to? Maybe you had a bankruptcy or had a foreclosure or had a divorce or have been fired. I think that’s why you see guys last a long time in this business because if you can maintain your passion and your desire to be a voracious reader and digest all the day-to-day minutia, well then you will have it all because you also have the perspective of having lived.

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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