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Chris Wittyngham Is A Fancy Lad With A Variety Of Skills

“I was walking around Lake Tahoe at the American Century Championship and people were shouting ‘fancy lad’ at me. My co-workers at Inter Miami jeer me with ‘fancy lad.’ It’s inescapable.”

MIchael Quirk

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Chris Wittyngham has always known the thoroughfare he wanted to travel was in sports media. While playing Madden as a kid, he recalled he would often listen to the announcers and think, “this is something I can do.” Like many in the field, he knew his destiny would not be providing the winning score, rather it would be painting the complexion of the score into the ears of his listeners.   

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Never lacking in eccentricity, Wittyngham has elicited Twitter reply firestorms for some of his revelations on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, of which he serves as a producer. For instance, rather than use the alarm on his phone or albeit-antiquated clock radio, “Witty” — as he is known on the show – uses the timer on his oven. He also drew shock and awe – and a slew of invitations – when he said if he is invited to a wedding, and if he is available to go, he will attend no matter what. Even his father was caught by surprise when his son told the crew he had never eaten a Snickers bar before, much to the chagrin of a football-playing Betty White, too, I’m certain.

Don’t let unorthodox quirks take away from his bona fides, however. Witty attended the prestigious University of Miami where he earned a degree in broadcast journalism. While many fresh-out-of-school journalists cut their teeth in small towns, banana republics, or blog spots, Wittyngham began his career as a host with 790 The Ticket in his hometown of Miami. His ascent in journalism looks less like the parable of the ever-patient tortoise, and more like The Price is Right yodeler, often leading Le Batard to refer to him as a “prodigy.”

Wittyngham has made a name for himself in sports radio, sure, but he doubles his workload in the soccer arena. He’s called matches for DAZN, beIN Media Group and TUDN. He currently calls Inter Miami CF matches, drawing praise last weekend for his call with the legendary Ray Hudson.

A consummate fan of soccer around the world, Wittyngham said he got into the beautiful game by watching wrap-up shows from Europe. Despite Stugotz’s myopic views on soccer taking hold in the U.S., Wittyngham is optimistic and offered his advice to Americans looking to brush up on the world’s most popular sport.

“I watched The Premier League Review Show and they would wrap the games and storylines and I would watch that show to pick up the jargon and who the best players and managers were,” he said. “MLS will grow and a lot of cities will have soccer teams. Go watch them, but if you’re going to follow the global and international game, start in one place. For me, it was England and the Premier League.”

His path in sports radio and soccer were seemingly clear, but it was a detour to the side that has further enhanced the young broadcaster’s visibility. Wittyngham co-hosted the popular Chelsea Mike’d Up podcast with Mike Ryan, executive producer for The Le Batard Show. The two are close due to their doting passions for soccer and their lifelong home of South Florida. When Le Batard, Stugotz, and “The Shipping Container” famously pulled their pirate ship’s anchor from ESPN, Ryan asked for Wittyngham’s assistance. 

The show was as or more popular than any sports radio show in the United States. Listeners have long-gravitated toward the show for its vulnerability, humor, honesty, and its role as a sort of “anti-sports sports radio show.” Funding was not going to be a problem due to the loyal audience that would follow the crew no matter what but leaving the Worldwide Leader posed some logistical challenges by way of hosting platforms and getting the content to its ever-eager audience. 

“It was announced they were going to leave, and around that time Mike reached out to me because of our experience with Chelsea,” Wittyngham said. “I have experience with podcast hosting and how to get the platform up while sustaining the bandwidth. Mike knew I had that experience, so I did the research and found our hosting service. It’s funny when you’re in that role, how many areas of the business it affects.”

Joining the show by way of his credibility and connections with members of the bustling enterprise at Meadowlark Media was easy. But what is it like to assimilate into the show whose listeners view the crew as part of not only their routine, but part of their extended family as well? After all, there is the “Stugotz Army,” the “Cote Calvary” for Chris Cote, and “Guillermo Mafia” for Billy Gil, among others. How has it been finding his place among the established members of the Shipping Container to endear himself to an impassioned fanbase?

“My experience has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I find it enjoyable, interesting, intriguing that people enjoy the quirky things I bring up on the show. I have a healthy relationship with my Twitter replies to not take anything personally good or bad.

“It’s been different in one way to have scrutiny but to have a group of people immensely passionate about the work you’re doing. I was always careful that my role did not step on the show for what it is, a group singing from the same hymn sheet making music. Dan has been immensely encouraging, telling me ‘don’t feel like you’re doing too much or doing too little,’ making me feel comfortable. The way my intro was framed was helpful as well. They framed it around me being obnoxious and pompous of being a ‘fancy lad.’ From every standpoint, it’s been fun for me. It’s been incredibly fun.”

The “fancy lad” moniker” stems from Wittyngham’s proclivity to pull from his deep lexicon or to provide historical context for one of the topics de jour. Fans of the show from the ESPN days may remember the jingle that played each time Pablo Torre would say something bordering on the line of playfully pompous. The “Fancy Lad” soundbite that rings out, “Chris Wittyngham is a fancy lad,” comes from the same tree, leading to shirts and memes galore. At times, he will even get a catcall or two with the nickname, but it does not bother Witty in the slightest.

“I was walking around Lake Tahoe at the American Century Championship and people were shouting ‘fancy lad’ at me. My co-workers at Inter Miami jeer me with ‘fancy lad.’ It’s inescapable. It’s such a total joy and delight that anything got slapped on me in terms of identity. It’s with complete and utter bewilderment that I appreciate every second of it.”

Calling soccer games and serving as a producer for one of the largest independent entities in sports media is two full-time jobs. Wittyngham is a self-proclaimed workaholic but was clear that he feels lucky because loves the work he does. He cited Rich Eisen and Dan Patrick as those who work full-time in radio, but also have the ability to work on other passions outside of their studios. Le Batard has also made sure Wittyngham never feels overworked.

“It’s ultimately about my capacity and Dan made it clear to me that it’s a fully open door for whether I want to wind it down or wind it up,” he said. “He’s been great to me, everyone at the show has been great to me, to make of this what I will.”

That show famously has a variety of inside jokes with the show continuously playing the sound of disingenuous-handshake titan Papi Le Batard saying, “you don’t get the show” for those who miss the joke. Wittyngham enjoys the free-flowing nature of the show that to be clear takes a mountain of prep, but also doesn’t become a servant to A- and B-blocks. 

Everything at the show and the company is not about comedy. Le Batard famously describes giving the audience cotton candy – the jokes – but that it also needs its medicine, which comes in the form of social commentary. Be it discussions about the political and human rights climate in Cuba, former President Donald Trump’s impact on American psyches, or the Black Lives Matter movement, the show is never afraid to touch on what can be polarizing societal conversations.

“People who are any kind of socially conscious are going to want those kinds of viewpoints at some point,” Wittyngham said. “I talk with people in radio all the time, and they say ‘people don’t care what I have to say (about politics).’ I always encourage people to express what they want to express, and Dan is so brilliant at it. Billy is demure about it sometimes, but was incredible on Cuba. In this political climate, it’s hard not to do it in a non-attacking way. 

“I would be more than willing to present my viewpoint. I do understand why things are politicized. I think everything is politics because everything has the ability to affect a vote or be subject to a poll. I think you have your own thoughts as a human and can express them if you so wish.”

The show has carved an interesting niche for itself in a world of “takes” and debates. While many shows revel in discussing Tom Brady’s legacy, Lebron James’ clutch gene, and who is the most impactful middle reliever left on the market that can change the complexion of the AL Central race, The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz leans more toward Le Batard’s list of favorite colors, what foods are in Gil’s desk, and what type of neighbor Urban Meyer resembles. 

Despite the immense success of Le Batard and Co., Wittyngham acknowledged that a lot of the ratings success in today’s sports media is still in the mainstream debate shows and that even he can appreciate a well-crafted radio monologue. So given his relationship with the show as a young fan turned seasoned employee, where does that leave the popular radio producer, soccer play-by-play man, and all-around fancy lad as his career in sports moves forward? In the detours, of course.

“I’m so honored that I’m even involved in any way, that I don’t have a goal in the environment. When I arrived, I wanted to make things better and arrived with an initial task. To take a lift off someone’s plate is a huge win. Within the show, I’m not particularly ambitious of ‘I want to do this or that.’ There are lots of opportunities within the show and company that will arise, and if I play a part in them, that’s awesome. I started on the show as an intern and came back a decade later to work on it. It’s incredibly odd and incredibly cool. 

“Where do my ambitions lie within my play-by-play career? Soccer for me is the destination. Growing, getting better, improving, and maximizing the opportunities you’re given. Doing good work and being a good coworker. It sounds trite but I want to grow in the industry, but I don’t want to have ‘X’ job by ‘X’ time. I want to enjoy the path I’m on and the detours. You can find the joy in the detours and ultimately it’s about doing the best work you possibly can.”

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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