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‘Prop Queen’ Ariel Epstein Continues Growing Sports Media Empire

“It’s just been such a pleasure [over] the last couple of weeks to really be part of something that’s growing and also knowing that everybody who’s in the building is coming from very established backgrounds.”

Derek Futterman

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Creating and navigating a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet takes practice, especially when writing unique formulas and code. When understood and employed correctly though, the possibilities can seem as if they are innumerable, providing a benefit to the user. For Ariel Epstein, she and her friend created a spreadsheet to make accurate sports bets pertaining to strikeout propositions; that is, bets related to one aspect of the game rather than the complete outcome.

Together, they worked to list every pitcher across Major League Baseball, their game-by-game statistics and other information to a point where they were making accurate bets at a rate of over six in every 10. Through her expertise with strikeout props, she earned her distinct nickname: “Prop Queen.”

It also helped that Epstein was enamored with baseball from a young age, vividly remembering the moment former New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada grounded out to end Game 6 of the 2003 World Series to deliver a championship to the Florida Marlins. Although Epstein grew up as a recreational gymnast, she knew she would never be athletic enough to pursue it professionally and therefore yearned to find a way to stay involved with sports.

“My grandpa showed me the Yankees’ announcers, and I just thought it was the coolest job ever that they got to go to games and get paid to do it and talk about it,” Epstein said. “I always loved to talk [and] I love sports [so] it was just a match made in heaven.”

Epstein began playing fantasy baseball at the age of nine years old with friends and family members – and thanks to her passion and knowledge of the sport, she would often win the league handily and leave her competition in the dust. Once she aspired to work in sports media, Epstein looked to gain experience in any way possible – starting with a high school internship at The Journal News in her home of Rockland County, N.Y. From there, she kept following various professional sports and looked to begin her career at Syracuse University; however, she was initially rejected from the school and instead matriculated at Penn State University.

After two years largely working in radio and covering athletic events around campus, Epstein transferred to Syracuse University to gain more experience working in television and became a member of what she calls the “Newhouse Mafia.” Entering the school as a junior meant that she would have to work extra hard and accept opportunities to expand her skillset, a lesson bestowed on her by sportscaster and Syracuse University alumnus Ian Eagle.

“There was a point where they asked him to do boxing for the first time,” Epstein recalled Eagle telling the students. “He never knew boxing but he called Kenny Albert, I think he said, and he did a lot of research and he tried really hard to just learn it because he didn’t want to say ‘No’ to anything. That really stuck with me through all of my career to keep saying ‘Yes’ so you could get your face and your name out there.”

During her time at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Epstein was fortunate enough to meet people who pointed her in the right direction and helped her build a portfolio. As a member of WAER-FM, Z89 Radio and CitrusTV, she worked at an accelerated pace and earned an opportunity to cover the Final Four in Houston, Texas as a senior.

In the summer preceding her senior year though, she landed an internship with the New York Yankees’ video production department where she learned how to shoot, edit and produce video, making her more versatile while boosting her confidence.

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A lifelong Yankees fan Epstein joined the franchise early in her career Photo provided by Epstein

“I got some of those jitters out by interviewing people like Derek Jeter and Álex Rodríguez,” Epstein said. “That kind of felt [like] if I was able to do that, I was able to do anything and interview anybody.”

Out of college, Epstein began writing with SB Nation in an entry level role in order to further establish herself in sports media. She continued to refine her craft and work with more aplomb as time went on, asking players and coaches questions before and after games and, by circumstance, learning how to navigate venues such as Madison Square Garden.

“The hardest part about graduating, to me, was feeling like I belonged,” Epstein said. “It was really hard for me as not only someone who [was then] only 21 years old, but I also look about 10 years younger than I really am. People always think I’m still in high school – but I graduated college. I really wanted to feel like I fit in and belonged so it really helped by doing every little job to get extra confidence in the professional world.”

A few months later, Epstein made the move from working in New York to New Bern, N.C. to join WCTI-TV as a weekend sports anchor and reporter, along with working as a sports radio host on 252 ESPN Radio. While covering sports on the ABC/FOX local television news affiliate, she sought to uncover local angles to national stories and bring a perspective one could not find on larger national networks.

“My boss Brian North – he told me at WCTI, ‘You’re not a national station. You are a local station,’” Epstein recalled. “‘People are tuning in to us to hear the local angle. Do not tie it in to what happened in the 49ers game despite it being potentially the biggest game.’”

Starting in a smaller market also allowed Epstein to continue to adapt and, if necessary, learn lessons through failure. One day during her first few months at the station, she was essentially her own crew in producing a high school football playoffs show – outside of seven photographers she delegated to shoot local games. Epstein was working as a cameraperson, producer, editor, writer and anchor for the program.

Additionally, she compiled highlights to play over the air and was often unaware of the accompanying game score. In balancing all of these responsibilities, her countenance was one of visible distress and completing the broadcast seemed like an insurmountable task.

“It was the biggest meltdown I’ve probably ever had,” Epstein expressed. “I had to compose myself on air and then when I got off camera, I just broke down crying because it really just was horrible…It really just taught me that if you mess up, you’ve got to just push through, learn from your mistakes and then move on.”

Although Epstein remained in local news for the next few years, she did not want to remain locked in a contract and decided to move on once her deal expired in 2019. Unemployed, she returned home to New York where she was freelancing for various entities, including for the Rockland Boulders (Minor League Baseball team), SNY, and the U.S. Open Tennis tournament. One day she was scrolling through Twitter and noticed a company called SportsGrid appear on her feed – the start of her foray into sports betting.. 

The company was fairly new having recently transitioned from focusing on fantasy sports to sports betting and according to Epstein, had a website that looked like a place to go to buy something illegal. Nonetheless, she knew the company was legitimate because of a friend who knew one of its employees and recognized the growing impact of sports betting after reading the moneyline off of a graphic in an audition for a role at CBS Sports HQ.

The U.S. Supreme Court had recently struck a decision overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018), effectively giving the states regulatory power over sports betting. Because of this and the augmentation of related content, Epstein recognized that there may be an opportunity to work with the company, especially once she saw it only had men on their platform. Motivated to create an opportunity and enter the niche sector of the sports content marketplace, she messaged the CEO on LinkedIn expressing her interest to audition for a role.

“The fantasy market by then was oversaturated with talent; people were doing fantasy all over the neworks so there wasn’t really room for me to do that,” Epstein said. “I was doing fantasy my entire life…. [and] I knew that betting was going to kind of be like that and that’s why I jumped in.”

Once she joined SportsGrid, she worked as a betting analyst on Pro Football Today, a show that would air during the football season on MSG Network. Additionally, she hosted FanDuel’s Inside the Lines segment surrounding pregame coverage of New York Knicks basketball and would also provide sports betting updates on ESPN New York 98.7’s flagship afternoon program: The Michael Kay Show.

Essentially, SportsGrid was a content outlet for sportsbooks to promote their services and try to attract new users; in fact, she hosted a multiplatform three-hour weekday morning show called The Morning After in which she discussed the sports news of the day and tied it into betting.

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Ariel Epstein known as the Prop Queen has seen her profile grow in recent months Photo Provided by Epstein

“I think the biggest thing with betting [is] interaction; it was the biggest thing I learned when I was on social media [is] how much people interacted with the betting content and that was so much fun,” Epstein said. “….As opposed to just throwing out random questions, we prefaced it with odds and I think that helped people to understand what good or bad odds; short or long odds, etc. meant for anything.”

Starting out in the industry communicating to a niche audience, Epstein had to find a way to gain ethos and the trust of her audience. Therefore, she always delineates the logic behind certain picks she makes, providing an explanation for those who are trying to make an informed decision.

One time, she received a direct message from someone on Twitter thanking her for doing it, as it helped him comprehend a pick and ultimately resulted in his winning the bet. His pick, it should be noted, differed from what Epstein had proposed to her followers; even so, it was her cogent analysis that compelled the Twitter user to change one aspect of the prop that led to his win.

“People can’t give you crap if you give them information that backs up your pick,” she said. “I’ve always tried and prided myself on that [and] as a female, make sure everybody respects the pick I give out because it comes with great detail and analysis.”

When she was with SportsGrid, Epstein was once again working in multiple roles – albeit remotely as a result of the pandemic. These included researching betting information using overnight data, accumulating what she believed would be winning picks, recording the content and then editing it for distribution in a timely manner. While she worked long days, it was her persistence and passion for the craft that helped her become a reliable and trustworthy source of information.

Two years after she started at SportsGrid, Epstein began working with Yahoo! Sports where she was creating video content for its sportsbook. Now working with a company that had thrived in the fantasy space, she sought to foster a connection between it and sports betting as a means of cross-promotion.

For example, she would use her foresight to determine which players would do well in fantasy sports for the day, and then mention a related prop to bet on, such as betting the over on their total rebounds. Conversely, if she felt a player would not perform well or if a fantasy user was set to face that player, she would advise them to take the under on props such as total points.

“Those would be the kinds of correlations I would make across the Yahoo! platforms and I always just joke that [the] prop market is the gateway drug into betting because people are so familiar with fantasy [sports],” Epstein said. “I think it was great for having a platform that you could just take the average sports lover and bring them into a market that could also help entertain them while watching the game.”

In 2021 – the year in which she began her first year with Yahoo!, the sports betting market had a valuation of $76.75 billion with an annual compound growth rate of 10.2%, according to a market analysis report by Grand View Research.

Moreover, a survey conducted by Morning Consult found that there was an 80% increase in the number of people betting on sports, a figure likely accentuated thanks to the practice becoming legal in 11 additional states. It was also during this year when Epstein began contributing to Turner Sports’ coverage of the National Basketball Association on both TNT and NBA-TV.

The NBA’s current media rights deal began in the 2016-17 season and is set to expire following the completion of the 2024-25 campaign. Over that time, sports media has gone through immense changes in the way games are distributed and consumed, including technological innovations in streaming and direct-to-consumer platforms on which to watch games. Similarly, sports betting advertisements and related content have permeated through much of the broadcasts both regionally and nationally, leading to new revenue streams.

Even though the exact revenue increase is unknown, a 2018 estimate by the American Gaming Association expressed the league could bring in at least $600 million per year through the legalization of sports betting.

“They’ve just done a lot, whether it’s in-game promotions; whether it’s live betting opportunities [and] making sure there’s a million different player prop options a day,” Epstein said. “They are probably the league that is daily high in demand. [It is] a very intriguing market; I’m pretty sure it’s second or third to the NFL and college football.”

Epstein continues to reiterate to sports networks that the discussion around sports betting does not need to solely relate on what bets to make for a given matchup. Instead, she implores conversational discussion; that is, betting analysts fusing their esoteric knowledge with analysts focused on the sport itself to create compelling and engaging content.

For example, a betting show could analyze how Carlos Correa signing with the Minnesota Twins altered the San Francisco Giants’ and New York Mets’ chances at winning the World Series after those two teams reportedly had agreed to contracts with him but subsequently backed out because of concerns with his physical.

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Ariel Epstein joined MLB Network in 2022 to co host Pregame Spread Photo provided by Epstein

It is part of the reason why she joined MLB Network this past year to host Pregame Spread with Matt Vasgersian. The network had been on her radar from the time she was in Syracuse University when she met with some executives about a production assistant role she had no interest in just to make herself known. Then for the next five years, Epstein made it a point to keep in touch with these executives twice per year, allowing her to stand out if an on-air opportunity ever arose.

Ironically enough, Vasgersian (colloquially known as “Matty V”) was listening to Epstein on the way into work one day and realized that she would be a great fit to join the network to provide sports betting content. When Vasgersian approached network executives with the idea, he was unaware that they were already working on bringing Epstein aboard for the same purpose. Once the deal was closed over lunch with Vasgersian and the executives, they got to work creating the new studio show conceived by adaptations in the way sports were and continued to be consumed.

“When Matty V came to them with my name, they already knew who I was from my emails so I barely even had much of an audition process,” Epstein said. “They kind of already knew that I was going to be Matty’s co-host for the show.”

Although her primary role with the network is on Pregame Spread, she has also contributed across its programming as a senior betting analyst and hopes to be able to innovate in terms of betting and live game coverage. She affirms that even though sports betting will likely remain a secondary conduit of information, it can grow akin to alternate broadcasts to appeal to a different category of fans.

“A majority of the numbers are still going to come in on the main broadcast,” Epstein said. “I think the next step is getting a betting analyst into the broadcast booth. It’s something I’ve definitely talked about with people[;] …getting us out of the pre/postgame show and into the broadcast booth to give the live betting analysis.”

Today, many sports books are creating their own content without the use of external entities, fundamentally shifting the media ecosystem. As a result, PointsBet sportsbook reached out to Epstein to see if she would be interested in joining their team and appearing on programming taking place from brand new studios in downtown Manhattan. In essence, the sportsbook was looking to revamp the way in which they were doing things across the board, organically building new sources of content. She recently began working with them and has enjoyed her experience thus far.

“It’s just been such a pleasure [over] the last couple of weeks to really be part of something that’s growing and also knowing that everybody who’s in the building is coming from very established backgrounds,” she said. “[It] is a great core of people [who] are putting together really high-quality content – and everybody’s educated on what they’re talking about and [are] super entertaining.”

In her new role, Epstein appears on both The Straight Line football show with Ryan Leaf and Count It, a basketball show hosted by Kazeem Famuyide. Furthermore, she is creating content for the sportsbook on social media and its newsletter. With many states moving to legalize sports betting, Epstein and her colleagues at PointsBet are focusing on the regionalization of the practice, looking to reach consumers across the country. The sportsbook has a partnership with NBC through which it provides odds and advertising for local affiliates, along with on the Peacock streaming service.

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Ariel Epstein recently struck a deal to join PointsBet as a regular contributor and sports betting analyst Photo provided by Epstein

“I think it really helps to give people the names that they know in the states that they live in,” Epstein said. “If you make it relatable to what people know best, then they’ll say, ‘Oh okay, that kind of makes sense,’ and they’ll jump in with you or they’ll go focus in on that game or they’ll watch that bet-stream because it’s their team.”

Providing specialized sports content through the lens of betting has also become a focus of various radio stations as of late. Audacy and the BetQL Network, for example, have launched various radio stations in the “wagertainment” format including in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. Similarly, sports betting network VSiN has content partnerships with iHeartMedia and Gow Media’s SportsMap Radio among others to broaden the reach of sports betting as a whole, as recently outlined by Barrett Sports Media’s Demetri Ravanos.

“I think it’s important to have these places where you can go to get your betting information because I don’t want to turn on a random network and hope that I get a betting show,” Epstein said. “I could be on my drive home; I could just be sitting at home – I want a place that I can go to see and hear what people are betting on and know when I turn on that station, that’s what I’m getting.”

The implementation of sports betting into sports media is an ongoing process with changes happening at a rapid pace. The multi-tiered approach to reaching consumers and transforming it into concurring and recurring engagement is what continues to be improved on – while also ensuring users bet responsibly.

Epstein looks to be a part of that, whether that be talking about the game at hand or sharing and explaining her latest prop, her preferred mode of betting over same-game parlays. After all, she is the “Prop Queen” and her work and expertise has helped sports media usher in a new part of coverage that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

“I would say my goal in this business is to continue to help show that sports betting is fun, but teaching people how to do it in a smart way and that it continues to be fun because you don’t go bankrupt,” she said. “I’ve always just loved the game. I love sports betting because I get to focus on the game.”

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BSM Writers

Beyond The Mask: Henrik Lundqvist Embraced 2nd Career in Sports Media

“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal.”

Derek Futterman

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Plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar, Henrik Lundqvist found himself beneath the bright lights once again, poised to put on a worthy performance. Just as he aimed to stop pucks from going in the net as the star goaltender of the New York Rangers for 15 seasons, Lundqvist sought to captivate viewers as half of a musical duo featuring former NHL forward Paul Bissonnette.

Their performance of “Good Riddance” by Green Day was in tribute to Rick Tocchet, a former NHL on TNT studio analyst who recently departed the network to serve as 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.”

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In broadcasting at both the local and national level, Lundqvist is cognizant of the differences in each network’s studio programs. Lundqvist says appearing on the MSG Networks studio panel is more about being direct with the viewer, whereas the NHL on TNT views its panel as being conversational in nature. With Turner Sports, Lundqvist also asks his colleagues about the different teams around the league since he is most familiar with the Rangers both as a former player and studio analyst.

“I’m closer to the Rangers; I see more of what’s going on,” Lundqvist stated. “When you work [national] games, maybe you focus in on teams on the West Coast or [part] of the league you don’t see as often. You try to talk to the other guys on the panel and the crew and figure out things that are interesting about those teams.”

Hockey is a team sport, and Lundqvist felt grateful to play with his teammates and face his competitors over the years. Now as an analyst though, it is his job to analyze their games and critique them when necessary; however, he does not try to be excessively critical.

Lundqvist knows the trials and tribulations associated with the sport and can relate to scenarios many players face on a nightly basis. Therefore, he thinks about his own experience before giving an opinion, especially a critique, instantiating it with comprehensible, recondite knowledge and/or by recounting a similar situation.

“I’d much rather give them positive feedback obviously because I know it is a tough game,” Lundqvist said, “and sometimes it might look like an easy mistake, but if you can give the viewer a better explanation of why he did that, they might have a different view of that mistake.”

Now metaphorically being beyond the goalie mask, Lundqvist’s vision of the game has evidently shifted. He discerns just how intense the schedule is and the rapid pace of the game, axioms he was aware of while playing but inherently avoided thinking about. He has implemented his refined viewpoint of the game accordingly into his analysis, simultaneously utilizing the mindset and savvy he cultivated on the ice. It is, quite simply, a balancing act.

“I think people can be pretty quick to jump on guys and critique them,” Lundqvist said. “That’s where maybe you take an extra look and try to understand why it happened and give those reasons. I think that’s where it helps if you played the game [for] a long time and just love the game [because] you have a pretty good understanding of why guys react a certain way.”

The challenge tacitly embedded in the jobs of most studio analysts – Lundqvist’s included – is in presenting the information to the audience in a manner through which it learns without being confused. It is a delicate craft that takes time and genuine understanding to master, especially related to promulgating hockey analytics as Valiquette does on MSG Networks and within his company, Clear Sight Analytics.

“There’s a lot of educated viewers out there, but there’s also a lot of people that maybe don’t watch as much hockey,” Lundqvist said, “so you want to find that middle ground where you kind of educate both sides.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?

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

Jeff Caves

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

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

“I HAVE A JOB.”

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

I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”

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

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

I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”

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

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

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

I HAVE COMPETITION!”

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

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