Q&A with John Forslund - Part One

We receive emails everyday from a variety of sources, but last week I found one in the inbox which was a bit of a surprise. John Forslund sent an email, complimenting us on having a great blog site. Now there is something that you don't see everyday!

Of course, I replied and thanked John for the kind words, but being the greedy person that I am I couldn't stop there. I had to ask him for an interview.

As everyone knows, Forslund is the television play-by-play announcer for the Carolina Hurricanes and has been with the franchise for 17 years now. He's done such an outstanding job for the Canes that he has also been called upon to work for Versus and ESPN. For his complete biography, check out this link.

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Q. John, thank you for taking the time for this interview. I would like to start out with a couple of background questions. Your bio states that you have a Masters Degree in Athletic Management. How did you make the transition to broadcasting and why?

A. I guess I took a bit of a different route, but when I was 8 or 10 years old I was from Springfield, Massachusetts and the Boston Bruins won the Cup, I guess it was 1970. I distinctly remember watching the game where Bobby Orr scored that overtime goal to beat the St. Louis Blues and I started to develop an affinity for hockey at that time. I loved the pace of the game, and I loved the way the announcers called it. Fred Cusick called the game for the Bruins at the time and he was a big influence on me. Like many kids who have this interest, I started calling the games off of the TV. We were able to get all the Bruins games, and I would call the games in mock fashion while my dad would do the color. We did that for a number of years and I put that experience in my back pocket.

I really enjoyed sports, of course participated in athletics, and was kind of steered more toward education, to be a "phys ed" teacher or a coach. But at the time, physical education programs were being cut back, so I started to have my doubts about that profession. I always had a dream to be an announcer, I just didn't know how to go about doing it. While in school I took one course in broadcast journalism. While many of the students were considering the class to be an easy elective, I took it seriously. On my final, I was supposed to call the 1981 Super Bowl. I prepped for it, called it, and made enough of an impression on my teacher that he told me if I ever had an opportunity to do this for a living, I should take it.

I continued school as a grad at Adelphi, majoring in Sports Management. It was a growing field and there seemed to be more of a chance for income, plus I could stay in sports. I got an internship for an AHL team and the owner asked me if I had any broadcast experience, had I ever called a hockey game before, and I said yes I have. This is a true story. They never checked references or asked any follow-up questions, or anything like that. So he asked me as part of my internship if I could do some color and help out his play-by-play guy who was a little green. He hired me later that year, during the 1984-85 season and I worked for him for 7 years, then was hired by the Whalers in 1991.

I never lost sight of what I wanted to do. I used to ask guidance counselors in school, how do I become an announcer, and they used to laugh and say good luck. But things fell into place for me. I wasn't making any money for seven years in the minors and I was doing a variety of jobs, like selling tickets, selling advertising, I did PR, I did everything. There was only a four person front office. Broadcasting was the last thing that my owner was concerned about, but it was the most important thing to me. In 1991, I had to make a career decision. I wasn't making any money in the minors so I decided to take a chance on the Whalers and kind of back-doored into what I'm doing now. But that gave me an opportunity to work in the National Hockey League, so that's how this thing kind of got going.

Q. According to Multichannel.com, you have signed on to work for Versus again next year. I was wondering how that agreement with Versus coincides with your commitment to the Hurricanes and FSN?

A. Well, I have signed with the Hurricanes. Some people ask, are you employed by FSN or the Hurricanes, and I do work for the Canes first and foremost. I can't back out of that, I am required to broadcast any game that is televised. What happens with the Versus deal is that they usually use people already affiliated with teams now. They don't hire special announcers, like say an ESPN would. So as of right now, I am one of the few guys who are under contract with Versus. For the last two years I was a freelancer, more or less a plugin wherever they needed me, and that was fine. But this year, they offered me a three year commitment with a guaranteed number of games per season, plus playoffs. I signed that deal, so I am one of them now as well.

This season I'm looking at doing 17 regular season games for them, starting with the October 5th game between Tampa Bay and the Rangers in the Czech Republic, although we will be calling the game from stateside. Last year Versus took the whole broadcast from Canada, but this year they will be taking the pictures in Europe, and they will be adding our announcing from stateside. Again, that will be on October 5th.

Q. Congratulations on that John! Versus recently announced their schedule, and the Canes are only going to be shown once this season. Any chance on using your influence to upgrade the Hurricanes from being shown just one time on the network next year?

A. Thanks. Well, I hope so. The funny thing is, they love doing games here. If they had their way, they would do more here. Raleigh is one of the places they like to come, from a professional standpoint. The crews that they get to work here are great. The atmosphere in the building is great. The weather is nice. They really like coming here. But the way they schedule their games is based strictly on a local ratings basis. For instance, it wouldn't matter if the Hurricanes were better than the Sabres, Buffalo does a huge number. I believe they have put Versus in more cable homes over the past two years than any other market. We need to get to the point where the local numbers justify them doing more games here.

They are doing the Rangers game here on March 9th and I'm calling that game, which is good because they are giving me the chance to do a game here. But that's it. You know, Pittsburgh is on because they are Pittsburgh and Detroit is on because they are Detroit. Even a market like Colorado. They do a very good job locally for Versus, so they are going to get more games.

Q. Last year I interviewed a few folk in the local media, and many of them mentioned that they felt the NHL would be better served to have a presence on ESPN. Considering that ESPN reaches more households than Versus, what is your opinion about that?

A. That's an accurate statement, there's no question that ESPN reaches more households than Versus. But let's go back in time for a bit here. Back in the early 90's when they started ESPN2, what was the one league they could sink their teeth into at the time to get them off the ground? It was the NHL. They put regular season games and playoff games on ESPN2 because they lacked inventory and they could do that. So then ESPN swelled and ESPN2 swelled, they combined with ABC and that was a sweetheart deal, but things started to take a downturn a couple of years before the lockout regarding NHL coverage. At least in my opinion.

I think it would be great to be on ESPN. It's a prestigious thing, but it's not the first and foremost thing that they are worried about. When ESPN started signing the NFL, the NBA, and baseball, which they did not have in the 90's, now they have so many mouths to feed you wonder where they sit. And if you recall Bob, their intermissions started to become billboards for other sports. There was nothing going on between periods that promoted hockey and there was nothing going on between periods that was analytical about hockey.

So then what did we do as a league? We locked out the fans. So when you lock out the fans for a season, where are you going to go? And before they did that, they signed a no rights agreement with NBC. So right away ESPN said that hey, if you are in bed with NBC for no rights, you expect us to pay you millions of dollars? Fat chance.

So really, I don't think that Bettman had any alternative but to go to Comcast and Ed Snider, who owns the Flyers and Comcast, and NBC. So they said, here is the Outdoor Network, we're going to change it to Versus, put it in as many cable homes as we can, and we want to make this a 24/7 sports network. That's their dream, if they can ever get there. They are using major league hockey as a property to get there, and things have increased. I think it was 60 million, and now it's just under 100 million homes they are in right now. It's found in more hotels, we see around the league as we travel, and in more bars. It's still a struggle, but I just think that it's an easy answer to say we should be on ESPN. I think in the long term, this is better. Its growing, and I think it's growing in the way the league wants it to.

Q. I have read a couple of reports indicating that the NHL might sign up to have games on ESPN as well as Versus. Is that possible?

A. Right now Versus has exclusive rights, along with NBC. So what would have to happen here is that ESPN would have to buy the rights to televise a game from Versus. But I think that it's a distinct possibility that this could eventually be like the NBA, where they are televised by TNT and ESPN. You could have Versus and then have some games on ESPN as well.

There has been talk about having one game on ESPN and I think that is a stand alone game. But the league isn't sure what network it will be on. They were saying that it might be on ESPN2, it might be on Classic, or maybe even ESPNU. Who knows? You have to work all through that stuff. But for the next three years, Monday and Tuesday nights are for Versus. This year it is exclusive, they plan on it being exclusive for the next three years as well, but that could change.

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(This interview is pretty lengthy, so I'm going to break it up into two parts. Tomorrow, you can read about John and his take on "the instigator", how he feels about the FSN broadcast deal, his ideas about how to improve officiating, and whether or not he will continue blogging for WRAL. Spoiler, "An Eye on the Canes" will live for another year.)

Again, many thanks to John Forslund for his time and for not pulling any punches in the process.

(Part Two now posted and can be found here.)

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