Basketball is all reaction, says FOX Sports North show director Matt Gangl.
“You can kind of try to do some stuff away from the action and isolate some things, but you’re still reacting to baskets being made, plays happening, fouls.”
In his eyes, hockey has a similar problem.
“You can’t react to what happened, because by the time you cut, it’s already gone.”
Baseball, he says, is different.
“Anything can happen.”
Gangl has spent nearly two decades running the show(s), first in Wisconsin and Minnesota, then eventually for FOX proper, as the man behind the man behind the camera.
Gangl trades in big moments and unexpected plays, directing a fleet of cameras to create the broadcast that eventually makes its way to viewers’ homes.
He loves to tell stories, and baseball is the perfect medium for them.
“There’s enough downtime where it can really be a director-driven sport,” Gangl said.
A regular at FOX, Gangl is going the distance this year after directing the network’s coverage of the American League Divisional Series and the National League Divisional Series over the last four seasons.
This year, he’s going all the way to the World Series.
He inherits the job from famed FOX baseball director Bill Webb, whose penchant for maximizing the drama of the game via quick cuts and close-ups and made him one of the most revered directors in the business.
Webb, who died last year at the age of 70 after battling lung and ultimately brain cancer, was a beloved figure at FOX.
Stepping into Webb’s shoes is a tall order, but directing the World Series?
That’s the dream.
“Played it as a kid, loved it as a kid, loved it as a fan,” Gangl said. “I think it’s the most challenging sport for me as a director.”
Born in South St. Paul but raised in the little town of Finlayson — 100 miles north of St. Paul along I-35, population 315 — Gangl got his start at St. Cloud State, where he began pursuing a very different sort of broadcasting degree.
“I went to St. Cloud State actually to be a meteorologist,” he said. “But I kind of got sick of calculus classes at one point and decided to change gears.”
He stayed in the mass communications department, eventually taking over a sports show called “Husky Magazine” — now known as “Husky Mag” — and working on college hockey broadcasts.
After graduating, Gangl pivoted into news before finding his way back to sports, working on high school and college broadcasts while freelancing for the Twins, Timberwolves and Vikings throughout the late ’90s.
He hit the big leagues a few years later, starting at FOX Sports North’s predecessor — Midwest Sports Channel — in Wisconsin on Opening Day, 2000.
He landed in Milwaukee at a full sprint.
“I flew to Cincinnati and met the producer in the hotel the morning of our first game,” he said. A few hours later Gangl was covering Ken Griffey Jr.’s first game with the Cincinnati Reds.
“ESPN was there, so we were part of a three-way feed doing Griffey’s first game in Cincinnati,” Gangl said. “It was just kind of a whirlwind couple of weeks.”
Griffey’s first game as a Red was a dud — he went 0-for-2 — but Gangl was just getting started.
“That year I think I directed 136 Brewers games,” he said. “And then we did both the cable games on [Midwest Sports Channel] for the Bucks, as well as the over-the-air games there. I think I did close to 70 games.”
Life called him back to Minnesota full-time a few years later — a second child — where his focus shifted back to the Twins and the young Minnesota Wild.
Eventually, Gangl was offered the chance to direct a few Saturday baseball broadcasts for FOX.
Next came the postseason.
And now, the World Series.
“I’m a baseball guy through and through. I love directing in general, but baseball is where my passion lies,” Gangl said.
His days typically start with a preparatory conference call at 10 a.m., then he heads to the broadcast a few hours before pregame begins.
“On a home show for a Twins game, I’d sit down at about [5:45 p.m.], finish up some preproduction maybe, get ready to go on air at 6:30 for pregame, until whenever the postgame is done,” he said.
With the Twins in New York City for the American League wild-card game, Gangl headed to Cleveland to start preparing for the ALDS.
From there, it’s on.
“Then it’s wall-to-wall baseball from the fifth of October to, potentially, the fifth of November,” he said.
Once that’s done he’s hoping to take some time off, to spend some extra time with his family after a solid month of travel and baseball.
Balancing work and life is tough in his business, but Gangl says he has a system figured out.
“It’s about making sure that when we are all home at some point that we’re sitting around the dinner table together,” he said. “It’s kind of controlled chaos in a lot of ways, but you just have to maximize the moments that you do have.”
That means trips when possible. Unique experiences.
He’s tentatively planning to work a Wild game in St. Paul on Nov. 4 — the Chicago Blackhawks are in town — before taking that post-baseball vacation during a four-game Wild road trip.
They return on Nov. 14.
“Right back into it,” Gangl says.
“No rest for the weary.”