“Hey, there’s Leslie!”
“Oh my God, it’s Neil!”
A warm embrace ensues between two people with very recognizable faces.
Photos are snapped, there’s laughter and smiles. After a year of not seeing one another in person, these two old friends chat for nearly half an hour, just like they did nightly on TVs in living rooms from the Poconos to Cape May. It’s like being on that comfy sofa watching Neil Hartman and Leslie Gudel on Comcast SportsNet’s SportsNite, only now, their words are directed toward each other, not the sports fans of the Delaware Valley.
This reunion of regional Emmy Award winners is a reminder of the great chemistry these two original members of the CSN team had on the air, right from the start in 1997. But something else rings true. Almost 25 years after their first meeting, Gudel and Hartman’s relationship remains one of genuine friendship that went well beyond the Comcast studios.
“We don’t talk every day or every week, but we just have a connection that will never change,” said Gudel, a southern California native who came east from Los Angeles. “We clicked from the very beginning.”
“The photos show these really genuine moments of us hugging and it was great to see her,” said Hartman, a Connecticut native who started working in Philadelphia in 1988. “It’s something you can’t make up. It shows that what we built on the air, it wasn’t phony, it wasn’t fake, it was real.”
Both Gudel and Hartman were already off the air at CSN-Philly (now NBC Sports-Philadelphia) as the network rebranded in 2017 after Comcast merged with NBC/Universal. They have both moved on to new jobs, but are still in sports.
Gudel is the COO of Elevate Sports and Media, a newly started, Downingtown, PA-based multi-faceted sports agency which is also under the same umbrella as Strategic Sports (a marketing firm) and the sports memorabilia and collectibles company, Sports Vault. Part of the organization’s mission is to make sure that when athletes’ on-field careers come to an end, they’ve built a brand that gives them career options and earning power going forward. The organization’s biggest project right now is helping their client, Philadelphia Eagles legend, Brian Dawkins, promote his new book, a memoir titled “Blessed by the Best: My Journey to Canton and Beyond,” which was co-written by JerseyMan and PhillyMan writer Michael Bradley and released on Sept. 10.
Also, with the new NIL rules in the NCAA, which allow college athletes at every level to monetize their athletic success by licensing out their names, images and likenesses (NIL), Gudel hopes to help college student-athletes navigate this uncharted territory.
“It’s new to everybody, and anybody who says they know what they’re talking about doesn’t, including the NCAA,” said Gudel, who herself was a two-year member and captain of the crew team at UCLA. “The good news is that’s going to mean helping people at the college level which I’m very passionate about… and female athletes as well. We have a couple of women that we’re in the process of finalizing deals with… women who have huge potential, not just as athletes, but in life.”
Gudel, 55, who lives in Wayne, PA, with her son Chase, 16, and daughter Kendall, 17, is also a licensed realtor in the Greater Philadelphia area.
Another one of her projects is Kendall’s Crusade, a non-profit she and her daughter started in 2016 to raise not only awareness of AVMs (arteriovenous malformations) and aneurysms, but also money to assist families who can’t afford the medical treatments of these rare vascular anomalies. In 2014, Kendall suffered a stroke from an AVM and the subsequent radiation treatment caused drop foot and the loss of the use of her hand, both on her left side. On Aug. 30, the first-ever Kendall’s Crusade One-Armed Golf Challenge was held at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill, PA. The event raised $55,000 for the charity.
Meanwhile, Hartman is helping shape the futures of college students as well, specifically with careers in sports communication. He was hired in 2019 as the Director of the Center of Sports Communication & Social Impact at Rowan University in the Edelman College of Communication and Creative Arts. He mentors students, helps them identify and acquire internships, and runs other special programs that include top-level guest speakers such as Charles Barkley, Merrill Reese, and Kevin Negandhi. And, he teaches what he calls, “Hartman’s Boot Camp,” in which he gives Rowan’s sports communication and media freshmen an overview of everything they need to know to navigate their four years of college. He also teaches a class called History of Sport in Philadelphia, a course he started when he first stepped into education as an adjunct professor at Rowan College, Burlington County and Temple University in 2017-18.
“We’ve got great professional partnerships with the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Delaware Blue Coats,” Hartman said, speaking of the minor league baseball team and G-League pro basketball team. “That is a massive part of our program. I’m really proud of that because that’s obviously relationships, and those are what get our kids opportunities. When I talk to incoming prospective students, they’re like, ‘Oh wow, I can get to call games? Yes.’ And that’s a huge selling point for our sports communication kids and it should be. We can really connect our students with so many great opportunities.”
Not only do those pro sports partnerships give students a chance to broadcast games on the radio or a livestream for these local teams, but students can also gain practical experience with the two organizations in other areas, such as ticket sales, business operations, in-game entertainment, and more. Students can also call games for Rowan’s athletic teams or be a DJ or talk show host on the university’s award-winning radio station, 89.7-FM, WGLS. The university’s athletic communications office and television stations also give students a chance to participate in live sports broadcasts and other productions, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
Hartman, 61, is a Moorestown, NJ, resident and product of Ithaca College. Along with his role at Rowan, he’s also a Camp Director for Play-by-Play Sports Broadcasting Camps, which offers kids, 10-18, the opportunity to learn from industry professionals in about a dozen cities throughout the country. He also owns his own full-service production company, Talow Media Group, LLC, which specializes in unscripted sports programming. He’s been married to his wife Lauren since 1993 and has two children: Talia, 21, a senior at the University of Maryland; and Owen, 20, a sophomore football player at Johns Hopkins.
October 1, 1997. Comcast SportsNet hits the Philadelphia market under the direction of Jack Williams, the network’s CEO.
Gudel came to CSN from the nation’s first-ever regional sports network, Prime Ticket, in Los Angeles where she had worked for two years. That was her second gig in the industry after her first stop in Pocatello, ID. When she was offered the job in Philadelphia, she simultaneously had a more lucrative job offer at another new network that was popping up in Washington D.C. – Home Team Sports (HTS).
“I don’t remember that there was one exact thing, but I know that Jack made me feel like I was going to be part of something that really would take the city by storm,” said Gudel, who was Philadelphia’s first full-time female TV sports anchor. “(In Philadelphia), people actually cared about what you were doing and you could make an impact. That was really the biggest thing for me. I did get concerned that when I took the job I was going to be the outsider… ‘She knows nothing about Philly. She’s just a chick from L.A.’
“There were two things that helped. One, we were new, and the focus was on the network not the individuals, which I loved. The other part was Neil.
We would have a one-hour show and we’d have 20 minutes left and no script and Neil could just wing it. He carried me through that early part and he never embarrassed me. It was always about us being the best we could be. I had a great appreciation for that.”
Hartman had been working in Philadelphia for almost 10 years when he and Gudel were among the original anchors and reporters hired by CSN (along with Michael Barkann, Derrick Gunn, Dei Lynam (now a JerseyMan and PhillyMan columnist), Ron Burke, Pat Boyle and Pete Christy). He started in Philadelphia in 1988 as a sports anchor for the nightly news on WPHL-TV 17 (Inquirer News Tonight) while also handling studio hosting jobs for Phillies and Sixers telecasts. He also called some Sixers play-by-play on television and hooked on as a sports-talk host at 610-AM, WIP, before putting in a couple of years as a sports anchor at CBS- 3. He also returned to sports talk radio at 1210-AM, WPHT, co-hosting “The Sports Attack” with Scott Graham and the late Big Daddy Graham (Ed Gudonis), who passed away on September 8th.
Then, like Gudel, he had a choice to make in 1997.
“I was working for Channel 3 for about 2½ years and then SportsNet came around. Channel 3 made me an offer and I had an offer from Comcast,” Hartman said. “It’s very rare in this industry that you have two offers like that and I just thought the future was with Comcast and this new regional sports network. To me, it was a no-brainer and for many, many years, we became the big behemoth in town. The Inquirer was still the Inquirer, WIP still had a strong voice, but a lot of people got their sports information from Comcast SportsNet. I’m really proud of that.”
The former co-anchors’ recent chance meeting in Stone Harbor certainly was a reminder of the duo’s good old days. They’re thankful for the lasting friendship that came from their time together inside the studios and offices of the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly.
“He and his wife, they opened up the doors of their home to me on holidays,” said Gudel, who was thousands of miles away from family. “When I wasn’t working in the early times, and not knowing anyone here, I was with the Hartmans. That was an added bonus to the whole thing. It was a good friendship from the very beginning.”
“Part of the key to the success was that we had a genuine relationship and I really enjoyed her company,” Hartman explained. “It was fun to spend time with her, not only on the air and in the newsroom, but also with our families away from the office. That helped build our chemistry and the relationship we have had for many, many years.”