Leslie Gudel remains one of the most recognizable faces to Philadelphia sports fans, thanks to the 19 years she spent as an anchor and Phillies reporter on Comcast SportsNet.
But these days, with her hair cut shorter and her face covered with glasses, she's a little less recognizable to the people she's interacting with in her new career selling real estate for Coldwell Banker, working out of the agency's Wayne office.
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On a recent day, Gudel had just finished showing an apartment to two clients and happened to mention she was heading to Cooperstown, N.Y., for her son's baseball tournament. Blissfully unaware of Gudel's lengthy career covering baseball, they informed her that's where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located.
"I said, 'That's cool. I've been a baseball fan for a long time, and I can't believe I haven't been there before.' I was laughing to myself," Gudel said. "I was their Realtor. I wasn't a sportscaster at that moment."
For someone who has spent the bulk of her career in front of a camera talking sports, what might be most surprising is Gudel actually spent the first five years after graduating from UCLA working in real estate. It was an industry she knew well; her father owned a real estate title company and her stepmother was a realtor.
"I was actually born into it pretty much," Gudel joked. "I grew up as a daughter who could never really explain what her dad actually did."
Eventually, the sports media bug bit Gudel and she landed a gig as an intern for Prime Sports in Los Angeles, where she put together the tape that landed her first TV job as a sports reporter at KIDK in Pocatello, Idaho. From there, she returned to Prime Sports before landing a job at the newly-created Comcast SportsNet in 1997, where she became one of the network's original anchors and the first full-time female sports anchor in Philadelphia.
But everything changed in April 2016, when she was told by her bosses it would be her last season in the job she took over six years earlier — covering the Phillies for the network. Appropriately, her final interview to air on CSN was with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard on the field at Citizens Bank Park following the slugger's final game with the team that October.
"I never asked why, because whatever answer I got really didn't matter," Gudel said. "Look at the way that things are moving in the business. It might sound a little odd, but it made sense that I wasn't coming back."
Gudel is just one personality in an exodus of talent that's been forced off the network in recent years amid a rebranding to NBC Sports Philadelphia and a shift away from original reporting to more opinion and debate, aimed at attracting more millennial viewers. The list of exits is lengthy, and includes well-known Philadelphia sports personalities like Neil Hartman, Ron Burke, Dei Lynam and Tim Panaccio. Most recently, Sixers sideline reporter Molly Sullivan, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato and anchor/reporter Marshall Harris have all been shown the door.
Gudel didn't want to leave the business. She attempted to branch out, writing stories for Crossing Broad and hosting a podcast with SportsRadio 94.1 WIP host Glen Macnow. But she quickly realized that unless she left town for another market (which her former colleague Ron Burke recently did), there really wasn't a full-time job that existed in sports that suited her skill set and allowed her the flexibly needed to spend time with her son Chase, 12, and her daughter Kendall, 14, who suffered a stroke in 2014 from an Arteriovenus Malformation (AVM) and receives therapy to overcome physical deficits.
"I wasn't going to go chase a weekend sports anchor job down where I was leaving my kids to go to a Flyers game or a Sixers game on a Friday night," Gudel said. "And transitioning into being a sports writer at a time when writers are having trouble getting jobs themselves wasn't going to happen."
So for the first time since graduating college, Gudel didn't know what she wanted to do next. She sent out resumes for various sports and communications jobs, but didn't receive many phone calls back.
"I was waiting for some epiphany over the course of the last couple of years, and then I literally had a conversation with a friend who said she had a real estate license," Gudel said. "She said she was getting back into it and I was like, 'You know what, that's what I'm doing.' "
So Gudel did, landing her real estate license earlier this month. She hasn't sold her first house yet, but she does have some prospective clients, including one or two she wouldn't name whom she knows from her days covering the Phillies.
Despite her new career, Gudel does plan to stay active in the city's sports scene. Next month, she'll be side-by-side again with her longtime CSN co-host Neil Hartman as an instructor in a sports broadcasting camp for kids in Pitman, N.J. She'd also be interested in rejoining Macnow to talk Phillies, if the pair could figure out a way to make it work.
"We both enjoyed it and both enjoyed working together. If the right opportunity to partner on that again came up, we'd do it in two seconds," Gudel said. "It's just one of those things where we're both locked into our paying gigs, versus one that doesn't pay as much."
But for the immediate future, Gudel is focused on selling houses, spending time with her family and enjoying watching the Phillies as a fan. She also still has Twitter, a platform that's been among the most disruptive to how fans consume sports news and stories, where her 20,000 followers enable her an audience for her thoughts on the team and sport she's devoted a large chunk of her life covering.