In November, the NHL inked a contract with Rogers Communications, essentially creating a $5.2 billion monopoly relative to the broadcast and multimedia rights in Canada. The deal is a 12 year agreement that provides Rogers with the national rights to all viewership mediums, including playoffs and finals, in all languages. This will exclude TSN and CBC and puts the 62 year Canadian staple, Hockey Night in Canada, into the hands of Rogers. Rogers will own and control all of the content, although the CBC will still have the opportunity to broadcast games under a sublicensing arrangement. Overall, this is an enormous amount of power to leave in the control of a single organization.
And the shake-up has already begun. This week, Rogers announced that George Stroumboulopoulos will now sit in the most coveted chair in Canadian sports and arguably, Canadian television overall. As the new host of “Hockey Night in Canada”, Strombo will lead the iconic program starting next year, replacing Ron MacLean who has claimed that seat for 28 years. MacLean will move to a Sunday night hockey program called Hometown Hockey on City-TV, trying to get a piece of the ratings battle that is considered the most competitive night on television, vying against programming with cult-like followers such as The Walking Dead, Mad Men and True Detective. MacLean will still appear with Don Cherry on Coaches’ Corner, and Cherry is not going anywhere, having just committed to another 2 years with a plan to reaffirm that in the future.
Stroumboulopoulos spoke with the press in relation to the announcement, declaring that his approach to the new gig will be to conduct himself more as a fan rather than as a sports reporter. Strombo, who unabashedly supports the Montreal Canadians, says there is a distinct division in reporting sports versus reporting news but that he will not have a problem leaving his own team bias on the sidelines.
Many are touting Strombo as the new “young blood” of Hockey Night in Canada but, in truth, he’s older than his predecessors MacLean and Dave Hodge who were in their 20’s when they started in the spot. George claims that, for him, the new job has been a dream of his for more than 20 years when he first started out in broadcasting. And while the powers that be – Rogers executives, Don Cherry, and even MacLean – all feel that this is a positive and progressive move, others express concern about how the fans will embrace the earring-bearing, black jeans wearing Strombo who in his current show welcomes viewers by introducing himself in the opening as “your boyfriend”.
All in all, the winds of change are blowing and while some may feel a certain amount of discomfort as is to be expected by the shakeup, in the end, unless things go unpredictably awry, in no time, everyone will adjust to the new regime. Or perhaps, MacLean’s greeting to Strombo will ring as an unexpected bit of foreshadowing if it all goes sideways. As Rogers NHL properties president, Scott Moore, introduced the two on stage in the press conference announcement, MacLean shook George’s hand with a smile and said “Don’t screw this up.”