Rogers sticks with the old, but bringing in some new for HNIC

What to expect when a TV empire changes hands

Aside from promising “very few bathing suits,” perennial hipster George Stroumboulopoulos was non-committal about both his on-air attire and his approach when he was introduced as the new host of Rogers’ Hockey Night in Canada on Monday.

Stroumboulopoulos, 41, is part of what Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL Properties for Rogers, called the “first line” of its NHL broadcast team.

A one-time NBA and NHL reporter for The Fan 590 (now Sportsnet 590 the FAN), Stroumboulopoulos is a veteran of Canadian broadcasting who spent time as a MuchMusic VJ before going on to host the show bearing his name on CBC Television for the past 10 years. He also hosted a short-lived show on U.S. cable news network CNN last summer.

Stroumboulopoulos said he had no plans to significantly alter the HNIC viewing experience, saying that his mandate was to serve the sport of hockey. “I love what HNIC and Sportsnet have done forever, so I’m just going to try to play a part in that,” he said.

Rogers also announced Monday that longtime HNIC host Ron MacLean and Don Cherry would be part of its broadcast team, putting an end to speculation about whether the two longtime CBC personalities would be retained when NHL rights go to Rogers in September.

Ron and Don will continue to host “Coach’s Corner” – which will be featured in the first-period intermission of all games aired by Rogers on Saturday night – while MacLean will also host a new Sunday night show airing on City called Hometown Hockey.

“It’s been a good ride and I’m glad it’s continuing,” said MacLean, who was 26 years old when he succeeded Dave Hodge as host of HNIC in 1987. MacLean said he never contemplated other options when Rogers paid $5.2 billion to acquire NHL rights for the next 12 years and his future was in doubt.

“Don and I are continuing what’s been a fun partnership and a great relationship, and the Sunday night thing is just a great idea,” he said.

Moore said that Rogers wants to broaden HNIC’s audience to include newer Canadians who didn’t grow up playing and watching hockey. “This is not the same country it was 25-30 years ago – there’s a very different makeup to the country,” he said.

When one questioner pointedly observed that the hosts were all white males, Moore said that Monday’s announcement represented just the first wave of hires, and that Sportsnet “stalwart” Christine Simpson would “for sure” be part of its hockey team.

Stroumboulopoulos will step down as host of the CBC Television show bearing his name after 10 years next month, although he did say they were “still talking” about a possible successor to the show.

He said that Rogers first approached him about hosting its NHL coverage early in the year, but said it was a dream he shared with broadcast partner Jeff Marek – who will host Thursday Night Hockey on Sportsnet 360 – back when the two were just starting out in broadcasting.

He also paid tribute to the two longtime HNIC fixtures in MacLean and Cherry. “These guys are icons… and Ron’s the greatest host I’ve ever seen. To be on the same team as him is amazing,” said the avowed Montreal Canadiens fan. “And Cherry’s the greatest at what he does.”

Moore said that MacLean has proven himself as one of hockey’s great ambassadors. “Nobody connects with communities across this country, nobody is seen to be hockey in this country like Ron MacLean,” he said. Taking the stage, MacLean shook Stroumboulopoulos’ hand and quipped: “Don’t screw this up – it’s a big show.”

Cherry, meanwhile, walked on-stage to the iconic Coach’s Corner music and bantered with Moore about his longevity. “Usually when I get rid of a boss they’re gone forever,” said Cherry, recounting their first meeting when Moore was at the CBC.

“He comes in and thought he was funny and I’m looking straight ahead and he says ‘I’m Scott Moore your [new] boss – do you want your pink-slip now or later?’ I said ‘A lot of guys have tried….” said Cherry to laughs from the audience.

Cherry was blunt when asked if there had been any proposed changes to his iconic “Coach’s Corner” segment. “What are you kiddin’?” he said.

Asked what advice he would give to Stroumboulopoulos, Cherry said that honesty is the best on-air policy. “You can’t fool the public,” he said. “My only advice is be yourself.”

Moore promised that Canadian hockey fans would be able to get more coverage on more screens than ever before, with the company producing more than 600 hockey telecasts next season. All games will have national distribution he said, rather than the regional approach that CBC has taken to HNIC.

While there has been considerable speculation that Rogers would charge viewers to recoup its $5.2 billion investment in hockey, Moore promised more coverage on free television, including Saturday night hockey on CBC Television, the addition of Sunday night hockey on City and mid-week coverage on Sportsnet and Sportsnet 360.

Moore described the new Sunday night show as ESPN’s College GameDay meets Hockey Day in Canada, with MacLean hosting the show from a different Canadian community every Sunday.

Rogers and CBC will partner on NHL broadcasts for the next four years, with Moore calling it a “terrific marriage” between the two companies. Moore said the reason the deal is only four years is because the changing nature of broadcasting.

“If the best place to reach fans is on conventional television, there’s no network in Canada with a better reach than the CBC,” said Moore. “If that continues to be the case in four years, I’d be thrilled to be renewing that agreement. If in four years we’re all watching hockey on Google Glass or 3D holograms, that’s where we’ll be doing it.”

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