Hockey Night Shakeup: On the Strombo Split and the MacLean Majority

Hockey Night Shakeup: On the Strombo Split and the MacLean Majority

By Dave Korzinski

June 27, 2016 – Call it hockey’s inherent conservatism, call it a poor fit or blame it on an historically bad season for Canadian hockey franchises – whatever the reason, George Stroumboulopoulos is out of a job.

It has been confirmed that Rogers will oust the contentious Hockey Night in Canada host just two years into his five-year contract and re-introduce the man he originally replaced, long-time host Ron MacLean. MacLean will be joined by five-year Hockey Night in Canada reporter David Amber, who will serve as host for the second game of the broadcast for this coming season, while MacLean will handle early game duties.

Though many Canadians may be surprised by the news of Strombo’s ouster, the fact is that debate has swirled around the former CBC and MuchMusic personality since the initial announcement of his hiring.

So what happened? A look at the data may help to unearth some of the motivations for this decision.

Missing the old broadcast

After the purchase of NHL rights in Canada, Rogers undertook a rebranding of their expensive ($5.2B) new property. One of the main changes was a new host, Strombo, and a re-assignment for Ron MacLean.

ARI tracked sentiment on the Hockey Night rebrand at the outset of its 2014/15 season. Initially, Canadians were reserved. More than four-in-ten (45%) said they liked the new production less, while a similar amount said they really had no preference. In the following year, the number who enjoyed it less dropped by half to 23 per cent, but this is largely due to the introduction of a new response option – one-in-five now said they hadn’t noticed a change.


While the data suggests a large number of Canadians did not seem bothered by the switch, the more serious fans and the diehards were more likely to say they liked the broadcast less, even when comparing Rogers’ first season to its second (rather than to the old CBC broadcast):


In addition to negativity shown by many viewers about the new broadcast, there was also a persistent nostalgia for the older version, which featured more Ron and Don on Coach’s Corner. When canvassed on this topic, fully three-quarters of Canadians (76%) said they missed the old CBC version of HNIC – though two-in-five (39%) did say they were getting used to the new format.


Strombo Split, MacLean Majority

One of the key concerns regarding the new presentation by Rogers Sportsnet was Stroumboulopoulos himself. Debates arose over whether or not “Canada’s boyfriend” and his hyper-engaged interview style would translate to the more niche hockey issues like trades, strategies and league news. When asked whether Strombo had the requisite hockey knowledge to satisfy diehard fans, younger Canadians were largely supportive – two-thirds (67%) said he had enough knowledge to do the job well. Among older Canadians however, essentially a 50-50 split emerged, as seen in the following graph:


And when asked about the man in whose shadow Strombo was living, generational preferences became clear again. While one-quarter of younger Canadians (24%) said they would like to see more of George, just 15 per cent of those over 55 said the same. The prevailing view of the older crowd? They would like to see less of Stroumboulopoulos (47%) and more of MacLean (61%). The following graphs shows these generational trends:


Scapegoat for a ratings nightmare?

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge the Hockey Night team faced this year was a potentially once-in-a-generation event – the lack of any Canadian teams in the NHL playoffs. In fact, it had been more than four decades since such an occurrence. The subsequent ratings decline was something that the Angus Reid Institute anticipated after an early April survey found half (54%) of regular hockey viewers reporting that they would not be tuning in. Ratings dropped 61 per cent during the first round of the playoffs and 18 per cent in the Stanley Cup finals. This led Sportsnet President Scott Moore to suggest changes may be forthcoming.

The love of Ron MacLean, the rejection of Strombo by many diehard fans and older Canadians, the ratings calamity of 2016 – all of these elements coalesced to perhaps obfuscate the fact that just as George Stroumboulopoulos is not Ron MacLean, Ron MacLean was once not Dave Hodge. Transitions – especially in national cultural institutions – can be difficult. Strombo’s resonance with the younger generation may have led to his eventual acceptance. For now, though, Ron MacLean will return. And most Canadians will welcome him with open arms.


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