Hockey Night in Canada will have a considerably different look in October.
George Stroumboulopoulos will take over hosting duties when Rogers’ new NHL package comes into effect in time for next season, replacing longtime host Ron MacLean, who will have a reduced role while maintaining his role on Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry.
As a refresher, in November, Rogers swept in underneath TSN to sign a 12-year deal with the NHL for national broadcasting rights worth $5.2 billion ($433.3 M annually) for distribution across the many channels that make up the Rogers network, though TSN does retain some regional rights.
The deal also features Rogers licensing the Hockey Night in Canada brand from CBC.
Though the announcement was officially made today, TSN hockey insider (and apparently part-time media reporter) Bob McKenzie first Tweeted the news yesterday. (Hat tip to Awful Announcing for being among the first to write about it.)
Lots of talk @strombo will this week be named primary face/host of the other guys' nat'l package.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 9, 2014
Making the 41-year-old Stroumboulopoulos, whose current show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight has been on CBC for nearly a decade, the new face of one of Canada’s greatest institutions is an interesting choice. He’s not necessarily known as a sports guy, though he is an avid Montreal Canadiens supporter.
He also goes against the grain of what a prototypical host or anchor should be in terms of personality and look. As an interviewer, he can engage guests so they don’t feel like talking heads all the time, an important skill to have when dealing with former NHLers P.J. Stock, Kevin Weekes, and Glenn Healy, who don’t always come across as the most likeable of people on the air.
While the announcement certainly came out of left field, I see the move as a positive for a few reasons.
While Americans may (or may not, based on the ratings) know him for his CNN interview show, Stroumboulopoulos is a known commodity in the Canadian broadcasting landscape. While he’s a bit unconventional, he can also make a better connection with audiences who may not otherwise watch hockey.
While Rogers could have considered people like Daren Millard and Jeff Marek internally, it was known they wanted NHL on TSN host James Duthie, along with hockey insiders McKenzie and Darren Dreger.
When all three turned Rogers down to remain with TSN, they had to find someone who they felt could handle a bigger role, and Stroumboulopoulos fits the bill.
Now, it remains to be seen whether this exchange will go smoothly, or whether it will end up being the Canadian equivalent of the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien fiasco from 2009.
While MacLean isn’t getting any younger (he turns 54 in April), he has been on Hockey Night in Canada for over half his life, debuting in 1986.
It may not be easy for MacLean, one of the network’s biggest stars, to accept a reduced role on Hockey Night in Canada, though he will reportedly have a hockey show airing each Sunday.
Therefore, this move should be treated with some caution. MacLean won’t be on TV forever, so CBC/Rogers needs to have a plan in place.
While we won’t know how Stroumboulopoulos will fare in the hot seat until October, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.