The impending paradigm shift for hockey broadcasting this year is going to make this hockey season one of the most interesting in the history of the sport for Canada. Of course I am talking about the 12 year, 5.232 billion dollar CAD acquisition of broadcasting rights of the NHL in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet. This brings a slew of changes that are going to affect how we Canadians consume this national icon.
End of an Era
The gradual instrumental build of The Hockey Theme Song every time Hockey Night in Canada was aired still gives me chills. As I have grown up, it has always signified as the time for me to let go of everything that I was doing and just sit down among family and friends to enjoy some hockey. It’s a very intimate moment for me to think of, but I share it with many Canadians. Canadians have established HNIC as an important part of their weekly activities for their whole lives. HNIC and hockey is as much as a part of our cultural identity as the Maple Leaf on our flag.
A lot has changed since HNIC first aired in 1952. HNIC has endured many changes to the sport, the Expansion Era, financial issues, and lockouts. HNIC has rolled with the punches with everything that has threatened its existence. However this was mostly due to it being publicly funded and not having its financial stability dependent on the sport. Through all of this, the one thing that is finally causing HNIC to lose its superiority of the sport is hockey’s growing popularity in North America; HNIC could no longer afford the sport. One of the first signs of this was HNIC not purchasing The Hockey Theme in 2008, which was a staple of the broadcast. However they still had exclusivity to the media rights for hockey in Canada until 2014, but the impending doom was at the back of everyone’s minds.
Fast forward to the end of 2013, hot off a rollercoaster of a season starting with a half-season lockout and finishing with increased TV ratings and arena attendance, talks of the future of hockey coverage in Canada were heavily debated. There was a lot of concern for HNIC and its future, everyone knew that they couldn’t afford the sport anymore.
On Tuesday November 26th 2013, news broke that Rogers Sportsnet had purchased the media rights for the NHL in Canada from the 2014-15 season until the 2025-26 season for 5.232 billion dollars CAD. The ramifications of this deal had plenty of pros and cons. However the one thing that was featured in most headlines is that CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada will be retained until the 2017-2018 season. This was a huge sigh of relief to Canadian hockey fans everywhere, but HNIC will not earn profits anymore and Rogers Sportsnet will gain control of the creative direction of the program. One of the first changes in the creative direction was the addition of 8 time Gemini Award winning TV personality George Stroumboulopoulos, a 42 year old television and radio personality making waves in the Canadian media industry in the past decade.
The addition of George Stroumboulopoulos (referred to as Strombo from here on out) to HNIC makes a big statement for the hockey broadcasting industry in Canada; a new era is about to begin. HNIC and most its original cast will remain, but the transition has been set in motion to have a younger and edgier broadcast.
Strombo got his start in the broadcasting industry in 1993 working for a Rock Radio station in Kelowna BC, and he made a name for himself working for a big name radio station, CFNY-FM or better known as 102.1 The Edge, in Toronto. He then made his move onto MuchMusic, The Strombo Show, and finally The Hour (now known as George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight). On The Hour, Strombo showed that he has the ability to be an award winning host, with his show winning 8 Gemini awards. To get a feel for his dynamic range, please watch this entire youtube video below, or at the very least start at the 7:05 mark.
Strombo’s ability to take any guest that he has on the show and to be able to interact with them on any topic is astounding. He is able to talk about topics in a broad spectrum ranging from politics to pop culture to sports. Strombo’s biggest strength is that he takes anything that he is a part of and makes it approachable and interesting to most users. R.H. Thomson says it best when he states that “George has done something remarkable in that he speaks to the country, and those of us in the country, in a totally Canadian, humanitarian, equal, fair, but passionate way of speaking to people, and that is rare.” I do feel like Strombo is the appropriate man for the job. He is an extremely confident, intelligent, and interesting broadcaster. His ability to think critically when live on air and his colourful personality is going to add a whole new layer to the HNIC broadcast.
Hockey is a very important and treasured icon of Canada, and it is something that needs to be treated delicately. The biggest concern with this transition to the new format of Hockey Night in Canada is that we, the people, fear that the nostalgia that we have attached to the broadcast may disappear. However Strombo has the experience and knowledge to be self-aware enough of the job that is laid out in front of him. The ideal candidate for the face of the most popular and well known broadcast in Canada should be a Canadian that all other Canadians, especially our children, should strive to be like. George Stroumboulopoulos is that Canadian.
Cover Photo Credit: The Canadian Press (http://www.thecanadianpress.com/)