George Stroumboulopoulos will tell you the ratings matter. He, along with a few of his colleagues, took the brunt of the overly disappointing NHL playoff ratings last year. His replacement is the tried-and-true Ron MacLean, relegated to Sunday night work on Rogers Hometown Hockey two years ago when the new TV deal began. When Rogers shelled out $5.2 billion for exclusive Canadian hockey coverage (making sure TSN was on the outside looking in) they believed the record-setting money would be well worth it. So far, this has not been the case.
Before the playoffs even began in April, executives and advisers were sent packing as Rogers looked to downsize operations. Gord Cutler, the manager of hockey production at Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada, was the biggest name to go. This foreshadowed everything to come in the summer, the on-air talent being the casualties this time.
If anyone is cheering for Canadian teams this season, it’s Rogers Media. Two full seasons have passed on the contract, and 10 more remain in a deal which has done more harm than good.
The TV deal had the misfortune of beginning about the same time as the Leafs’ rebuild. You could almost hear the brass sighing and swearing under their breath at this. When the new Golden Boy Connor McDavid went down for most of the last season, it wasn’t lost on Sportsnet that money and Canadian eyeballs were flipping the channel elsewhere. Same could be said when Carey Price injured his leg and never returned last year – all while the Habs were on one of their best starts in franchise history.
Rogers has no choice but to cross their fingers and feel optimistic about the new season. And there is reason to believe last season was an anomaly and that things will turn around. Multiple Canadian franchises look poised for spring hockey. The Habs, if healthy, will compete for a division crown. The Leafs are as exciting as ever with dynamic centre Auston Matthews teasing at the World Cup of Hockey and a young core. Plus the Senators always linger at around 80-85 points anyway. The Edmonton Oilers look as real as they have in eight years, the Flames could easily have a bounce back season led by a lockdown defence corps and the Jets have a nice mix of veterans and youngsters, which could mix up the meat grinder of the Central Division.
The real problem for people who care about Canadian content is Sportsnet has sacrificed the old format – an exciting, unique, and interactive half-hour pregame and intermission show – for a mundane 30-minute show considered passé 15 years ago. It upsets me the longest running Canadian program will lose its cutting edge, and go back to a safe, boring method of storytelling and presentation. Say what you want about Canadian TV but Hockey Night in Canada is the lifeblood of the CBC and I would be disappointed if the quality diminishes. I am not Strombo’s biggest fan, but it’s hard not to feel that he’s been scapegoated by the powers-that-be.Will Ron MacLean be enough to return those eyeballs? I hope so. But did George create a 16 per cent ratings drop in two consecutive years? Not likely and, in the unlikely scenario another year passes with no Canadian playoff teams – who will pay this time before Rogers Media falls on its sword?
– Michael Menzies, Assistant Sports Editor
Image via Canadian Business