Rogers Communications, which produces HNIC through a licensing agreement with the NHL (after outbidding the CBC in 2013), had hoped Strombo would bring a modern feel to the venerable program, which had been hosted by Ron MacLean since 1986.
He seemed like a good fit. Strombo has an enormous amount of experience on TV in Canada (MuchMusic, CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight/The Hour) and the U.S. (CNN’s Stroumboulopoulos, ABC’s The One: Making a Music Star). They believed his hip, flashy personality and laid-back mannerisms would appeal to a new generation of hockey viewers.
Apparently, they were wrong.
It quickly became apparent that Strombo’s style didn’t suit the platform. A November 2014 Angus Reid poll found that “three-in-five (60 per cent) respondents do not see Stroumboulopoulos as a credible replacement for MacLean as the main host of HNIC.” While no one denied his knowledge of and passion for hockey, he clearly wasn’t able to bring over younger viewers and/or capture the interest of viewers from other demographics.
Hence, the decision to bring back MacLean as HNIC host for the early NHL games (David Amber will host the late games) made sense. It also means the popular Coach’s Corner segment with MacLean and Don Cherry will become more visible next season, too.
Some of Strombo’s fans are trying to get their hero out of the penalty box.
They believe he wasn’t given enough time to create a new NHIC brand, since the MacLean-Cherry team has been a Canadian institution for decades. They feel his former employer controlled his every move, thereby limiting his popular appeal and weekly TV ratings. As well, they argue the dearth of Canadian NHL teams in last season’s playoffs didn’t give him a leg to stand on.
To be perfectly honest, these positions sound more like lame excuses.
I wasn’t impressed with Strombo as HNIC host, either. He seemed uncomfortable at the helm from the very beginning. The show was incredibly wooden, and he was unable to engage the hockey analysts, reporters and other guests in lively discussions. As well, connecting the early exit of the Canadian-based hockey teams with Strombo’s failure as a host is rather dubious.
In my view, Rogers made the right decision to remove him.
Then again, the critics could be right. Maybe Canadian hockey fans always had it in for Strombo and never gave him the chance he deserved.
Well, there’s a way for Strombo to upstage his former employer and prove that his commentating style has a real audience in the sports world. My suggestion is that he start a hockey-based website – or web program – to compete with HNIC.
Strombo would need to find some individuals and/or companies to fund this project. It shouldn’t be a difficult task, considering the domestic and international connections he has. He should also hire several other announcers and analysts (he could certainly draw from the talent pool of recently released HNIC figures, including Glenn Healy), set up viewership deals with companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and devise ways to attract regular viewers through panel discussions, contests and social media.
If we accept that the world is gradually shifting from watching TV to surfing the internet, Strombo has an opportunity to fill an important void.
An Internet-based sports show seems like a natural move for this media-savvy individual. There would be real competition in Canadian hockey broadcasting, and he would have the ability to acquire tens of millions of international fans. He could also prove that his two years at the helm of HNIC weren’t for naught – and could have been much better.
Call it Strombo’s revenge, if you like.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.