Callum Fraser The Hockey Writers
The Swift Decline of Hockey Night in Canada
It’s been less than a year — eight months, if you’re only counting the actual NHL season — since Rogers Communications Inc. took over Hockey Night in Canada from CBC, but that’s all the time in the world Rogers needed to take one of the country’s greatest past times and shatter the reputation it had held for over 50 brilliant years.
And maybe it didn’t even take this long for the program to be slaughtered. Maybe the handcuffs were clamped on to the wrists of faithful Canadian hockey fans months ago, before the season ever started and before Rogers was actually able to go on air.
Decisions made as the franchise switched over to Rogers were seemingly what affected the well-being, popularity and previous admiration so many people had for Hockey Night before. Because, as Rogers senior vice president of NHL production Gord Cutler explains, they knew they wanted to distance themselves from the program Hockey Night once was.
“I don’t think that we’re going to maintain all of the traditions from Hockey Night.” – Gord Cutler. National Post. Published: Sept. 29, 2014.
At the time, that was an absurd decision, and now, it feels more along the lines of ludicrous.
As Rogers continued their attempt to distance themselves from the success Hockey Night had seen on CBC, they couldn’t help but kick to the curb one of the features that made Saturday nights so exciting and entertaining.
Unfortunately, I won't be working for Hockey Night In Canada anymore. I was let go today. I'll be back at CBC Sports & am excited about it.
— Tim Thompson (@b0undless) February 20, 2015
Tim Thompson, the artist behind every exhilarating opening montage and emotional closing scenes, found himself on the outside looking in on Hockey Night’s production this season.
Fortunately, Thompson still works for CBC Sports and has been a part of the Montreal Canadiens organization this year, producing inspirational montages for their playoff run, but his presence is still dearly missed at the beginning of Hockey Night each and every game.
His work was one of the attributes that made Hockey Night so remarkable. It was the reason why you would crowd around the television at 6:59 p.m., turn up the volume to ear-piercing levels and sit with eyes wide open as the opening montage played. It never failed to induce goosebumps or chills down your spine.
First, there was a short introduction.
“The following is a live presentation of Hockey Night in Canada in association with the National Hockey League.”
And then this would play.
Magnificent. Simply amazing.
But the people at Rogers didn’t feel the needed to bring such a desired talent onboard with their production.
This is what they replaced it with.
A man with a bellowing voice, narrating using the cheesiest, most cringeworthy script ever?
Sounds more like the commercial to a bad Michael Bay film than the opening montage to a playoff game.
In an attempt to modernize their program, Rogers has, in turn, made Hockey Night impossible to take seriously.
Ron, Don and George
Seeking to further remodel the program, Rogers introduced a new host in George Stroumboulopoulos. The former star of The Hour on CBC, Stroumboulopoulos was to replace Ron MacLean who had served as host of Hockey Night since 1987.
Stroumboulopoulos was younger than MacLean (13 years, to be exact), more trendy and had proven to be a fine host on his own talk show. So with that, the decision was made for MacLean to be forced to step down and take a less involved role. He was to only be seen alongside Don Cherry in Coach’s Corner and to help host the Sunday Hometown Hockey broadcast that had him travelling all over Canada.
Change can be refreshing in some circumstances, but when it’s clearly pushed onto a good thing, it seems entirely unnecessary.
Was MacLean unhappy with being the host of Canada’s most popular program? Very doubtful. Was he failing to reach the goals of Hockey Night’s overseers as a suitable host? Probably not. Has he made any poor choices on air that could be reason for his diminished role? Nope.
So then MacLean’s removal is, in its bare essence, an effort to be more “hip” and cater to a younger crowd.
Except the younger crowd grew up on a heavy dose of MacLean.
And also of Cherry. Who, and this might come to shock you, has also had his presence reduced.
Yes, the man who once had almost an entire intermission dedicated to his controversial opinions and butchering of players’ last names has been cut down a fair bit. In early November on Coach’s Corner, Cherry voiced his aggravation with his lack of air time when he yelled, “Why are we tight?” multiple times halfway through the segment.
Understandably, it’s probably a bit irritating for Cherry to be told they are tight for time at the three-minute mark of his show.
“It threw me off… When I first started I had 10 minutes, then it went to eight minutes, then seven. Saturday was a little too much for me, at five minutes, so I had to say something.” -Don Cherry. Global News. Published: Nov. 12, 2014.
Soon after, things were patched up with the Rogers crew, but that hasn’t stopped Cherry from receiving a shortened time slot.
In 2015, Cherry and MacLean, on average, are given just shy of six minutes for Coach’s Corner. That’s a lot less than just a year ago when they were given anywhere from eight to eleven minutes with CBC.
The Ratings Don’t Lie
For a company who claimed to be on track for a 20-per-cent increase in viewers from the previous season, these statistics are a knockout punch.
“Eastern games on Saturday nights on the CBC and the Rogers networks had an average audience of 1.696 million, down 6 per cent from the same period a year ago when the games were only on the CBC and drew an average audience of 1.803 million.” – David Shoalts. Globe and Mail. Published: Jan. 30, 2015.
“Things are worse for the Western games, as the average audience from December through January was 765,000, a 19-per-cent decline from the previous year.” – David Shoalts.
The writing is on the wall.
The excitement is gone, the authenticity which we so loved is non-existent and Hockey Night has become just another Sportsnet broadcast.
The wounds are self-inflicted. Rogers has done this to themselves.
“I don’t really think there was anything that was a part of Hockey Night in Canada that was sacrosanct, where we said, ‘oh we absolutely have to have that.’” – Gord Cutler.
It’s as if Rogers wanted to take everything that made Hockey Night distinctive, pry apart all the tradition built up over 50 years and start over. But for what reason?
Rogers’ $5.2 billion deal with the NHL stretches out over 12 years.
With their inaugural season finally coming to an end, you’ve got to wonder how long hockey fans will be willing to tolerate the new brand of Hockey Night.
11 years is a long time.
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