At a press conference on Monday afternoon, veteran broadcaster Ron MacLean was direct in his advice to George Stroumboulopoulos, who had just been anointed his successor as host of Hockey Night in Canada: “Don’t screw this up,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”
That is an understatement. Rogers Media, which spent $5.2-billion on all national rights to NHL games for the next 12 seasons, is making a big bet that Mr. Stroumboulopoulos is the right person to expand the sport’s appeal in Canada. Mr. MacLean and Don Cherry will still be along for the ride when Rogers assumes editorial control this fall, along with Sportsnet’s Daren Millard and Jeff Marek.
But Mr. Stroumboulopoulos, a diehard Montreal Canadiens fan, will host the 62-year-old Saturday night show and anchor a new Sunday night NHL broadcast, becoming the public face of hockey on TV in Canada.
On Monday, he reflected on that responsibility.
Viewers see you as a downtown guy who is well versed in culture and social issues. What do you expect you’ll do differently than your predecessors?
I love what Hockey Night in Canada has done and what Sportsnet has done, so I’m just going to try to play a part in that.
A lot of people don’t realize that I started my career in sports, and was a sports reporter long before I was on television. I used to be an NBA reporter and an NHL reporter. So I’d be the guy in the dressing room after the game, talking to athletes, and that’s where I started to interview. I learned how to interview talking to athletes pre- and post-game.
This past summer, you had a 10-episode run of a talk show on CNN. It did poorly in the ratings and wasn’t renewed. Did you learn something from that experience?
Only in Canada do they make a big deal out of that stuff. CNN was an amazing experience. I got to learn a lot, I got to bring some of that experience back here. I love learning stuff and making different TV shows. If I only had one world view, how uninteresting would I be? I’m 41, I’ve done this for a long time, I want to try other things.
A few weeks ago, at a splashy event for the advertising community, Rogers executives said they wanted their hockey coverage to be more fan-oriented: to be less about backroom issues and more about the game. Do you see yourself as a fan, or as a journalist?
I think you can do both.
They’re not supposed to be the same roles.
But sports is different, right? I mean, think about what the whole premise of sports is. Sports is a bunch of people gathering around, watching something that they’re not actually connected to – they’re just emotionally connected. And you pick a team and you’re passionate about a team. Sports is entertainment; sports is for some people a job; for others, it’s a way to teach your kids valuable lessons. Sports means so many different things to so many different people. So this isn’t like covering Syria. And it’s a mistake to think it is like covering Syria.
Still, thorny issues need to be explored: concussions, contract talks, franchises in financial trouble.
And you cover them like a journalist, and you cover them with respect. Of course. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a fan. The whole reason to be in something like this is that I love hockey. And one of the things that is a birthright of a hockey fan is the right to analyze the game on all the levels. That’s just what every sports fan does. I think that the division is different between a journalist and a sports journalist. We’re not covering Olympics and doping – but if you watch the show that I do now, I talk lots about sports now, and I do it, I think, from a very responsible perspective, and I’ll just continue that in the Rogers brand.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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