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In hopes of refreshing the broadcast, Rogers hired George Stroumboulopoulos and changed the look of the studio segments.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Hockey is in a fight to hold on to its relevance among younger viewers in Canada.

It's a marketing challenge that spurred Rogers Communications Inc. and the National Hockey League to embark on a 10-city research tour last year asking "fan advisers" how they watch the game.

A new report sheds some light on the challenge Rogers faces, just months into its 12-year, $5.2-billion deal for NHL broadcast and multimedia rights. While younger viewers are more likely to follow the game online, on social media and on mobile devices than older generations, they're watching less over all.

"This doesn't mean they won't show up in large numbers to watch, say, the Canada-Sweden final or the World Juniors final, but when it comes to the long, regular-season NHL, the engagement is lower compared to boomers no matter what platform you look at … ," said Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group, which conducted the study of 1,500 Canadians. "Remember that a 25-year-old today is growing up watching not just hockey, but soccer, basketball … and is more [culturally and ethnically] diverse than ever as well."

Only 21 per cent of those surveyed who follow the NHL said they had watched no NHL games in the past two weeks. Another 18 per cent had watched one game; 38 per cent watched between two and four; the rest had watched even more.

That's hugely valuable to advertisers, and therefore to Rogers, which makes its money on the NHL deal from advertising. Live viewers who may sit through ads are an increasingly scarce commodity, and sports is one of the only things that draws them in.

But millennials are following the NHL much more on digital platforms, which can include shorter video segments and updates on social media, as opposed to full televised games.

Rogers' approach to its broadcast – hiring George Stroumboulopoulos, for example, changing the look of the studio segments, and decreasing the on-air time for Don Cherry's Coach's Corner – appears designed to appeal to younger viewers, and there is evidence that it's working.

But the highly engaged, fanatical older viewers aren't necessarily happy about it.

Over all, survey respondents rated Rogers' job with the broadcast at 6.1 out of 10, and Mr. Stroumboulopoulos at 5.7 – with grades much higher among younger viewers than older ones.

Positive reviews pointed to the larger number of games on more channels, more camera angles and a "hipper" look. There were both positive and negative reactions to seeing less of Mr. Cherry.

Negative reviews called into question Mr. Stroumboulopoulos's hockey expertise, and pointed to more difficulty finding Montreal Canadiens games and French broadcasts.

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