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Rogers betting Stroumboulopoulos can grow HNIC's appeal

From left, broadcasters Ron MacLean, George Stroumboulopoulos and Don Cherry pose for photos following an announcement by Rogers as they unveiled their broadcast team for the upcoming NHL Season in Toronto, Ontario March 10/2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

George Stroumboulopoulos said he will bring a fan's enthusiasm to hosting Hockey Night in Canada, after Rogers Media announced the first set of changes it will make when it takes over control of the 62-year-old show from CBC in the fall.

"I'm a hockey fan, so I will host the show like a hockey fan hosts the program," he said, during a Monday press conference at the CBC's Toronto broadcast center, where Rogers will base some of its expanded hockey operations.

"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," said Mr. Stroumboulopoulos. "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."

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In choosing the 41-year-old broadcaster, Rogers is seeking a personality it hopes will help it reach out beyond the hard-core hockey fan currently watching its Sportsnet network. Mr. Stroumboulopoulos will host the Saturday night broadcasts as well as the new Sunday night Hometown Hockey broadcasts on Rogers Media's City TV network.

But Rogers is holding on to some valuable assets of CBC's franchise: Ron MacLean and Don Cherry will return to the iconic Saturday night show. Together with the Sportsnet broadcasters Daren Millard and Jeff Marek, the men will host approximately 600 regular season and playoff games.

Mr. MacLean will also host Hockey Day in Canada and appear on the Sunday night broadcasts as the host of a segment Rogers is calling Hometown Hockey Community Celebration. At the press conference, he needled Mr. Stroumboulopoulos over his new responsibility, saying: "Don't screw this up. It's a big deal."

Mr. Cherry's role will not be expanding. In a statement, he said: "I knew that Rogers would never mess with the greatest segment on television. We're going into our 29th season of Coach's Corner, and we're stronger than ever!"

Mr. Stroumboulopoulos, a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, recalled that he began his career in broadcasting working alongside Mr. Marek at The Fan 590.

"It's a dream for me to work with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, as well as my old friend Jeff Marek who I started my career with. I'm also looking forward to working with Daren Millard and the entire team at Rogers," he said in a statement.

Rogers is betting it can expand the audience of its new anchor. In recent weeks, the primetime audience of George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight has ranged from 177,000 to 324,000.

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The show will conclude its 10-year run on CBC at the end of this season.

Mr. Millard, who has been with Sportsnet for 15 years, will host Wednesday Night Hockey on the network. Mr. Marek will host Thursday Night Hockey on Sportsnet 360, as well as weekend afternoon NHL pre-game shows on the network.

Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet and NHL Properties for Rogers, said in a statement: "We know how passionate fans are about hockey, and so we've brought together the best anchors to deliver the best hockey experience to Canadians," said Moore. "George is one of the smartest and most versatile broadcasters in the business, and Ron and Don are icons in the hockey world. Along with Daren and Jeff, our new broadcast team brings a tremendous amount of talent, expertise and personality – and most importantly, they all possess a supreme passion for hockey."

The stakes are high for Rogers. In November, it paid $5.2-billion for all national rights to the next 12 seasons of NHL games in Canada. It has sub-licensed some of those rights to the CBC and TVA networks, ensuring the games will be seen on up to 13 networks on a typical Saturday night.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More


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