Tuesday 7 April 2015

Sportsnet Is Destroying Hockey

I might officially start looking for another sport to follow after Rogers Sportsnet came out with their latest announcement regarding playoff assignments for its TV talent. According to the network, Ron MacLean will not be a host for any game during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and will only work a nightly Coach's Corner segment with Don Cherry. Let that sink in for a moment, Canadian hockey fans. Ron MacLean will only be seen on Canadian playoff hockey broadcasts for about two minutes a night after being the go-to guy for CBC broadcasts for the last couple of decades.

According to this article in The Globe and Mail written by David Shoalts, Sportsnet continues to choke out one of the most respected men in hockey by limiting his presence on the program and his impact on broadcasts. While I understand that Sportsnet wanted to promote a "hip" and "new" broadcast paradigm, it's not working on several fronts with one of those being the hosting duties by George Stroumboulopoulos.

As Mr. Shoalts wrote in his article, "Last November, an Angus Reid poll found that 74 per cent of 1,504 respondents felt MacLean’s lesser role on HNIC hurt the show’s brand." I, for one, have to agree with the 74% of those polled. I like George and he does a hell of a music interview, but his work as the host of the flagship hockey broadcast in Canada leaves something to be desired. Or, as Mr. Shoalts writes, "it was evident he is not as well-versed in hockey minutiae as MacLean, who eats and sleeps the sport".

Don Cherry's TV time has already been reduced as he reminds us on a weekly basis. Ron MacLean was barely in-studio with Don as they had him traveling across this nation with the Hometown Hockey broadcasts he was on. It almost seems as if Sportsnet is pushing the two most famous contributors on Hockey Night in Canada out of the spotlight while promoting analyst duds Doug MacLean, Glenn Healy, and PJ Stock. Stock and Healy were the comedic relief to the excellent desk analysts that CBC used to employee, but Sportsnet uses them like they have an opinion people care about. The problem is that we don't.

Watching Ron MacLean break down a game with Elliott Friedmann, Kelly Hrudey, and Kevin Weekes was a joy in the last few years on CBC as each brought an intricate knowledge of the game to the program. Watching George sit around with Nick Kypreos, Doug MacLean, and PJ Stock is like listening to four guys shoot the breeze about hockey after a beer league game. Yes, they all have knowledge, but there's a distinct lack of that institutional knowledge that made you learn something about the game as you watch. Sportsnet doesn't and hasn't cultivated that despite hockey fans being acutely aware of the sport's finer points.

I've been hard on Sportsnet before, but I agree with Mr. Shoalts when he states,
During his first season as the main host, Stroumboulopoulos showed himself to be a polished broadcaster. But it was evident he is not as well-versed in hockey minutiae as MacLean, who eats and sleeps the sport. And this, combined with MacLean’s formidable skill and popularity as a host, might spark unkind comparisons in the minds of viewers if the pair were to appear on alternating broadcasts.
If they're trying to protect and shelter Stroumboulopoulos, this will only make fans a little more weary of his attempts to inject hip into hockey broadcasts when all we want as fans is excellent analysis, solid commentary, a deep knowledge of the game, and a quality group of individuals who know the game from its grassroots right through the professional level.

MacLean has been the man Canadians look to when they need a passionate and knowledgeable advocate for and a pedagogue on the game of hockey. He learned his craft from some of the finest individuals to have ever been part of a hockey broadcast including Ward Cornell, Dick Irvin Jr., Brian MacFarlane, and the legendary Ralph Mellanby. Those men demanded more from themselves to ensure that they were providing the very best coverage and information to Hockey Night in Canada's viewers. It's how Hockey Night in Canada became the best hockey broadcast on the planet. And with its transition to Sportsnet, it feels like it has fallen far from its once-lofty position and been replaced with gimmicks.

While it sounds as though MacLean is fine with appearing nightly with long-time friend Don Cherry - something he rarely got to do this season - this has to chap MacLean's ass just a little. He was the engine that drove the playoff coverage on Hockey Night in Canada, and now he's been reduced to nothing more than a side player in what Sportsnet views as a gimmick.

That, readers, is why Sportsnet's numbers are way down. They don't know hockey fans, and they certainly don't have any clue as to what makes for a great hockey broadcast. It's going to be hard to watch the playoffs this year without MacLean and company's insight on the games we're watching.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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