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Was George Stroumboulopoulos too edgy or not nearly edgy enough?

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Most observers say that Stroumboulopoulos failed because he was too friendly to young hockey fans. Maybe he wasn't friendly enough.

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With none of their teams having competed in the playoffs and with the NHL draft still several days away, Canadian hockey fans had been so shut-out of their sport that the timing was perfect for some national sports-media drama.

So, cue the opening rumours, and now official news, that George Stroumboulopoulos will be replaced by Ron MacLean as host of Rogers' national hockey TV broadcast next season.

As the observers started to weigh-in, pretty much all of the expected assessments were advanced.

  • Stroumboulopoulos is a news and culture guy, so he really wasn't knowledgeable enough to be talking hockey all the time.
  • Stroumboulopoulos is too hip, and older audiences simply couldn't relate to his skinny suits and earrings.
  • Stroumboulopoulos is an outsider to the hockey community, and so he never could have been a credible replacement for the consummate insider and widely popular MacLean.

In addition to the predictable rationalizations, some more nuanced responses to Stroumboulopoulos' dismissal arose as well.

  • Stroumboulopoulos shouldn't be viewed as the main cause of Rogers' declining ratings and revenue, but Rogers' poor ratings and revenue - coinciding with the recent weakness of the Canadian teams - must be seen as the cause of the telecom's unexpectedly dire need to cut the cost of Strombo's salary.
  • The problems with Rogers' broadcasts have had much more to do with larger issues plaguing the game of hockey than with the show's host, and no replacement for Stroumboulopoulos will be able to do a damn thing about that.
  • Stroumboulopoulos was brought in to solve a problem that really didn't exist.
  • Maybe Stroumboulopoulos is just not as talented as we all thought he was.

As news about significant additional cuts to Rogers hockey continues to leak out, how can we make sense of the termination of the Strombo experiment? Did Strombo fail in his adventure in hockey TV? Is Rogers making the right move by bringing back the familiar Ron MacLean?

I say firing Strombo at this point is more than disappointing, but maybe not for the predominant reasons that are currently being bandied about.

Though regular hockey fans are expressing mixed feelings, and some pretty heavy-hitters have come out strongly against Rogers' decision to let him go, I must admit that I was among those who were a little skeptical when it was first announced that Strombo would take over hosting duties of the national hockey TV broadcast in Canada.

It wasn't that I didn't believe in Strombo's ability to do the job, and it certainly had nothing to do with his fashion. What worried me then were comments that Strombo made indicating that he planned to approach his new job more as a fan than as a journalist.

Coming at a time when many were craving an upgrade to the overall quality of Hockey Night in Canada, the notion that hockey reporting relied more on fan fun than on journalistic acumen bothered me. Even with those reservations, I was ready to give Strombo a chance, and excited to see how he'd do.

Now, two years later, if I had to give my own personal view of Strombo as host, I'd have to say that I think he did ok.

I was never bothered by Strombo's appearance - in fact, I was quite alright with the contemporary look he brought to hockey television. I also neither missed Ron MacLean nor ever felt that Strombo was out of his league dealing with the weekly affairs of the hockey world. Sure, I'd find it a little off-putting to watch Strombo welcome TV viewers to a Saturday night broadcast only to see him promote his CBC radio music show in a timed Tweet just a few moments later, but, hey, these are the times in which we live.

Though I ultimately tend to believe that he handled his duties as a competent professional, I also had some problems with Strombo on Canada's national hockey broadcast. My concerns had less to do with what Strombo actually did, and much more to do with what he, and his broadcast team, failed to do with the potentials I believe they collectively held.

When Rogers gave Strombo the lead role on its re-jigged Hockey Night in Canada, most of the hockey people I knew were elated. Yes, my hockey people - many of whom are at least ten years younger than I am - really liked that, in his outward appearance and demeanour, Strombo literally embodied the zeitgeist of their generation. But, to conclude that the only thing these people were counting on was having the chance to watch a host who looked more like they did than like the greying on-air talent who've monopolized traditional hockey media really sells the very viewers Rogers hoped to attract much too short.

What I mean is that, more than the fact that the new host was youthfully on fleek, and beyond the technological innovations that were intended to appeal to a young generation of digital-natives that consumes sports in radically different ways than traditional - older! - TV watchers, Strombo's appointment carried additional millennial-appropriate expectations about the kind of content that was needed for his targeted demographic to buy in.

I feel this way because, contrary to the lazy stereotypes that may have informed Rogers hockey producers, the millennial hockey fans that were supposed to flock to Strombo aren't selfishly focussed on themselves, aren't devoid of attention spans, and aren't clueless about what's going on in their communities. In fact, and fed by their interactive digital lives, millennials are independent thinkers, motivated to seek meaning in life, and hungry for social involvement.

The point is that, rather than condescending to millennial viewers by serving up a host whose primary generation-specialized niche role was to reflect their taste in external style, Rogers needed to harness Strombo to deliver content that engaged the substance contained internally within young hockey fans' minds and hearts.

Looking back for just a moment, how did the Rogers actually do on this score?

Well, while younger hockey TV viewers very likely would have used their digital spaces to participate in media-facilitated reckoning with big picture issues such as whether the NHL might have prevented its players from ensuring their on-ice safety while working to promote a risky physical game, Hockey Night in Canada didn't touch it.

And, though millennial hockey fans constantly convene on social media to hold vibrant discussions about whether sports leagues like the NHL do the right things, or don't even think about doing anything, to address persistent abusive attitudes and behaviours of some of their players, Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada turned a blind eye - both to the issues as well as to the digital networks of hockey fans that could've been engaged.

Finally, many of today's young female and male fans speak up to say that they want changes to the ongoing reality of nearly all-male sports media, but with the exception of The Intermission Social Media Reporter, the gender representation on Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada remained firmly, and embarrassingly, in the dark ages. In 2016, how demotivating is that?

Regrettably, and despite the availability and clarity of public feedback during its two year stint, there really wasn't much of anything substantial on Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada for millennial hockey fans to feel particularly moved to grab hold of and share.

The popular narrative currently going around is that, since Rogers Hockey Night in Canada under Strombo was just too edgy and glitzy for true, mostly older, hockey fans in Canada, a return to a calm familiarity was needed for the broadcast to reconnect with its bread and butter constituency. Yet, even parsing the research that's being trotted out by Rogers and the columnists to support this claim, I say that the perception gaps between Hockey Night's older and younger viewers have been formed in response to changes that were mostly superficial in nature.

In my view, Rogers Hockey Night in Canada didn't fail because Strombo oversaw and led a radical change in the show's format and content that only made sense to younger hockey viewers. It failed because, by refusing to deliver meaningfully contemporary and challenging content in modes that recognize and accommodate millennials' participatory media practices, Hockey Night in Canada didn't actually change enough to match young hockey fans' generational interests and identities.

For those who rightly say that the 'new' Hockey Night in Canada was both a symptom and contributing cause of slow moving and complex disconnections between the game of hockey and its older and younger fan bases, there's still a sad irony in all that's transpired. For, if his talents and interests had been more deeply tapped into, and if his producers had truly enabled him to usher in some substantive content and format innovation, Strombo still might very well have been the ideal personality to help fuse the older hockey viewers' requirement for cultural comfort with the younger, and future majority, hockey viewers' hunger for provocation, entertainment, and meaningful involvement.

Just please don't go over the tape of the last two years and tell me that this was the formula that the suits at Rogers actually tried.