Bob Cole Will Return to HNIC Next Season

As was first reported by Damien Cox last Friday, Bob Cole has not called his last game for Hockey Night in Canada. HNIC host Ron MacLean confirmed the news just before game 7 of Kings vs. Blackhawks last night. Many fans thought Rogers might not retain Cole, who was the primary voice of HNIC through 2008 before taking a secondary role. Cole turns 81 later this month. Terms of the deal were not revealed, and Rogers has not made it official. In fact Rogers has yet to confirm any play-by-play announcers or colour commentators for their NHL coverage, which begins in the fall. They likely will not release these details until after the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday night in Los Angeles. However, I do expect Rogers might release this before July 1. However, some more details of Rogers’ NHL coverage, including the start time and details of Hometown Hockey, will likely be revealed at City’s upfront presentation in Toronto tomorrow afternoon, June 3.

EDIT: Steve Lepore is reporting that Dave Randorf is leaving TSN to join Sportsnet as a NHL play-by-play announcer. I’m not surprised Randorf is leaving TSN considering James Duthie will assume his role of CFL on TSN host, which was part of the new contract he signed with TSN last December. Randorf’s other main gig at TSN is calling regional NHL and IIHF games. Next season TSN’s main hockey commentators, Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert, will be available to call those games. Stay tuned for updates.

And the Face of Hockey on TV for the Next 12 Years is… George Stroumboulopoulos?

TSN’s Bob McKenzie, proving that he is still the top insider in the game, reported Sunday evening that CBC talk-show host, and former Much VJ, George Stroumboulopoulos is expected to become the new host of Rogers’ Hockey Night in Canada this fall. McKenzie also reports that Don Cherry will continue to offer analysis in the Coach’s Corner, at least for two seasons. Ron MacLean will also still have a job, albeit it in a reduced role. It also looks like Sportsnet has passed on current NHL host Darren Millard, who was on-hand when Sportsnet announced the new contract in November.

Stroumboulopoulos is an interesting choice by Sportsnet, but his hiring does follow a pattern. Since acquiring the package in November, Sportsnet’s President of Hockey Scott Moore has consistently talked about telling the stories of players, at the expense of the analysis and business talk that dominates CBC and TSN’s national broadcasts. When Moore hired Gord Cutler as the Senior VP of Hockey a month ago, Cutler re-iterated Sportsnet’s plan of storytelling. MacLean has a history of taking a harsh stand on some NHL business issues, including officiating. So, it makes sense that Sportsnet does not want to give him the most air time. On the other hand, Stroumboulopoulos has spent most of his time hosting pop culture shows on Much and CBC. Telling the life story of the people he interviews is a big part of his show.

He is also an interesting choice because Sportsnet wants their broadcasts to appeal to all Canadians, including new immigrants. Moore has also often repeated this point over the past few months. Stroumboulopoulos is a second generation Canadian, with a Greek father from Egypt and Ukrainian mother. If he doesn’t appeal to first and second generation Canadians, then who will? Considering Canada’s aging population, getting new Canadians to buy into hockey, instead of soccer or basketball, will become more and more important over Sportsnet’s 12 year contract.

This is the first change of the face of Hockey Night in Canada since Ron MacLean replaced Dave Hodge following the infamous flip of the pen in 1987. I’m not a big fan of the choice of Stroumboulopoulos. I would have preferred a hockey guy such as Elliotte Friedman. Sportsnet will likely confirm the appointment later this week, so stay tuned for updates.

beIN Sport Now Available… Fans of La Liga and Serie A have went a season and a half without access to their favourite teams on Canadian TV. Now beIN Sport is finally available. It is on free preview on Bell and Rogers until April, when it will cost $15 a month. Coincidentally Bell and Rogers are also the two Canadian providers that have dropped, or will soon drop, Speed. However, Speed is still available on Shaw Direct, among other regional cable providers, for those who absolutely need their motorsports fix.

Sportsnet Announces Details of their NHL Coverage Plan

This afternoon Rogers announced the first major details of how their suite of channels and platforms will cover the NHL beginning in the fall. Sportsnet is promising 500 games per season (it is unclear if this includes regional games in the west, or not). Rogers will have three signature windows. Hockey Night in Canada will continue on Saturday nights, with up to 7 games broadcast on CBC, City, Sportsnet, SN1, SN360 and FX Canada. 3-5 games will air in the 7pm ET timeslot, with 1-2 following at 10pm ET. Rogers is also adding a second national over-the-air timeslot on Sunday when City will show a game at 7:30pm ET, with a pre-game show a half hour before.

Saturdays will continue as the cornerstone of hockey broadcasting in Canada. Rogers is promising more than 130 games, which is an average of 5 per week. Anywhere between four and seven games will air each Saturday, with a guaranteed three games at 7pm ET and one or two more at 10pm ET. There is also the option for matinees. Sportsnet’s extended pregame show will begin at 5pm ET. It looks like about four games featuring Canadian teams will air every Saturday, for a total of about 100 games. That leaves 30 or more games featuring a pair of American teams.

Rogers is branding City’s Sunday broadcast as “Hometown Hockey”. The broadcasts will originate from local community rinks across the country. I think showing Sunday’s game on City is a fantastic idea as the network looks to make a dent on CTV and Global. City’s highest rated weekly program is usually How I Met Your Mother, which pulls in around 1.5 million viewers on Monday nights. However, the Grammy’s, a Sunday night broadcast last week, pulled in almost 3 million viewers. It was the highest rated program in Canada between January 20-26. CTV and Global have consistently beat City for Sunday ratings over the years. Sportsnet and Sportsnet ONE will also show games on Sundays. If I had to guess, these will be NBC simulcasts.

With all of the change in the new contract, Wednesdays will mostly remain as they air now (with games on Sportsnet instead of TSN). Sportsnet will show 30 games on Wednesday nights, including a few doubleheaders. This is almost identical to TSN’s current Wednesday Night Hockey schedule. Sportsnet ONE will show NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry matchups, just as TSN2 does now.

Thursday night games will air on Sportsnet 360, featuring American teams. I believe this was originally announced as a Friday package. Rogers hasn’t announced how many games will air on SN360 on Thursday; however, one game per week will equal out to about 25 per season. The most interesting thing about this package is that NBCSN does not show games on most Thursdays. This means that Sportsnet will either produce games featuring two American teams, or rely on local US broadcasts. Considering Rogers wants to look professional and have a world class broadcast, I hope they opt for the former.

One burning other burning question was answered today, even if only in a limited way. Many fans are wondering how many times they can see their favourite team on national TV under the new deal. Sportsnet announced that 40 Leafs games will air nationally on CBC, City and Sportsnet. That is the same number as TSN (17) and CBC (23) combine to show under the current contract. Since TSN has rights to 60 regional Jets games, about 22 of their games will air on national TV. Up to 30 Senators games can air on CBC/Rogers channels. However, it is still unknown how many times other Canadian teams will get on national TV.

The number for the Canadiens is somewhat dependent on where their regional rights land. Rogers has announced that TVA will air 22 Canadiens games, with most of them likely to air on Saturday nights. But surely Rogers will get to show at least a few games on Sunday and Wednesday, even if RDS makes Tuesday its main night to show regional Canadiens games. Under the current contract around 45 Canadiens games air on CBC and TSN each season.

Since Sportsnet owns rights to all 82 games for each of the Canucks, Oilers and Flames (regionally and nationally), it is also still unknown how many times each of these teams can air nationally. However, based on regional contracts, Rogers can show at least 24 games for each. If i had to guess, Rogers will show each team at least 30 times since the Senators regional contract allows for that number of national telecasts.

Next I plan to break down Sportsnet’s promise of 500 games nationally. 100 of those are US vs. US matchups on Sportsnet 360 or Sportsnet ONE. A total of 52 are “Hometown Hockey” on City and Wednesday night games on Sportsnet. Around 100 will probably feature Canadian teams on Saturdays (remember some of the 130 Saturday games are also counted in SN360/SN1’s 100 games). That leaves 250 games unaccounted for.