When Rogers purchased NHL televisions rights for the next 12 seasons last November, everything was promised to be different. As Sportsnet rolled out its new flagship broadcasts, Wednesday Night Hockey, a reinvigorated Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey over the past week, the broadcasts felt remarkably similar to what we have watched on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, HNIC and TSN in the past.
On Wednesday, Sportsnet signed on to show their first Wednesday Night Hockey telecast. In the studio were Hockey Central stalwarts Darren Millard, Doug MacLean, Nick Kypreos, joined by new recruit and former TSN analyst Darren Pang. While the studio itself was large, expansive and impressive, the on-air talent was the same as many regional broadcasts last season. But one can hardly really expect Sportsnet to compete with TSN’s James Duthie, Bob McKenzie and Aaron Ward regardless of how hard they try. What was more impressive, however, was Sportsnet in-game production. It felt very similar to a CBC broadcast, with CBC’s former lead broadcast crew of Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Glenn Healy and reporter Scott Oake still intact. The Canadiens-Leafs matchup gave us our first glimpse of the best innovation Sportsnet has offered thus far, the sky cam they installed at the ACC.
Something that I thought worked better than the Wednesday night broadcast was the debut of Hockey Night in Canada. Having the games spread out across CBC, City, Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One was fantastic. Almost too much to keep track of. George Stroumboulopoulos exceeded my expectations as the new host. My only complaint is he seemed rushed at times during Sportsnet’s fast-paced pregame show. It was strange seeing Sportsnet microphone flags on CBC, but the broadcasts still felt very-CBC for a Sportsnet-produced broadcast. Again, Hughson, Simpson, Healy and Oake were at the helm in the primary 7:00pm ET broadcast on the CBC. Elsewhere former CBC personalities were equally well represented. Rick Ball and Kelly Hrudey were in St. Louis, Bob Cole and Greg Millen were in Tampa Bay, Garry Galley and reporter David Amber was in Philadelphia.
Elsewhere on Saturday night, Don Cherry was cut down to a 5 minute segment in the first intermission. I think in a small dose, his continuing presence on Hockey Night will be fine. But where Sportsnet really missed the mark was the second intermission. Officially the Hotstove has been axed, but Sportsnet has kept a lighter version of it. With insiders Cox, Friedman and Kypreos in studio, Sportsnet has the opportunity to return the Hotstove to its former glory. I know Scott Moore has been clear that he wants to shift the focus away from off-ice stories (which I think is a mistake, but that’s a different matter) to on-ice, but devoting one segment a week to trade rumours seems important, regardless.
While the broadcasts on Wednesday and Saturday were really more of the same, City’s Sunday night broadcast of Hometown Hockey was new and innovative. Unfortunately, it didn’t really appeal to me. Sportsnet seemed to want to capture a family audience, which is fine for a Sunday evening broadcast, but it could come at the risk of alienating fans. It doesn’t seem like a weekly must-watch for me. The studio panel, with George, Healy and Cox, looked very casual with no ties, in a style similar to many English soccer broadcasts in Sky and the BBC. It was an interesting, and noticeable differentiation from just about every other sports broadcast in North America.
All early ratings were slightly down from last year. The Wednesday night games averaged 2 million (MTL-TOR) and 1 million (VAN-CGY) viewers. Canadiens-Leafs is now the most watched broadcast in Sportsnet history though. Saturday numbers were also slightly down. The early games averaged 2.25 million viewers, with TOR-PIT leading the way at 1.57 million. The late games averaged 1.31 million viewers.