Replacing Strombo with MacLean won't make a huge difference to Rogers' falling hockey ratings

Replacing Strombo with MacLean won't make a huge difference to Rogers' falling hockey ratings

The man of the future in Rogers' grand NHL experiment is now apparently the man of the past. And the man of the past is once again the man of the future.

According to multiple media stories that followed a Toronto Star report Sunday night, Ron MacLean will step back into the Hockey Night In Canada host role that was taken from him two years ago when Rogers anointed George Stroumboulopoulos as the new face of its $5.2 billion gamble.

Rogers is denying that any decisions have been made and sources say all announcements on staffing will be made after this weekend's NHL draft. If Strombo is out, he apparently won't be alone as Rogers aims to pare its somewhat large number of panelists and commentators.

While Scott Moore, Rogers head of Sportsnet and NHL, says he won't comment on rumours, MacLean told the Globe and Mail that he is in negotiations and that he can't say anything more than that until Rogers finalizes things.

Stromboulopoulos, reportedly on a motorcycle somewhere between Toronto and Los Angeles, has not commented.

If the reports are true, then the former CBC interviewer's fall from grace will be almost as shocking as his appearance on the hockey scene. More than a few heads were turned a little over two years ago when Rogers plucked him out of the host's chair on an interview show to be the centrepiece of its expensive new gamble.

He struggled in the role at first but showed some skill as an interviewer. For reasons unknown, Rogers didn't give him many more opportunities to shine in that role.

Strombo was brought in to attract a new, younger audience, something Rogers needed to justify the hockey package's big bill. But as Canadian teams struggled, audiences dropped, regardless of how hip the new host may or may not have been.

And if MacLean returns to the chair he sat in for 18 years, it will be one of the more stunning comebacks in the sports broadcasting world. For the past two years, MacLean has been relegated to hosting the low-rated Hometown Hockey show on Sunday nights, with less than half the audience he enjoyed in his old Saturday night gig, and as Don Cherry's foil on Coach's Corner.

According to the Globe, MacLean is angling to return to the Saturday night altar, keep his Coach's Corner gig and somehow fit in the Hometown Hockey job. While that might suit Rogers' attempts to cut costs, it's hard to imagine even someone as talented and hard-working as MacLean balancing that workload.

While some see this as move to boost flagging ratings, it's more likely a move to cut costs precipitated by poor ratings. After all, it's doubtful hundreds of thousands of viewers are going to start tuning in because the new (old) host wears fuller suits and doesn't have an earring.

Sources say cuts are coming this summer as Rogers tries to balance the books on its hockey operations and shedding Strombo's big salary certainly would make a significant dent in the payroll. The axing of hockey production boss Gord Cutler was just the beginning of what may be the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic -- with the bottom line in mind.

As for ratings, it's hard to imagine that Rogers thinks changing hosts will do much in that regard. 

Rogers knows that it needs one thing to happen before ratings stop their slide: Canadian teams need to start winning again, which is really what drives audiences.

But as powerful as Rogers is, it has no control over that. So it is looking to cutting costs to keep the bottom line from sinking any further.