HNIC, Strombo & Why Everything Old Is New Again

Forget Trump. Forget Brexit. Forget Bieber.

In Canada today, the name “Strombo” is what’s dominating many coffee shop conversations….and it’s a lesson in knowing – and not knowing and respecting – your target audience.

The headline:

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The background:

For those who don’t know, Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) is a bit of a religion up here.

Two years ago, when it switched from the CBC to a private sports network, management tried to freshen it up and dramatically changed up the main hosting duties.

Ron MacLean (left) and George Stroumboulopoulus (right)

HNIC replaced Ron MacLean — someone many consider a hockey institution.

MacLean has been around for years.

He’s a baby boomer, an experienced broadcaster and pretty well a household name in Canada.


The new guy was George Stroumboulopoulos — a smart, younger, award-winning host with a background as a music VJ and then as a celebrity interviewer….a man known for being hip and fashionable — wearing black clothes, earrings and skull rings. Where MacLean has a more rural, folksy feel to him — Strombo was urban and cutting edge. In simple words, he was (and still is, in my opinion) and emerging star.

There was no phase-in at HNIC.

Just an abrupt change of direction.

This is what the network said:

“We want to get a little bit younger, we want to catch that demo that is not necessarily coming to the television at all — that are either playing video games or not going out and participating in the games — we want to get a new breed of Canadian fans that get passionate about the games.” 

You can’t fault management for trying to attract a younger audience….all successful business models give great attention to the next generation of consumer. But, the Devil is in the details. And, in this case, they screwed up.

Anyone who has watched his work knows Stroumboulopoulos is a very smart and charismatic broadcaster and clearly he loves hockey. But in trying to reach a younger audience through one token personnel change, you could argue HNIC confused and abandoned their core (older) audience. Many couldn’t get past the way George dressed or looked — which isn’t surprising in a medium where image is EVERYTHING.

In fact, the response after that initial announcement was swift, with everyone from hockey fans, the media and satirists poking fun at what appeared to be an attempt by old guys to look in tune with the younger generation:

You see — when attempting to attract new customers/audiences — you can’t forget about your loyal, core audience — the ones who pay the bills. You can’t ignore your old friends simply because you have newer friends with a nice backyard pool.

And, in this case, when it comes to hockey on TV, it’s still baby boomers. They undoubtedly make up the largest share of hockey TV viewers. They are the ones who advertisers like Tim Horton’s are trying to reach. They have money and they watch TV.

So, when HNIC got rid of baby boomer Ron Maclean for Strombo, I bet many baby boomer viewers saw themselves in the move. Perhaps it was an office worker with 25 years experience who is passed over for a promotion for the young, charismatic upstart.

This happens in the workplace every day — so when the audience saw it happening to good ‘ol Ron Maclean, many were unhappy with the move.


So, here we are: after two years, Strombo reportedly is out and it looks (according to reports) like Ron Maclean is back in…much to the joy of many on social media.

But, in many respects, if it’s true — George is a scapegoat for some bad business decisions by the network and the lack of any Canadian teams making the NHL playoffs this past year.

Don’t shed any tears for George Stroumboulopoulos. He is immensely talented and will do just fine in the broadcast world. This isn’t on him.

The fault here, in my opinion, lies with the people who didn’t use his talents properly.

You see, Strombo definitely should have been a part of the HNIC team — but they should have brought him in as a contributor, let the older hockey audience get to know him over a few years — earn his stripes and show why he’s one of the best younger broadcasting talents out there — all the while attracting younger viewers slowly.

And when Ron Maclean was ready to retire, George could have moved into the captain’s chair quite seamlessly.

Finally, if HNIC wanted to attract a younger audience, perhaps they should have focused on investing in tangible, quality content creation that younger people would be interested in — rather than some sort of token move like appointing a “hip” host.

Content is king and that should have been the focus.

Trying to bring in young viewers by simply hiring one person, quite frankly, is patronizing to young people. They’re not stupid.

And, in an attempt to take a short cut to building a new audience, the decision makers at HNIC pissed off two important core audiences.

Hopefully they learned from their mistakes…and don’t make them again.


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