Canada’s long national nightmare ended earlier this week when broadcasting giant Rogers Sportsnet acknowledged that it made a huge – and costly – mistake when it totally revamped “Hockey Night in Canada,” the True North’s equivalent of “Monday Night Football” during its Howard Cosell, Dandy Don Meredith, and Frank Gifford heyday.
Admitting that it made a blunder that contributed to a ratings slide, Rogers yanked the anchor chair from under in-studio host George Stroumboulopoulos, a talk show host hired in 2013-14 to help HNIC become more hip and edgy with skinny ties and a more urbane attitude.
Apparently it didn’t sell in Saskatoon. So Rogers went back to the future and recalled folksy former HNIC anchor Ron MacLean – the man who Stroumboulopoulos replaced – from broadcasting Siberia to rescue a television franchise that Rogers obtained in a $5.2 billion, 12-year deal with the National Hockey League.
Another move that Rogers made was promoting David Amber, a former ESPN sportscaster and HNIC contributor, to host of “Hockey Night in Canada’s” late games on Saturday, in essence making him the co-face of the venerable broadcast with MacLean.
Amber is perhaps the dean of a growing group of black hockey broadcasters that includes former NHL players Kevin Weekes, Anson Carter and Jamal Mayers. Amber, a Toronto native, handled pre-game, between-period, and post-game duties for HNIC. For the 2016-17 season, he’ll sit in the big chair and provide the narrative for the late games.
“The exposure from ‘Hockey Night,’ I’ve certainly had a significant amount of minority faces – mostly black, but even Indian and Asian – say they’re happy to see (that hockey’s) not so homogeneous the way it was maybe 10 years ago; that there are people of color coming in and being able to lend a voice and face to the sport,” Amber told me in 2014. “It has been a slow transition, absolutely, but there are going to be a lot of new young guys coming up now.”
He told me that his rise as a hockey broadcaster coincides with the growing number of minority players in hockey and the impact they’re having in the NHL.
“When you look at the guys who’ve made it now, these are impact players whether it’s (Philadelphia Flyers’ Wayne) Simmonds, we know what (Colorado Avalanche’s Jarome) Iginla’s been able to do over his career,(Pittsburgh Penguins’) Trevor Daley,” Amber said. “Because the position of the players has increased and the position of some of the media members has increased from a minority standpoint, I think success breeds success and visibility breeds more visibility and I think that’s a good thing.”
Good luck with the new role on “Hockey Night in Canada,” David. Stay away from the skinny ties.