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Volume 27 No. 5
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Sportsnet Faces Challenge In Replacing Don Cherry On "HNIC"

Cherry's "HNIC" segment was consistently a ratings hit, making this Saturday night appointment viewing
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Cherry's "HNIC" segment was consistently a ratings hit, making this Saturday night appointment viewing
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Cherry's "HNIC" segment was consistently a ratings hit, making this Saturday night appointment viewing
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Don Cherry will be "hard to replace" after Sportsnet fired him on Monday following his xenophobic rant over the weekend, and "therein lies the challenge" for the net going forward, according to Gregory Strong of the CP. Cherry's weekly Coach's Corner segment on "HNIC" was "consistently a ratings hit," making the "first intermission this Saturday night ... appointment viewing." A Sportsnet spokesperson said the net is "still considering options" for the first intermission. A "complete Coach's Corner reboot is possible or there could be a shuffling of other segments." Extended highlight packages "could help fill the gap." The segment also "could be dropped altogether, although that's unlikely given its history and showcase status." Sportsnet's Brian Burke is the "early betting favourite" to replace Cherry. Given Cherry's "long tenure, how -- or if -- his departure is addressed this weekend will be fascinating," as will Coach's Corner co-host Ron MacLean's thoughts (CP, 11/12). In Edmonton, David Staples wrote Burke is the "only contender from that heavy hockey school who comes close to [Cherry] when it comes to hockey knowledge, gravity, experience and entertainment value." Staples: "Every time he opens his mouth, Burke says something interesting" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 11/12).

CHANCE TO TAKE A STEP BACK: THE ATHLETIC's Scott Burnside cited sources as saying that even before the Cherry incident, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was "less than pleased with Sportsnet in terms of the product being presented on a weekly basis as it relates to the NHL brand." Bettman's displeasure was "made well-known to broadcast executives during the events surrounding the most recent Heritage Classic outdoor game" last month in Regina. Sources described Coach's Corner in recent years as "being very stale and believe this is the perfect opportunity to re-examine the entire structure of the broadcast." Meanwhile, Burke from a personality standpoint "has the chutzpah to pull off" a Coach's Corner-type segment with his "unique blend of edge and wit." It "might not be fair to ask him to be the man to slide into Cherry's burnt out chair, but Burke could do the job without a doubt" (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/12).

FEELING THE PRESSURE: In Toronto, Josh Rubin notes marketing experts believe Cherry's "angry on-air schtick was no longer worth the risk for sponsors such as Labatt, which shells out millions of dollars a year to have Budweiser front and centre" on the "HNIC" broadcasts. With Sportsnet "already on a cost-cutting binge partly because of the price" of its $5.2B broadcast contract with the NHL, the net "could ill afford to upset a major sponsor." York Univ. Schulich School of Business marketing professor Alan Middleton said that younger consumers, "particularly the ones beer companies are increasingly struggling to hold onto, are more likely to make purchasing decisions based on what they see as a brand's values." Toronto-based consulting firm Level5 Founder & Managing Partner David Kincaid, a former Labatt senior marketing exec who negotiated the brewery's first sponsorship deal with "HNIC" in the mid-'90s, said that the brewery "likely wouldn't have had the authority to fire Cherry." However, he added that it "may have put pressure on the broadcaster for disciplinary action" (TORONTO STAR, 11/13).

MANY AT FAULT: In Toronto, Shree Paradkar writes MacLean's presence on Coach's Corner was "far more valuable than I'd given it credit; he gave the show its credibility." Without him, Cherry "couldn't exist." It was MacLean "at his side, the adult in the room, who injected sense." Paradkar: "MacLean was the enabler." But he was "accompanied by the platforms -- the CBC and then Rogers Sportsnet -- the advertisers, the viewers" (TORONTO STAR, 11/13).