|Reversal of Fortune: Ron MacLean Returns|
|Furious public outcry forces CBC-TV to resolve its differences with the Hockey Night in Canada host.|
Everyone knew there would be a public furor. But nobody expected this.
Monday morning, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation announced that Ron MacLean, the popular host of "Hockey Night in Canada," had rejected a final contract offer. A new host would be appointed before the first broadcast of the season.
By Wednesday, the news had brought the wrath of a hockey nation down upon the CBC. An estimated 10,000 emails poured in, along with several thousand telephone calls, the vast majority of them from angry viewers demanding MacLean's return. Sponsors of the show urged a resolution, as did a few politicians and the producer of "Hockey Night in Canada." Newspaper columns and editorials pondered the matter. The MacLean Affair was front page news. Even the CBC's competitors, including all three of Canada's all-sports networks, covered the story.
The fuss generated an inevitable backlash. By Thursday morning, newspaper columnists - in the sports sections and elsewhere - were chastising Canadian hockey fans for making such a big deal about a sports broadcaster. Much of it was condescending and patronizing, of course, because that's how media types tend to sound when addressing sports fans. Much of it was also hypocritical; Most media companies count on sports fans to generate income, and many columnists spend their lives making a big deal about sports issues.
But by this time negotiations were back underway. MacLean's agent, Don Meehan (a prominent NHL player agent) was back at the table with CBC-TV on Thursday and an agreement was announced early in the evening.
CBC executives demurred when asked if the public outcry forced negotiations back on track. But MacLean had no such reservations.
"To the viewer, I'll never forget that it was a house party out of control," he told a press conference. "I love a party. (The viewers) are a big reason why we're here."
Everyone involved sounded slightly embarrassed that the matter had whipped up such a public lather. Everyone, including MacLean and his infamous "Hockey Night in Canada" partner, Don Cherry, also admitted to being stunned by the magnitude of viewer outrage. People like MacLean, Cherry and their bosses at CBC-TV are sports professionals. They make it their business to know what makes the the fan tick, what the fan wants. But in this case, even the pros underestimated the power of a hockey nation.