#flow #sauce #sickcellies #geno

If you briefly run a Twitter search of fans mentioning the NHL’s account, you’ll come across one of two things. The first is groups of fans who seem excited that the league will be up and running soon, the second is groups of fans who feel like the NHL should give them something for free.

Well, they’re probably right to a certain extent.

The NHL doesn’t necessarily owe the fan much except the game. The reason why lots of fans were angry is that they generally want to consume hockey content: lots of hockey content. The simple daily routine of checking the standings at night or watching TV highlights of games are just so familiar and ingrained. I’m mostly pleased that the lockout being over later this week will mean the top story on the nightly sports shows won’t include a feature of Doug MacLean talking about the problems of the previous collective agreement, the one he wouldn’t have gotten fired over had he understood it.

But it’s content that matters, and for most fans, it’s watching a game or discussing the league or following the statistics that keeps us enthralled. The percentage of hockey fans that actually go to games is probably pretty slim, particularly in places like Toronto and Vancouver where an NHL ticket will generally cost you your first born.

Not necessarily as a token of kindness, but providing fans with content could be a good way to bring a few more casual fans back to the game. For the die-hards, they’ll most certainly keep consuming. It seems weird to protest the inability to consume a product by not consuming even further. This is why the NHL didn’t have to take any boycott threats seriously. Fans will be back regardless, the general proof being that lockout updates did way more traffic for a hockey blog than posts about minor or junior or European leagues. If Bob’s Burgers went off the air, I would not compensate by watching new episodes of The Simpsons. I could watch that crap at any time, and it would never replace the half hour oasis of awful Sunday programming that is Bob’s Burgers.

Anyway.

The NHL could mask a stellar advertising campaign coming out of the lockout as goodwill by offering NHL GameCenter Live for free. It makes more sense than offering Center Ice as a token of appreciation. Some fans don’t have cable, I’d expect far fewer don’t have a high-speed Internet connection.

The Internet has changed how we consume media. A subscription-based video service with revenues shared amongst 30 NHL teams brings the league closer to financial parity as well as improve the fan experience. For a year or so, the NHL ought to make this free as they improve the website, until it gets to the point where people are going to start wanting to pay for it. Currently, the NHL’s revenues from its website apparently do get shared amongst the teams, but it’s not a substantial enough drop in the bucket to be immune to an overhaul.

Back in 2001, Major League Baseball invested $1-million per team over four years in the creation of the online arm of the league, called “MLB Advanced Media”. It was a huge success, now in the business of not only streaming games and offering live updates on scores and stats, but bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In 2011, the number was $620M, which gets re-distributed evenly amongst the clubs. If the NFL’s revenue sharing success comes from its foray into national television before any other sport, MLB has the leg-up on other organizations by having such developed advanced media software years before the rest are scratching the surface. On advanced media alone, MLB shares twice the revenue of the NHL’s entire program, pegged at about $150M last season plus $200M in commitments as part of the new CBA.

The NHL faces two challenges to bringing in new fans. This is quality of distribution products as well as accessibility of those products. MLB Advanced Media last season made the decision to provide its subscription app for free with an MLB TV account. This should have cost the network 100,000 subscribers who otherwise wouldn’t buy MLB TV. What it really did was provide a greater incentive for users to buy its At Bat app that streams games and radio on smart phones and tablets.

Making the game widely available, but also easier to consume, would be the benefit to fans. I think laying the groundwork for GameCenter Live, which is powered by MLB Advanced Media but is by almost every account, a much inferior product. My own experiences with GameCenter (I don’t have my own account) are buggy and beset with random logouts and with the app constantly buffering. The iPad version was prone to crashing, a feature I never experienced with a season of At Bat.

In the end, I don’t know what the NHL really owes its fans after sitting out a half season, but they could go a long way towards ensuring a more stable league with much more revenue sharing options if they got on board and improved their website’s streaming capabilities, and updated their apps. I’m not holding my breath.

Also, in a completely unrelated show of goodwill, Gary Bettman should never touch the Stanley Cup again. My idea for a few years has been the captain of the defending champion come out and present the Cup to the winning franchise, much like they do at the Masters. Bettman comes off as some sort of sociopath who appreciates the abuse when he gets booed. I’d rather trophy presentations, Hall of Fame inductions and the NHL draft not be about him.

Comments (20)

  1. One important point that I believe also needs addressed? Last year, I was a paying customer for GCL mainly because I travel frequently for work. When the playoffs began – not a single game was broadcast. The “excuse” was games are on cable ready channels. Not all hotels/markets get NBCSN or even CNBC. I would have happily endured commercials etc. if I could have at least seen the very games I was paying to see.

    • This. I agree completely with this.

      • Yeah, in fact, I would almost rather watch commercials than the awkward NHL splashscreens with weird amped-up elevator music….

        • The reason there are no commercials (typically on the home feed) is because it’s sent directly from the truck to the NHL and it contains no commercials. The mismatched audio is horrible I will agree.

    • 1,000% Agree. Being on the West Coast, most games start while I’m still at work, which is why I bought GCL in the first place. To not be able to watch the playoffs is a farce. I also think they should just play the commercials, that has to be better than that splash screen and elevator music they play currently.

  2. The headline’s a little misleading, as it reads “…Improve its GameCenter Live service” when the only suggestion (starting in the third-to-last graf) to actually improve it is basically “Make it better.”

    I’ve been a paying GCL customer for the last three seasons and I rarely have problems with it. I understand individual experiences vary, but I’ve also met with Neulion (the website provider/streaming provider for the NHL) over the summer for something else and they’re very proud of the GCL product this season and the manpower they’ve put behind it. I was sort of fanboying out with them because I’ve always gotten my money’s worth.

  3. Bob’s Burgers is hilarious btw

  4. I have Game Center Live. I mainly steam it on my Roku player. I have not had a single problem with it except for the “blackout” games because I’m apparently local to both Colorado and Phoenix (and sometimes Dallas?), so I can pretty much never watch their games. Fortunately, I’m a Devils fan, so it rarely impacts me.

    The other bad thing, as others have mentioned is that GCL doesn’t cover the playoffs – which seems like a bit of a ripoff. I don’t have cable, so I don’t get NBCSN. I do get to see the games on NBC though (via antenna)….

    • same here. except im in nyc and have blackouts for the rags, isles, and devils. any time the bruins play any of those teams i either have to find a stream or switch to msg for the rags games.

      im sure that nbcsn could offer a streaming service, or the nhl could integrate it. id certainly pay for that as part of the game center live package.

  5. “Gary Bettman should never touch the Stanley Cup again.”

    THIS. Yes please.

    Except I think it would be better if it were a legend/retired fan favourite from the team who won the cup, instead of Cam’s suggestion. That would have more emotional impact. Can you imagine if Bobby Orr could have handed the cup to Chara in 2011? Even as a Canucks fan that sounds pretty amazing. Might be a bit tricky for young teams that don’t have any retired legends yet, like Columbus, but maybe a general league legend could be convinced to come in in that case.

  6. Building a better streaming product is precisely what the NHL should be working on. They have a large captive audience of people (like me) who both don’t live in the cities where our favorite teams play, and don’t pay for cable tv; GCL is the only way I can watch my team in decent quality. Having this guaranteed user base and the resulting user data would allow the NHL to rapidly improve the product.

    And related to this, I’d like to see the NHL partner with broadcasters to aggressively experiment with new broadcasting technology. Hockey is generally considered to be the sport in which the benefit of watching live vs. watching on tv is the most pronounced. I’d like to see the league experiment with new cameras, angles, and other technology which could be broadcast in parallel and made available as an option to GCL users. This would allow them to tinker away with new technology without disrupting the viewing experience for those uninterested in the experimentation. A bold, likely expensive move for sure, but for my money, the best investment the NHL can make is to make their streaming/televised product more appealing to a larger audience and lessen the burden on ticket sales for revenue.

  7. We can all agree that the NHL doesn’t have a product problem; they have a marketing and distribution problem. Well, they surely have a product problem when there is no product, but that has been corrected for the time being. We all have stories of taking some noob to a live game for the first time and birthing a rabid, superfan. If the gatekeepers of hockey (and let’t face it, the NHL is the only game in town) can’t or won’t innovate to get that same live experience to as many home viewers as possible, as cheaply as possible, then they will continue to toil in relative obscurity, jockeying for new eyeballs with the likes of motorsport, golf, wrestling, and (gasp!) the MLS.

    GCL, along with the traditional broadcast medium has failed to do nothing more than to frustrate fans with silly blackouts both in and post season, and pale in comparison to competing products. If you want to see an even better example of what GCL should look like, checkout the streaming video coverage of the Rugby World Cup. Provided it is still online the long after the live event.

  8. As a tangible apology to the fans, why does the NHL not allow free access to GCL for the shortened regular season? It could help with a potential loss of interest and entice more subscribers. And improve the service, of course.

  9. The thing I would like the NHL to do as a favor to fans is a discount on the NHL Center Ice package. That would be nice.

  10. Make sure that Donnie and Garry both retire

  11. I don’t want NHL GameCenter Live offered for free. It can barely keep up with the demand on Saturdays. My connection can sustain 12.5 MB/sec download AND upload and those clowns at NHL.com couldn’t even send me a constant 720p during Saturday games last season. If it was free there’s zero chance I’d ever get a decent stream. Offer it at a discount sure, but not free.

  12. I’d just be happy if they’d release the prices and details for the new season. It’s only nine days away for crying out loud!

    Also, the NHL’s blackout rules are ridiculous. I’m somehow in Sabres territory when there are five other teams closer than Buffalo. And definitely no large Sabres following here. But, still, the Rangers, Islanders and Devils games are blacked out because they’re also available on cable. So that’s four teams that are blacked out in my area. And sometimes the game is blacked out even when it’s not on (all four teams are playing, MSG broadcasts all four games but only three feeds are available in my area – one gets left out but since MSG carries it somewhere, and I get MSG (just not that feed on that night), it’s blacked out. Ridiculous.
    Sorry for the rant.

  13. As for playoffs, you can always hide your donkey… google it…

  14. Unfortunately, as is proven by the results of the last 20 years of the NHL, the NHL doesn’t care about you, or good ideas.

    And they have no concept of how to run a business.

    GCL doesn’t have playoffs? Idiotic.
    Blackouts are still a thing in a world where like you said, you can’t afford to go to games in hockey mad markets? Idiotic.
    Gary Bettman is still a member of the NHL? Idiotic.
    There still remains no way to watch an NHL game without voiceovers by old men who should have been put out to pasture decades ago? Idiotic.

    I would pay hundreds of dollars a year for a service that gave me all 82 of my favourite team’s games in high def over the Internet where I didn’t have to pay $60/mo for a bunch of stations I have 0 interest in, and just gave me the feed without any broadcasters or voiceovers (I don’t need play-by-play; especially from guys who can’t pronounce player names). I’d like to think there’re many like me. I’d like to say the playoffs are important too, but I’m a Leafs fan and I know better.

    The NHL doesn’t care. It’s one of the most horrifically dysfunctional businesses I’ve ever bore witness to.

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