The National Hockey League and its 30 teams, unable to score exposure on major media networks, are going local and on demand, with extensive game, team and community programming being launched next season. The service, produced by NeuLion, a technology integrator that works with a variety of local programming, was tested last season by the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders.
The rollout of an extensive interactive menu is sort of what was envisioned by many in the tech community when AOL exec Ted Leonsis purchased the Washington Capitals seven or eight years ago. But only now is the NHL really leveraging the technology at its disposal. The NHL’s efforts seem to parallel efforts last winter by Miller Beer to build local Web sites around local NFL teams.
The general feeling is that the NHL needs it more than other sports leagues. “Hockey doesn’t have the exposure,” says NeuLion Executive VP Chris Wagner, who cofounded the service with a number of former Computer Associates executives. “It isn’t like the NBA or the NFL.”
Wagner says IPTV’s private networking capability has enabled the teams to jump from 15 minutes of pregame, post-game and general programming to 90 minutes – all supported by ad sponsors. It extends them beyond ads found on the media outlets; in the coliseum, the rink, the score cards and the yearbooks, he says. “There’s a lot of advertising involved.”
There are also major merchandising opportunities looming. Going into the community, the service is enlivened by online chat and blogging. Segments found on the Islanders and Rangers site feature a look at a proposed mixed used development, the team cheerleaders (i.e., the Ice Girls), local event coverage ( i.e., The Pond at Bryant Park) and links to a local music festival.
Wagner adds that the programming is expected to target new audience segments as well (i.e., women and children). While game packages are the ultimate premium sale, with four games on demand viewable at the same time, “it is more than just the game,” he said, noting special events such as “Rookie Camp” and “Father and Son Night.”