The NHL Comeback And The Opportunity In Streaming

from the the-league-with-the-least-to-lose dept

I have long been a proponent of more widely available sports league streaming options as a method for building revenue. While I firmly believe in the concept of blackout-less and minimal cost streaming for anyone who wants to watch a game on the computer, tablet, or phone instead of on their television, I do understand that there are some hurdles to consider. Chief amongst those hurdles is the enormous contracts many of these leagues have with broadcasting partners, particularly network TV partners, which can present a great deal of friction to streaming services that aren't their own.

With all that said, if ever there was an opportunity to jump that hurdle, one embattled league would have it easier than the others, and that's the NHL. For anyone who isn't a hockey fan, the NHL lockout is essentially over and there will be a season this year. Like any league that has a work stoppage, however, one major concern is whether or not fans will come back to the sport after being denied the product for so long.

The pact is expected to last 10 years and split revenues 50-50 between owners and players, similar to the CBAs in the NFL and NBA. The players are set to return to the ice, but will NHL fans come back as well? The 2004-05 NHL lockout that wiped out an entire season did not keep fans away when hockey returned in October 2005. In fact, it was the exact opposite in many cases. Attendance increased for the majority of teams with nine teams experiencing a bump of at least 5% compared to the 2003-04 season. The Pittsburgh Penguins led the way with a 33% gain, as recent top draft picks Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin made their Pens’ debut. Attendance for the Carolina Hurricanes rose 26% thanks to the team’s Southeast Division crown and first Stanley Cup title.

All of that is absolutely true, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, other leagues that have had work stoppages haven't faired nearly as well. The best modern era example of a post-stoppage negative effect is the MLB player's strike of 1995, after which there was a nearly 20% decline in attendance and TV revenues fell sharply.

Secondly, not all NHL teams felt the post-stoppage bump described above. Those that did not tended to be the teams with limited television exposure in 2005. The best example of this is the Chicago Blackhawks, which blacked out all home games before and after the strike, with home attendance numbers falling in '04 from 13k fans per game to just under that number by '07. However, something magical happened in 2008: owner and blackout proponent Bill Wirtz died and his son immediately lifted the blackout restrictions. Attendance immediately rose as fans had a way to embrace the team regularly and then bought tickets, climbing to a peak of over 22k fans per game in '09.

Finally, note that the NHL is in the weakest position in terms bargaining power over TV contracts, because it receives so relatively little in revenue percentage from their main contract with NBC (who does offer limited streaming of one game per week or so).

NHL teams derived 47% of their revenues last season from arena revenues controlled by the fan. These include gate receipts, concessions and parking. The other half of revenues hail from media contracts, luxury suites, sponsors and non-hockey events. Of the major U.S. sports, baseball is the next highest at 46%, but that figure is set to drop with the explosion of local media deals in the sport like the impending Los Angeles Dodgers deal worth more than $6 billion. The corresponding percentages in the NBA and NFL are 34% and 24% respectively. The NHL simply does not have the media rights fee millions (or billions) the other sports possess.

This lockout presents the perfect opportunity for the NHL to embrace wide streaming of their games as a method for building current and future revenue through an expanded fanbase. We know that stoppages can and have hurt attendance. We know that the more options there are for fans to watch their teams play games, without restrictions, the better attendance comes back after stoppages. Finally we know that the NHL does not get the kind of broadcast fees the other leagues do, so they have the least to lose by going the non-traditional route.

The time for the NHL to embrace internet streams is now. Not with some NHL package that blacks out all the games of someone's home team. Real streaming, real exposure, real broadening of the NHL fanbase, leading to better attendance, more options for ad revenue, and ultimately more lucrative broadcast contracts.

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Comments on “The NHL Comeback And The Opportunity In Streaming”

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Mark Harrill (profile) says:

Center Ice

If the NHL would improve the center ice package, they could be golden for this. The infrastructure already exists, all the NHL needs to do is remove the blackouts and make sure it works on all the devices (my main sticking point with it last season, it never worked well on blueray box). I’d love a true streaming option so I could watch NHL games while I am attending AHL games.

Many of the NHL fans have been rooting for the NHL to make Center Ice free as a way of encouraging fans to come back post lockout. Making it truly streaming could be the golden opportunity the NHL has been looking for.

PRMan (profile) says:


I don’t even care if they charge something for it, but don’t make me buy the whole season. I only want to watch it online when I am somewhere OTHER than home (like a business trip), and I can’t.

I would gladly pay up to $2.99 to watch a hockey game on a per game basis instead of the whole season. That’s WAY more money for the NHL than the whole season package, but not too unreasonable for a one-off of your favorite team in a lonely hotel room.

Sean Dougherty (profile) says:

Streaming Hockey Games

Tim, you may not have noticed but The NHL Network streamed some of the World Junior Championship games involving the United States teams played just at the end of last year (I believe it was December 28 and December 30).

I was away that weekend and the Internet was my only option to watch and using it, it worked very well overall. One of the games was virtually flawless while the other had major buffering problems in the second period. Also noteworthy is that my internet access was the tethering app in my phone, not some corporate T1 line and it still worked pretty well.

This is very close to being a solution for the awful distribution NHL games get in hotels and such nationally. The other major sports you can always find, but not hockey.

The Center Ice package is wonderful as content but overall is evil in terms of content control. I remember trying to use it to watch games on a computer a few years ago when I was routinely working late during the playoffs and even if you were paying for it, you couldn’t use it online if you were in a market where the games were carried on television. Horrible.

Lesath (profile) says:

I have had the streaming option for NHL Center Ice ofr the past three years. Good service, as I live in GA and love me some Chicago Blackhawks. Only problem I’ve had is somehow the Nashville games are blacked out. Being 300 miles from Nashville seems a bit much. Funny thing is, I can find illegal streams of all the games but choose to pay because the product it good. Even found the stream of Nashville-Chicago that was a gamecenter stream.

Anonymous Coward says:

First off, I care little for hockey or most sports that are broadcast. Used to be at one time I was a big football fan. That is until games started being blacked out. Slowly but surely I lost total interest in football. Today, I couldn’t tell you who plays on a team, what their standing is, where they are, or even who is in rivalry with who.

Quite honestly I got so disgusted with the black outs that I ceased to care. I haven’t watched a game in years…not even the play off games. It’s a direct result of curtailment of broadcasting them on public access.

While this is my personal experience I doubt I am the only one that just gave up and no longer follows sports.

Mario Gretzky says:

Spot on

I couldn’t agree more with this article. The NHL has a great streaming service (CentreIce) which I’ve used since moving overseas and now I get every televised game of my team (Leafs) for a reasonable price. It would suck if I lived in Toronto, got the same package and got locked out of games only broadcast on LeafsTV, TSN, etc. The greatest time is the playoffs, I can watch 4 games simultaneously.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

sports is the only reason i don't cut the cord...

1. *of course*, the fact that we can’t get cable/satellite teevee a la carte, is THE MAJOR stumbling block to most people getting what they ACTUALLY WANT without buying ‘packages’ with a hundred channels we don’t want…

2. if not for *some* few sports i like to watch occasionally (the wife is probably more of a sports fan than i am), i would cut the cord in a nanosecond…

3. even at that, our ISP has a deal with ESPN, so i can watch ESPN3 online when the Gators aren’t on ‘regular’ teevee; *supposedly* i can watch on my tablet, *but* didn’t work last night when i tried to watch our glorious victory against georgia…

4. it is entirely TOO DIFFICULT to TRY and watch your favorite team’s games when you have to jump through a bunch of hoops (no pun intended) to see them, have to be lucky enough to have the *right* ISP/teevee subscription AVAILABLE, much less it happens to be the one you have already, AND have to pay out the ass for a season or a game…
gee, that doesn’t make me feel very wanted as a fan, just as a mark…

oh, and hockey sucks… not as bad as soccer, but still, ‘icing’? ‘offsides’? and all the rest of that hooey is retarded…
oh, the players can’t get back in time to defend, so the offense has TO WAIT FOR THEM ? ? ? that is nuts… you don’t get back, you get fastbreaked… might be exciting, eh, hosers… can’t have that, this is rugby on ice, we don’t care about any steenking scoring…
hee hee hee
ho ho ho
ha ha ha
ak ak ak

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: sports is the only reason i don't cut the cord...

you can be ‘that guy’, fine by me; i admit to ignorance of their rules, and the few times i’ve tried to figure them out, they simply seemed weirdly anti-action…

but you just made my point: the puck can’t cross some arbitrary line before your skate does, okay, and why is that ? ’cause it would be ‘unfair’ to pass the puck ahead or something ? ? ? that sounds dangerous…

geez, football would have never invented/allowed the forward pass with that type of thinking… even stodgy baseball changes its rules to keep up with the materials/equipment and the times…

like i say, i don’t get it: it SEEMS (from my admitted ignorance) that the rules PREVENT fast breaks and action…
c’mon, hockey scores are only slightly more than soccer: 2-1, 4-3, 1-0, etc…

hell, i’d rather watch full-contact scrabble…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Hoser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: sports is the only reason i don't cut the cord...

The puck has to cross before your skates do. Offsides are in place to prevent people from cherry picking. It would look retarded if you could have a guy sitting in front of the opponents net all game waiting for a long pass.

As for an icing its there prevent defensemen from just drilling the puck down the ice anytime they get in trouble. You have to cross the half way line (red line) to be able to shoot the puck at the other end of the rink. It promotes offense.

Also as for the scores if you get a 14-7 NFL game well its basically a 2-1 game in hockey. Hockey doesn’t have equivalent for a field goal. you do see 5-1 or 6-5 hockey games just like 50-3 or 56-42 NFL games.

Hope this helps you

Philly Bob (profile) says:

Streaming Games

In Philly, you can not only NOT get Flyers home games on the air or on Dish etc, you can barely get the games if you don’t have Comcast. They should change the name of the Philadelphia Flyers, Sixers and Phillies to the Comcast Flyers or Comcast Phillies. It’s bad enough you have to be an oil tycoon to afford tickets to a live game so we stay home and watch but if you don’t have Comcast (which is the most expensive of your options here) guess what? You can stick your finger in your arse as far as they’re concerned. Streaming of live games? You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding!!

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