SBD/Issue 8/Sports Media

Fresh Sheet Of Ice: NHL Launching Redesigned Web Site Tomorrow

NHL Tomorrow To Launch Public
Beta Of Redesigned Web Site 
The NHL tomorrow will release a public beta of its dramatically redesigned, the second part of a major two-step digital reworking that began in April with the NHL Network Online video portal. The new site, marking the second major revamp of since '06, involved a 10-month development effort overseen by a large collection of league personnel led by John Collins, Andre Mika, Larry Gelfand and Perry Cooper; California-based interactive marketing firm AKQA; and NeuLion. The new look, utilizing a darker motif dubbed “black ice,” employs a predictably heavy use of video content, Getty still photos, and user-generated content. Navigation and search functions were completely rebuilt, and NHL executives are also vowing a more assertive editorial voice. “This is such a big change, a massive change really,” said Mika, NHL VP/Broadband & New Media. “The video content we began with in the spring was the start our actually programming to our fans. This is the next huge step where we’ve got a full destination hockey fans will feel they’re going to get a lot out of it.” Other areas greatly expanded in the new site include historical data and statistics, much of which has been tagged with relevant video, and fantasy content in part through a new deal with Yahoo Sports.

NHL's Game Center To Feature Game-Tracker,
Live Scores, Video, Photos and Radio Broadcasts
LAUNCHING GAME CENTER: The league also will launch a new product called Game Center, which will feature a game-tracker service, live score updates, video highlights, photos, and radio broadcasts for both home and away teams. With the creation of Game Center, the NHL is rebranding its out-of-market video package of live games from Center Ice Online to Game Center Live. The online game package will be sold separately from its TV counterpart, and Mika acknowledged using the Center Ice name for both products last year created some market confusion. Once the season begins next month, traffic for the new site is expected to grow immediately from company record levels seen in April during last season’s playoffs, said Cooper, VP/NHL Direct. The new site is also being seen internally as a major boon to emerging database-driven marketing efforts in which information culled from site activity will be more freely disseminated through the league and 30 clubs. For example, more than 50% of hockey fans are geographically displaced from their favorite clubs according to league research, and NHL execs are planning a far more concerted effort to market tickets for games when those clubs play in the fans’ hometowns. “We probably haven’t communicated enough or in a fully relevant fashion in the past,” Cooper said. “But this new site, the architecture behind, the increase in engagement we expect because of it, enables us to speak with our fans in a whole new way.” Both the new and the prior iteration of the site will remain accessible for the next week or so, following which the old version will be disbanded. AKQA, which worked on the site, has worked with other sports industry clients including ESPN and Nike (Eric Fisher & Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

LOW-RISK MOVE: The NHL said that its TV revenues are "so much smaller than those of giants like the NFL that it has the freedom to experiment with online video without the risk of angering its television partners." Collins: "We're not encumbered by big national rights." Collins added that "aggressive moves in digital ... are 'essential to our success.'" The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Stephanie Kang reports the league "plans to charge online subscribers a relatively steep $169 a season year for the streaming-video service," compared to MLB, which "charges about $120, for more games." The NBA last season streamed games on as "part of its $179 NBA League Pass subscription" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/23).

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