SBJ/February 13-19, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Live NBC games part of Verizon-NHL renewal

The NHL has signed a three-year extension with wireless partner Verizon Wireless, and the new deal creates a premium mobile application exclusively for Verizon mobile subscribers.

The renewal was a three-way pact involving the league, Verizon and media partner NBC Sports Group, and live games from NBC’s weekly broadcast coverage of the NHL will now be available on the Verizon NHL GameCenter app. The NHL Players’ Association has struck a companion deal with Verizon, extending the carrier’s sponsorship rights to the players as well.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but when including total commitments to both the league and member clubs, planned media spending and other activations, the deal is thought to be worth an eight-figure sum annually.

“This is truly a content play, joined by more traditional sponsor elements,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of integrated sales.

A key goal for the league in the Verizon deal, however, was finding a workable middle ground that would give Verizon exclusive assets and content and help drive subscriptions and consumption for a key league partner, while at the same time not shutting out fans contracted with other mobile carriers.

The result was two versions of its NHL GameCenter app. The Verizon version will contain live feeds of the weekly NBC coverage, typically blacked out to mobile devices; NBC’s “Inside the Glass” analysis; bonus camera angles; on-demand plays of the week; and other material. The version of NHL GameCenter available to everyone else still carries scores, standings, photo galleries and other features. In-app upgrades, carrying additional fees, provide live game audio, in-game highlights and live game video.

Verizon subscribers with either a tablet or a 4G LTE smartphone will get the NHL GameCenter app free. Other Verizon subscribers can buy the app for the regular $9.99 price, but also get the exclusive content. The live out-of-market games, the most prominent of the in-app upgrades, carry an additional charge of as much as $169, with price reductions as the season progresses.

“GameCenter Live and the live game content that comes with it remains available to everybody. That is a very important consideration,” Wachtel said. “We need to provide as much content as possible for all our fans. The Verizon version builds on top of that.”

The NHL deal bears some conceptual similarity to the large-scale deal Verizon struck in 2010 with the NFL, which gives its subscribers an extensive package of exclusive material, including live streams of the NFL Network, and live Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games.

Verizon executives were not available for comment.

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