SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Lower price helps nearly double initial subscriptions for streaming product, NHL says

The NHL has nearly doubled the number of initial subscribers to its NHL GameCenter Live out-of-market streaming product compared with the 2011-12 season, thanks in large part to a dramatically lowered price.

League officials did not disclose specific registration numbers last week but did say that initial response to a new $49.99 price for GameCenter Live for the abbreviated, 48-game 2013 regular season far exceeded the comparable number of early sign-ups last year.

The NHL set the $49.99 price point as a goodwill gesture following the nearly four-month lockout. NHL GameCenter Live previously carried a price of $169 for a full season and $119 for a partial season. The league’s linear TV out-of-market package, Center Ice, also features sharply reduced pricing this year, costing $49.99 through InDemand on cable and $59.96 on DirecTV.

“We’ve seen a lot of positive early momentum out of the box on this,” said Steve McArdle, NHL senior vice president of strategic planning and business development. “We’ve been monitoring fan sentiment in social media and other channels very carefully, and there’s some real consensus this is a fair price and one that balances a real recognition on our part of what fans have been through and the patience they’ve shown with business realities. We think there’s definite pent-up demand.”

When the lockout ended, there was fan and media outcry for the out-of-market packages to be offered for free. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said contractual provisions, particularly with the various cable and satellite distributors, made such a gesture impossible.

No pricing decisions have been made regarding the 2013-14 season, but as of now, the league is terming the current offer for NHL GameCenter Live as a “special” price for this current season only.

Still, NHL GameCenter Live arrives with a vastly reworked user interface and back-end infrastructure that had been planned prior to the lockout. Additional video content has been placed in front of the paywall as part of the free version of the mobile application. Navigation has been completely redesigned, and the Microsoft Xbox 360 video game console has been added as a connected device that can access NHL GameCenter live, joining a wide array of other devices.

National marketing of GameCenter Live, slated to begin this past weekend with on-air mentions on NBC and the NHL Network among other activations, will focus more on the portability and utility of the product as opposed to the reduced price.

“We’ve got something that is a lot cleaner, a lot more consistent across the various platforms, and works either as a second-screen companion to TV or for primary viewing,” said John Pacino, NHL vice president of digital design.

The NHL is again working with partner NeuLion on GameCenter Live and overall GameCenter mobile application. Another major enhancement is a live game simulator that will display real-time shift changes.

“We’ve made this all about hockey and appealing to that hard-core fan,” said Chris Wagner, NeuLion executive vice president and co-founder. “There are plenty of general game trackers out there on the more casual sites, but we’ve built something we think will have the deepest and timeliest information.”

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