NHL GameCenter, a mobile app serving up schedules, scores, news, video, team information and statistics for hockey fans, went under the microscope during the first full week of games for the '13-14 NHL regular season. After seven days with the app, I’m still wowed by the video feature set, but where is the social integration? The app was reviewed using an iPhone 4 with Verizon 3G service and an iPhone 5 with AT&T 4G, from Oct 7 to Oct 13. NHL GameCenter is developed by NeuLion, the NHL's technology partner.
COVERING THE ESSENTIALS: Schedules come first. Past matches include final scores and a one line summative headline about the result. Despite a squinty font size, news is presented in a simplistic, readable manner. Video playback is smooth with clearly titled categories including Gorgeous Goals, Shootouts and Classic Bloopers. Stats are available by team and player, including both regular season and postseason numbers. A League Leaders section shows headshots of the top two players in each category, making it easy to spot repeat leaders. Alerts and favorites can be set for up to five different teams, an appealing feature to the hockey junkie. Tickets and merchandise can be purchased within the app.
ON THE GLASS: NHL GameCenter offers two subscription tiers: Live and Premium. For $149.99, the GameCenter Live upgrade is the all access pass with live out-of-market games, home and away radio broadcasts and multiple device access. For $9.99, the Premium option offers live radio broadcasts, in-game video highlights and condensed game replays. Verizon customers are offered special features, including live broadcasts of NBC National Games and select VOD content like NBC’s Inside the Glass and NHL on the Fly (4G LTE only). Everything here goes off without a hitch, but some of the flashier features like simultaneous game viewing and in-video chat are reserved for broadband users. Authentication for Verizon customers is automatic, with no extra steps required.
POWERPLAY GOALS: The app conveniently displays two fixed icons for live game consumption on the top bar, a headset and a video screen. Live game video and radio broadcasts are crisp. Aside from in-market blackouts, home and away TV broadcasts are viewable for virtually every NHL game. Live radio is unrestricted, offering local and out-of-market broadcasts for home and away teams. Tapping a past game in the schedule section unveils not only a written and statistical recap, but also a full-length archived game for GameCenter Live subscribers and a condensed game for Premium subscribers. Congratulations to the NHL for finding a worthwhile way to convert users to paid. The icing on the cake is within the play-by-play summary, where video highlights are attached to key moments just minutes after live play.
SHORTHANDED: Verizon subscribers using a 3G device and all non-Verizon subscribers must pay $9.99 for access to Premium features, while Verizon 4G customers get them for free. Why the inequality? Also, while I understand the challenges of the broadcast rights landscape, the blackout restrictions in the app are debilitating. What percentage of the league audience is interested in streaming out-of-market games? Meanwhile, the app offers no social integration whatsoever, and Shop.NHL.com is still linked to a desktop site. I encountered only one technical issue during my time with NHL GameCenter: a pop-up telling me I was logged out. This happened on several occasions while watching live games, but when I clicked OK, I was still logged in and all of the features remained accessible.
BOTTOM LINE: There is no mistaking that the NHL has taken the time to research and respond to their fans with the GameCenter app. The interface is clean and simplistic, capturing the essence of hockey with an icy appeal. Features work and video renders well. The task of finding premium features to dangle in front of the avid fan has been accomplished, although the price tag is steep, particularly for single device users. In other words, GameCenter Live is not an impulse buy. Perhaps a monthly subscription might be? Finally, while the app is well done in its current state, social and second screen remain untapped.
Amie Sheridan (email@example.com) is a writer in Philadelphia.