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Volume 21 No. 18
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NHL/NBC/BAM selling wireless category

The NHL, NBC Sports and BAMTech Media are bundling a package of assets and bringing it to market jointly in an effort to sell the NHL’s wireless carrier category in the U.S.

The package will consist of league marketing assets made available to any of its top-tier U.S. partners, such as exposure at events like the Winter Classic and All-Star Game, but also an on-air presence during the nearly 200 regular-season and postseason games that will both air nationally across NBC and NBCSN and be streamed by the network, as well as opportunities through BAMTech Media’s streaming of more than 1,000 league games with NHL.TV, and its operation of NHL Network, and all 31 team sites. It would also include exclusive content opportunities for the wireless carrier, such as game content and originally produced content.

“We’ve built an all-in, three-party opportunity for the category. ... We think this is a unique opportunity for someone to come in and own the sport.”
Keith Wachtel
Chief revenue officer, NHL
The potential deal would further expand rights provided in its last deal in the category, which was with Verizon and ended after the 2013-14 season. NHL Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel said the league initially sought a renewal with Verizon before Verizon shifted its focus to its then-new NFL partnership, and spent much of the following year in the market for a new partner. However, as talks with MLBAM began in 2015, Wachtel said, the league saw the potential to create a package that could offer more value. After discussing the idea for the last four or five months, the three parties are now bringing it to market.

“We’ve built an all-in, three-party opportunity for the category that offers a unique and compelling advantage. We think this is a unique opportunity for someone to come in and own the sport,” Wachtel said.

Wachtel said that similar to the positions that Verizon, AT&T and DirecTV have built with the NFL, a partner would have a similar opportunity with the NHL. He noted that it may appeal to companies looking to fortify their positions in sports marketing, or to further help put a carrier on the map, such as Cricket Wireless.

Wachtel said the league wants its content to be distributed as broadly as possible, so any potential deal would not restrict live game content.

All three parties declined to speculate on the size of a potential deal. The NHL’s deal with Verizon was thought to be worth an eight-figure sum annually when considering total commitments to the league and clubs, as well as planned media spending and other activations.

Dan Lovinger, NBC Sports executive vice president of advertising sales, said he thought packaging the assets would lead to a deal larger than if a league partner tried to do each deal separately.

“One of the things I hear consistently from a lot of marketers is that they don’t always marry media to marketing, and they wish they could, and that they could do it better,” Lovinger said. “The biggest hook for all of us in this is that we’re lined up in sync, and are able to deliver a much greater ROI for a marketer that doesn’t have any waste of motion.”

Whitney Howard, senior vice president and general manager of hockey at BAMTech Media, said that the alignment of the three organizations would allow a carrier “to take advantage of the accelerating growth we’re seeing across NHL’s digital properties and reach highly engaged, passionate fan bases across the league.”

Howard noted that it would also provide a partner with the opportunity to have persistent branding across all of the NHL’s digital properties and NHL Network, which share cross-platform original content.

Both Wachtel and Lovinger said there is no timetable to complete a deal in the category, but think it is possible one is done for this season.

“The notion of a traditional sponsorship in most categories has gone by the wayside,” Wachtel said. “This is really about media, live content and all the other forms of content we’re able to create.”