With New Verizon Deal, NHL Plots Dual Paths for Digital Future

The NHL continued to map out its dual-path digital strategy with the three-year renewal of its partnership with Verizon Wireless. The agreement covers live streaming of NBC’s nationally televised games and other exclusive content via the Verizon NHL GameCenter smartphone and tablet apps. At the same time, users of non-Verizon smartphones and tablets will be able to access all live out-of-market NHL games on the league’s GameCenter Live and GameCenter Premium products.

“This is the first year that we have gone down this dual path from a broader strategy perspective,” says Steve McArdle, SVP, strategic planning and business development, for the NHL. “We feel that we have a good complement for both fans on Verizon and those that are not.”

A Shift in Strategy
In 2007, the NHL signed deals with Verizon in the U.S. and Bell Mobility in Canada, granting them exclusive mobile video rights and causing much consternation among non-Verizon subscribers in the States. Last year, the league began offering a GameCenter app for the iPad, and this latest deal marks another chapter in the league’s effort to bring the mobile package to all fans, regardless of their wireless carrier.

“We have pivoted away from that [exclusive-digital-rights strategy] so that we can provide our content to as many fans as possible,” says McArdle. “We believe that Verizon is the leader in 4G technology and that they are the leader in the U.S. in this space, so we’re excited to provide Verizon with additional content, specifically for the NBC games. But more broadly, our fans that are not Verizon customers also have access to our live out-of-market games through GameCenter Live and GameCenter Premium, which are available this year for the first time across all carriers.”

Verizon NHL GameCenter Premium
The deal between the league, the NHLPA, NBC Sports Group, and Verizon allows the carrier’s 4G LTE smartphone (and soon to be) tablet customers to access the NHL GameCenter Premium app for free; all other Verizon subscribers can buy it for $9.99.

All nationally televised games on NBC, which were previously unavailable on mobile and tablet devices, are now available exclusively to Verizon customers as part of the app. Other features in the app, which was developed in collaboration with NeuLion, include live look-ins, real-time scores, team press conferences, expert analysis, and on-location access to high-profile NHL events like the Winter Classic, All-Star Game, and Stanley Cup Finals.

“We think hockey is a product that translates well to multiple screens, and to be able to utilize Verizon’s technology to help make that content portable is what’s exciting about this,” says McArdle. “We believe it is a very nice complement to our overall mobile strategy moving forward.”

In addition to having access to the live linear-broadcast feed for NBC’s nationally televised games, Verizon users can now access a StarCam feed during these telecasts, as well as other bonus camera angles (similar to NBC’s Sunday Night Football offering). Other enhancements now available during the NBC broadcasts include on-demand replays, in-game highlights not available during the linear broadcast, and featured analysis from NBC Sports’ Inside the Glass analysts.

“For NBC broadcasts, the app allows fans to access the broadcast in a way that fans on other carriers won’t be able to,” says McArdle. “It also provides a nice second-screen experience for those fans, with the alternate camera angles and additional content for the NBC games.”

Users can also live-stream the NHL Network’s signature show NHL on the Fly and access on-demand content like a weekly “Frozen Moment” montage and “NHL Plays of the Week.”

Tablets To Come
The Verizon Premium app is currently available on Verizon 4G LTE-compatible smartphones (it is not yet available on Apple iOS devices) and will be available on various tablets before the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs in mid April, according to NHL VP of Mobile Marketing and Strategy Chris Golier.

“We would like to support Verizon on every device that they have, but obviously, with all the fragmentation in the industry in terms of operating systems and devices, it gets complicated very quickly,” he says. “So we spent a lot of time looking at statistics with Verizon, and Android has been a big focus for us. As for tablets, expect something in the marketplace very soon in advance of the playoffs.”

The Marketing Side
The new deal also includes exclusive marketing and promotional rights for Verizon as the Official Wireless Service Provider in the U.S. and category-exclusive U.S. marketing rights for marquee NHL events (for example, Winter Classic, All-Star Weekend in the U.S., NHL Awards, and NHL Lester Patrick Awards). Verizon also will have considerable media presence on NBC, NBC Sports Network, and NBCSports.com (digital promotions on banners, videos, and live-streamed games).

“Verizon is a particularly massive marketer,” says Golier. “So, for us to align with a company that is as good as they are at getting the message out about great NHL content, that helps to make sure all fans are being served.”

For more information on how to download the Verizon NHL GameCenter Premium app, visit sponsorship.verizonwireless.com/nhl.