I don’t have all the details yet but the WSJ is reporting that the NHL has a deal with IPTV provider NeuLion Inc. to sell its out-of-market package for live online viewing. Center Ice, until now sold only through cable and satellite, will run $169 for the season, about 45 games a week. It looks like a single-night option may be available for $15. According to WSJ, the games will not be interrupted by advertising — that would be a major change from the current local ads included in the various market broadcasts.
This isn’t the first time live NHL games will be available online. Comcast’s Versus showed live games at Comcast.net and Yahoo during its first two seasons as the NHL broadcast rightsholder. The Versus deal allows online streaming of two live games per night (subject to local blackout). But it is the most comprehensive online offering for a league that has been looking for every way possible to make its games accessible — YouTube, Joost, Sling Media’s clip+sling, etc.
It’s also not a first for a major sports league. MLB.TV has been selling an online out-of-market package — lower-priced — for several seasons. The NBA just cut a deep digital rights deal, including multiplatform live games, with Turner and Disney as part of a broadcast extension.
Cable/satellite bypass: The package will be sold through NHL.com and the team sites. There are no signs of an offer that would make it possible for households (like ours) that already subscribe to Center Ice to get a companion online package for a reduced rate let alone as a complimentary value add. The NBA offered a broadband version of its out-of-market package in 2006.
Location-shifting: As mentioned above, the NHL and Sling have been working together. Could this push the league to take a stance on location shifting devices or software that allow users to watch their home TVs via computer or handset?
Update: Heard from the NHL’s Keith Ritter, who tells us: “The thinking is to offer some sort of rebate to online purchasers who also have the TV product. Hard to make it totally free – those nasty bandwidth costs – but we will do something” for our most loyal fans.