On Wednesday the National Hockey League Playoffs start, just as the league launches a new online digital network.
The new seven-channel digital network on its web site makes it easy to flip channels (just like on TV) to navigate an unprecedented amount of hockey-related content.
There are an estimated 53 million hockey fans in the U.S., but most of them care mostly about their home team. This immersive online hockey experience is designed to get them invested in the entire league. Right now the league has only modest distribution through NBC and Versus, but starting later this week, NHL fans will get to access tons more content.
"The Hockey Show" channel is a live 15-minute show with original content produced just for the web, giving unprecedented access to the world of Hockey. In addition to game highlights and updates, it has interviews and behind-the-scenes looks at what players eat for breakfast, how they spend their free time when on the road for a game. Then there's "The Playoff Channel," "Live Wire" with live news conference, and "NHL Productions Presents."
With a solid fan base in the desirable 18-34 year old male demographic, big advertisers were clamoring to sponsor the shows: Bud Light , Cisco and Dodge have all signed on to sponsor channels.
The NHL is also syndicating game highlights to sites including YouTube and Hulu. The league doesn't have as extensive a distribution agreement as other sports leagues, but it does retain its digital rights, allowing to to entirely control where to show game highlights. That gives it the flexibility to do this combo of all-inclusive broadcasting on its own site, and pick and choose where else to send its clips.
Speaking of clips, here's one of Andre Mika, NHL vp broadband and new media, on the new network.
Update: Interest in hockey is growing. The NHL just announced today that fan attendance in the 2007-2008 season grew 1.8 percent to a record high for the third year in a row. With an average of 17,265 people attending each game, total attendance for the season was more than 21.24. And because the NHL has smaller TV contracts than the other pro leagues, fan attendance is much more important to the league's success.
Canada's obsession with the game had a significant influence in this uptick. Each of the NHL's six Canadian teams sold every single ticket for each game, further fueling speculation that the less popular teams in the U.S. should be sent up north.
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