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NHL, Major League Baseball Advanced Media form transformative digital-rights partnership

by Dan Rosen / New Jersey Devils

NEW YORK – A six-year digital media-rights partnership between the NHL and Major League Baseball Advanced Media announced Tuesday is expected to transform the fan viewing experience across the League's digital platforms.

The deal was announced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. It includes an equity share for the NHL in a new tech company to be launched by MLBAM.

"As the market leader, MLBAM is uniquely qualified to help us give hockey fans a richer, more immersive experience with the game," Commissioner Bettman said in a statement. "But that's just for starters. MLBAM is also the right partner because they have the expertise to help us deliver new and exciting products to our fans, who crave compelling digital content. We couldn't have North America better covered than with the power of NBC, Rogers, TVA and MLBAM -- an incredible convergence of technical, creative and production talent that is great news for our fans."

The launch of the NHL's new digital products through the partnership with MLBAM is expected to take place in January. NeuLion, the NHL's current digital partner, will help facilitate the transition to MLBAM.

MLBAM will provide the technology for the NHL's expansive digital platform, while the League and its clubs retain editorial control.

"Baseball has done a great job in building up BAM as an industry leader and getting more fans to experience the game in new ways is what we do," said John Collins, the League's Chief Operating Officer. "MLBAM is going to allow us, on the production and technology fronts, to be in front of the curve, because of their scale, on a lot of these opportunities as it relates to hockey."

MLBAM has similar partnerships with a host of other companies in the sports and entertainment fields. It provides streaming or infrastructure support for YES Network and SportsNet New York, WatchESPN, CBS Sports' March Madness, the WWE and HBO Go.

"There has been a sense as we have done these deals in progression," Collins said. "We did the U.S. media deal, we did the Canadian media deal, and now people think we're going to settle back down into a more traditional rate of growth, four to five percent. I don't see it that way and I know the Commissioner doesn't see it that way. I think that all these are building blocks that are elevating the brand, elevating the business and give us a bigger platform to build the sport."

As part of the deal, MLBAM will serve as the distribution arm for GameCenter Live and NHL Center Ice subscription services in the United States and certain international markets.

Also, NHL Network is relocating its operations to studio space inside the MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, N.J. The NHL Network will be operational for the start of the 2015-16 season in its new studio space.

"They're currently building out two studios and master control in Secaucus for us," Collins said. "We also have the studio in the NHL Store [in New York City] and we have the insert studio [in the NHL's New York City office] with master control. All of those studio operations will fall under the management of MLB Network.

"The MLB Network personnel will oversee the operations for the NHL Network. We obviously have consultation with them on it. We'll work with them on all the talent and programming. We'll work closely with them on breaking news and features and how to create more access and better content for fans through the Network, but they're going to operate the Network and eventually be responsible for the business aspects."

In addition, MLBAM will provide the digital infrastructure for the NHL.com web platform, including its seven international websites and 30 team websites. MLBAM will also provide the infrastructure for the League and team apps.

The design and development of new digital products and platforms will be a partnership between the League and MLBAM.

"In January, when we turn the switch, you'll see new products, but even then it won't be all the way, across every board," Collins said. "Most of our conversations so far have been around getting the deal done. The next several months will be about developing those products."

The announcement Tuesday culminates the process of finding a single partner to help better distribute content to continue the growth the League has experienced in recent years, Collins said.

"We know what we do best, and we have a very aggressive growth plan for our global business, and this is going to allow us to focus on what we do best," Collins said. "The strength of our business, which has been growing on a national level at about 20 percent per year, which is good for any business, has been about the strength of the partnerships we've been able to create. BAM is a part of it. I think we are really well positioned."

Collins said a key to the partnership is the NHL will be able to focus its resources on creating content which brings fans even closer to the game.

"We're great at building content, whether it's improvements to the game on the ice, new events or whether it's creating new programming for fans to get closer to the players on the ice, on the benches, in the locker rooms," Collins said. "Building events like the World Cup, like the Winter Classic, that's what we're really good at and that's what we need to spend our time focusing on."

MLBAM will assist the NHL in making its current products better, as well as take part in the potential future implementation of digital tracking of players and the statistical information arising from that process.

Collins credited NeuLion for helping the NHL build its digital infrastructure.

"NeuLion has been a great relationship and we have been well-served by them," he said. "In many respects, they should share a lot of the accolades about getting us to this point, building the value that ultimately someone is stepping up and paying such a significant fee for.

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