-- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was sitting at a podium in front of a gaggle of hockey writers in Palm Beach, Fla. on Monday afternoon. They weren't alone.
Through Cisco's TelePresence connection, reporters in New York, Toronto and San Jose also participated in Bettman's press conference that capped the Board of Governors meeting. When prompted, any of the reporters located in one of the three remote cities could ask Bettman a question and through the technology he could see and hear them, and vice versa.
The cameras in New York, San Jose and Toronto were voice-prompted so when a reporter spoke the camera immediately turned to him. Bettman, still sitting at the podium, saw the reporter over a television stationed in front of him while the reporters saw Bettman on one of the big screen TVs positioned in front of them.
The reporters could also see into the other remote rooms.
The NHL is the first professional sports league to utilize Cisco's technology in this way.
"This is as good as it gets as far as being able to communicate," Bettman said. "When I was a little kid this was like science fiction stuff, and now this is simply terrific."
In addition to showcasing Cisco's TelePresence connection on Monday, the League and Cisco also jointly announced a multi-year renewal of their strategic partnership to feature Cisco technology solutions in key video-dependent areas within the NHL such as hockey operations, business operations, marquee events and fan applications.
"We strive to be the most technologically advanced sports league and with Cisco as our partner we're committed to achieving these goals and in effect optimizing the 21st century sports experience," Bettman said.
"We've done our homework," added Diane Dudeck, Cisco's Senior Director of Worldwide Media, Sports and Entertainment. "The NHL attracts a strong demographic for Cisco; small business, medium-size business owners, decision makers are very much attracted to this sport. So it gives us a platform through the partnership to really engage with those folks and provide a relevant way in which Cisco helps them enjoy that experience of being an NHL fan. In addition we're able to use NHL.com, television broadcasts, etc., to further the message and showcase our solutions like TelePresence."
The use of Cisco's TelePresence connection in Bettman's press conference is the first step in what the NHL has planned.
Bettman envisions TelePresence to be omnipresent inside the League's three offices (New York, Toronto and Montreal) so that personnel can interact in a personal and intimate way without the added cost of travel. The offices in New York and Toronto already have TelePresence systems.
"Obviously in-person, in the same room communication is important in any relationship, but the fact is there are lots of things that can be done this way better than just over the phone or through e-mails," Bettman said. "This in many ways looks as good as being there. We think that will make us more efficient both in time and money, so for us it's a real plus."
Bettman is hopeful to have TelePresence available to all 30 clubs soon in order to enhance the League-to-team and team-to-team communication.
"So when (NHL Senior V.P., Scheduling and Broadcast Business) Steve Hatze Petros is doing the schedule and he needs to talk to a manager from a club, they can do it like this and really have an in-depth meeting as if you're sitting in the same room," Bettman said.
"People are so much busier now and it's difficult to have to hop on a plane for maybe a half-hour press conference," said Mindy Mutscchelknaus, Cisco's Worldwide Media and Sports Marketing Manager. "How easy is it instead to go to a TelePresence room and have that face-to-face interaction?"
TelePresence will also be used to bring fans and players together, specifically through the NHL Foundation's work with the Lion's Den rooms for children in hospitals across the continent. Lion's Den is part of Hockey Hall of Famer Pat Lafontaine
's charitable organization, Companions in Courage, which builds interactive playrooms in hospitals.
"For example we can set up TelePresence at a hospital and while a player might not be able to get there personally because of time or travel constraints, there can be direct communications," Bettman said. "You can see from the visuals that we have of each other that the picture is nothing short of phenomenal and the ability to communicate is great."
Dudeck said the NHL's charitable and philanthropic philosophies coincide with Cisco's.
"You always want to partner with organizations that have the same type of objective, and the charity and philanthropy that the NHL is part of with Lion's Den, we're very excited to partner and use our technology to help them bring their players to kids with terminal illnesses," she said. "These are ways in which to use technology to further their goals, and that's Cisco's core culture, to give back. So we're very excited about the partnership."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl