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

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Sitting side-by-side in the NHL's midtown office, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his counterpart from Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, served perfectly as a symbol of the groundbreaking partnership between two of the most successful sports leagues in the world.

Commissioner Bettman and Commissioner Manfred on Tuesday announced a six-year digital media rights partnership between the NHL and Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the technical arm of Major League Baseball, that is expected to enhance the user experience across the League's digital platforms, including GameCenter Live, NHL Center Ice, NHL Network and NHL.com.

The deal also provides for an equity share for the NHL in a new tech company to be launched by MLBAM.

The launch of the NHL's 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.

"It's really all about the fans and giving them the ability to not only continue to connect with the game, in what up until this point had been unprecedented ways, but to look to the future and our ability to create even richer content with even better access," Commissioner Bettman said. "It's transformational, to say the least. We think it's the type of deal that the ever-evolving technology age requires."

NHL revenues created by this deal will be considered hockey-related revenue, which could impact the salary cap in future seasons.

John Collins, the League's chief operating officer, and Bob Bowman, the president and chief executive officer of MLB Advanced Media, were at the heart of creating the partnership which will allow MLBAM to provide the technology for the NHL's expansive digital platform.

"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," Collins said. "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, World Wrestling Entertainment, and HBO Go.

"One of the most important things that any sports league or a commissioner of a sports league can do is make sure that you deliver to your fans your content, your games, in the best possible way," Commissioner Manfred said. "We believe MLB Advanced Media has been a leader in this space, that we have developed creative ways to serve our fans in multiple platforms. And we think in partnership with the NHL we will provide that same technology, that same service that will be of benefits to NHL fans over the long haul."

Commissioner Bettman said the partnership with MLBAM enhances the already significant television distribution platforms the NHL has in North America with NBC, Rogers and TVA.

Collins said the partnership with MLBAM is another sign the NHL is thinking big and not settling on traditional year-over-year growth.

"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, 4 to 5 percent," Collins said. "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. The League and its clubs will retain editorial control of the content, according to Commissioner Bettman.

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

"We'll be fully operational, but my guess is we'll get better over time," Commissioner Bettman said. "Whatever you see on Opening Night will be good, and whatever you see a month later will be better. As we get through the season it will be better yet."

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 provide the infrastructure for League and team apps.

The design and development of new digital products and platforms will be a partnership between the NHL 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 NHL has experienced in recent years, Collins said.

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL and MLBAM have been discussing a potential deal for a long time.

"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," Collins said. "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 that 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 and Commissioner Bettman credited NeuLion for helping the NHL build its digital infrastructure.

"NeuLion has been a great relationship and we have been well-served by them," Collins 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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