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NHL tries to score in digital world with video content to woo avid fans @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL - The National Hockey League is trying to score more goals in the digital world.

It launched an online site Wednesday, timed with the start of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, that focuses on video content, a growing trend on the Internet.

The NHL hopes to draw in the tech-savvy fan, most likely to be a highly educated guy with a good income, who is crazy about hockey.

"This entire experience was crafted to really super-serve our avid fans with content," said Andre Mika, the NHL's vice-president of broadband and new media.

Called the NHL Network Online, it will have seven channels, including one channel that will feature a Monday-to-Friday program called "The Hockey Show" to which all 30 NHL teams will contribute video.

The main page will have links to the new site.

Other channels on NHL Network Online will include playoff news and features, highlights from recent games and the NHL's archives, and live events such as a morning skate or a press conference.

"We really wanted to do this during the playoffs to heighten the experience for the fans . . . and give them an all-access approach," Mika said.

Larry Gelfand, the league's senior vice-president of media sales, said that 75 per cent of the NHL's demographic online is male.

"We know they are more affluent than the average sports fan," Gelfand said. "We know they are more technologically savvy than other fans from other sports leagues and they're highly educated."

Bud Light, Dodge and Cisco Systems, the world's largest Internet networking supplier, are key sponsors of the new site, giving them access to this key demographic.

Syndicated technology columnist Marc Saltzman said the site will attract known hockey fans, which is ideal for the advertisers.

"I think it's preaching to the converted and that's perfect, not to mention for advertisers and marketers," said Saltzman, who writes for numerous publications including Rogers UR Magazine and the MSN website.

"You're obviously tailoring your campaigns right to the audience that you know loves and breathes hockey," he said of the advertisers that will use the new site.

Saltzman said he believes fans will "put up with" the ads for the "privilege of accessing video content of their favourite sport any time, anywhere on demand."

Another goal of the video-driven site is to keep fans interested in the playoffs even if their team is out of contention.

"Fans by nature are very tribal and they tend to really love their local team, and when their local team's season ends they seem to end their hockey season," Mika said.

"We really want them to be invested in the game as a whole and to continue following the game until the end of the Stanley Cup run."

Mika said the NHL has 53 million fans in North America who are "crazy about hockey," and any new fans gained by the video-rich site would be a bonus.

"To bring in new fans because of this experience, I think, would be icing on the cake."

But Saltzman doubts the site will pull in any new fans.

"The old adage, 'If you build it, they will come' does not apply to the Internet. I think if you're someone who is not a fan of hockey, they're not going to accidentally stumble upon this site. If you are going here, you are a hockey fan."

But there's no denying that digital content is important to the NHL, as fans decide when and how they want to watch hockey.

"We know that a lot of our fans time-shift in how they watch television and games," Mika said.

The NHL will also relaunch its in September. Mika said there will be some high-definition content when the site is overhauled, and games in 3-D are "down the road for us."

However, both Mika and Gelfand said NHL games on television are just as important.

"It's not a flight from TV in any sense," Gelfand said about the Internet content.

"It's still a very, very visual game. With high-def coming, it's an amazing experience."

TSN also has redesigned its website,, to coincide with the NHL playoffs and add video applications.

The site features more user-generated content on its popular Your Call section in the form of video commentary. It also will give users instant access to video direct from the homepage.

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