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Apple and Amazon provide NHL with extra opportunities, says commissioner Bettman

Ice hockey league hopes to benefit from tech giants’ appetite for sports streaming rights.

4 January 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • Bettman says overall media marketplace is expanding
  • Sport “may be driving some of these streaming services as they go forward”
  • Younger fans “demanding” more behind-the-scenes content

National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner Gary Bettman says it is “exciting” that technology giants such as Amazon and Apple are investing in sports rights and believes the additional competition will provide added opportunity.

Big tech made headlines in 2022 with several high-profile streaming acquisitions. Amazon struck deals for ONE Championship in the US and for a package of Uefa Champions League rights in the UK, while Apple secured stateside rights for Major League Baseball (MLB) and a global deal with Major League Soccer (MLS).

December also saw the National Football League (NFL) finally award its out-of-market Sunday Ticket package to Google’s YouTube TV.

“I think it’s exciting, because it’s an opportunity and there’s going to be more forms of competition,” Bettman told Bloomberg.

“The marketplace, in some respects, is contracting but overall it’s expanding. So the traditional methods may be contracting a little bit, not going to zero. But the adjustment provides us opportunities to do other things.

“And, yes, the Apples, the Amazon, the Peacocks of the world are taking in. Netflix still hasn’t dipped its toe in sports, but at some point they may conclude that that’s the way to go.

“If you think back, probably 40 years now, cable and satellites got their penetration because [of] the sports and the regional sports channels and the appetite for sports. I think while it may not be on a regional level, it may be more national. I think sports may be driving some of these streaming services as they go forward.”

The NHL has been boosted by bumper earnings in recent seasons, with Bettman projecting revenue to exceed US$5.2 billion in 2022/23 as the league continues its post-pandemic recovery. Revenues during the Covid-hit season of 2019/20 fell by 14 per cent year-over-year (YoY) to US$4.4 billion.

Driving the increase are the league’s seven-year US broadcast deals with ESPN and Turner Sports, reportedly worth US$400 million and US$225 million per season respectively.

“There was a large uptick there,” acknowledged Bettman, adding that teams have been notably busy on the commercial partnerships front since being permitted to sell jersey patches.

“Our partnerships, our licensed products on all fronts, we’re continuing to grow,” he continued.    

When asked about engaging with consumers and where the NHL sits alongside other top US sports leagues, Bettman said the most important thing was to ensure straightforward accessibility.

“You’ve got to provide your fans with easy access, which is fairly priced, but also when you’re looking at the Millennials and Gen Z they want more than just the games now,” he stated. “They want behind the scenes.

“It’s about giving a look at our players and our game from a vantage point that, when I was the equivalent age of a Gen Z, you could only imagine what was it like to be inside of a locker room to see the players getting ready. And that’s what our younger fans are demanding. And, frankly, I think it’s good for the game, particularly for our game based on our players, for them to see that.”

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