Deal with MLBAM Should Improve NHL’s Digital Media

The end of July and early August are usually the quietest few weeks on the NHL calendar and, for the most part, this year has been no different. Besides a few minor free agent signings and the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid not much else has really transpired. With that being the case it’s understandable if you missed the news that the NHL has reached a digital media agreement with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM).

For those that aren’t baseball fans (and those that are) the name MLBAM may be pretty unfamiliar. Besides running the various MLB media platforms such as mlb.com, the various team websites, MLB Network, MLB Extra Innings, MLB TV, and the mobile app MLB At Bat, the company is also in charge of several other entities. As per Sportsnet, MLBAM is already the streaming video provider for ESPN, HBO, and WWE among others. Forbes called the company “the biggest media company you’ve never heard of.”

With the six year, $1.2 billion deal MLBAM will take over control of nhl.com and the team sites, Gamecenter Live, NHL Center Ice, and (perhaps most importantly) the NHL Network. If you’ve ever watched the MLB Network on a day or night with a full slate of games, the fact that the MLBAM is taking over the underwhelming NHL Network can only be seen as good news.

Having watched my fair share of the NHL Network, MLB Network, NFL Network, and even NBA TV, I can confidently say the MLB Network blows the other three out of the water. Baseball’s flagship station sports a huge, modern studio, live programming usually from 10 am to after midnight, and an impressive arsenal of studio analysts that includes 14 former players, a former team executive, and several well respected baseball lifers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal.

So how will (or how could) the new deal impact hockey fans and how they use the NHL’s media outlets? It’s a safe bet that the NHL Network is going to get a nice upgrade. As part of the agreement, the NHL Network will have a new headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, where a new set will be built. There may also be a few new faces in front of the camera. As already mentioned MLB Network has a huge amount of analysts and hosts, while the NHL Network only has ten listed on its website. Not only could NHL Network expand the amount of analysts at their disposal, the move down to New Jersey may impact a few of its current hosts. The likes of Andi Petrillo, Craig Button, and others live in the Toronto area and have been based their for many years. It will be interesting to see if Petrillo (who was previously with CBC) and Button (who also does work with TSN) make the trip to the states. If MLBAM opts to run the channel in a similar way as it’s MLB cousin, there’s a solid chance of more live programming (and less condensed reruns from 2-4 in the afternoon). Among the additions I’d love to see is a live, well run, morning show. MLB Central airs live at 10am on MLB Network after its version of NHL on the Fly, and is a great alternative to Sportscenter.

Statheads will also be pleased with MLBAM. The company has a series of “Statcast” videos that go into detail on various advanced stats in regards to everything from pitch velocity to an individual player’s advantage when it comes to stealing bases. This video on which player covers the most distance in center field is a great example of the work they do. When focused on things like zone entries, shot speed, or where players are shooting from on the ice, these videos could be a huge hit.

When it comes to the individual team sites and the league site, MLBAM will begin to implement its changes in January. It’s not clear what changes will be made but if the MLB team sites and the league site are any indication, there will likely be more information available on the team homepages. By taking a look at a baseball team’s website (I glanced at the Yankees’ and Brewers’ sites) as compared to an NHL team’s (I looked at the Sabres’ site) there are a few noticeable differences. First of those is that the team’s social media is embedded and easily veiwable on the baseball sites. “What’s trending” is also a feature on the baseball sites. Overall, the baseball sites are significantly more interactive and provide a huge amount of video content when compared to their hockey counterparts. When it comes to the league site, video content and trending topics is also prevalent. MLB’s website also has a feature called “Cut 4,” which is a video channel dedicated to offbeat and funny baseball related videos that some times aren’t even related to any major league team. Among the videos currently available are a minor league team unveiling an Arnold Schwarzenegger bobbehead and a softball player hitting a home run with a behind the back swing. It is features like this that draw people to the site and provide entertainment; it is also features like this that nhl.com is currently lacking.

MLBAM will also be coming out with an NHL version of the MLB At Bat app. At Bat is baseball’s in game app that provides live scores, pitch tracking, and live statistics. There’s also a premium version that allows subscribers to watch certain games and listen to any game via the home or away radio broadcast. An NHL app that provides those features would be of great value to many fans, especially expats who can’t see or listen to their hometown team on a regular basis.

The NHL has botched a lot of things in the past, but it appears they’ve found a company willing and able to significantly improve some ways fans get their hockey fix and revolutionize others. While drastic changes likely won’t be hugely noticeable when the puck drops on the season in about two months, my bet is by the end of the year there will be a change for the positive.

Instigator Podcast Episode 42 – Brandon and the Sabres

After a short hiatus, Chris and Tyler are back to discuss Russ Brandon’s new position with the Sabres, a quick chat about the Bills entering camp and the NHL’s looming expansion conundrum.

Instigator Podcast Episode 42 - Brandon & the Sabres by The Instigator Podcast on Mixcloud

The Week of Development Camp Could be so Much More

As the Sabres wind down their annual development camp at First Niagara Center I can’t help but think the organization missed a terrific opportunity to draw even more fans down to the foot of Washington Street.

Mid July is an inherently slow time of year in every sense of the word. The NHL calendar is in a bit of a lull after the initial free agent flurry of activity, the Bills are still a ways out from kicking off training camp, and we’re in the midst of the dog days of baseball season. That, coupled with the fact that the area’s children are a few weeks into summer vacation and parents are searching for things to keep their kids occupied, means that development camp is in a great position to fill the void in affordable entertainment.

The week’s on-ice happenings were the lone Sabres related attraction this week, and there were multiple other things that the organization could’ve done in conjunction with the camp to make it a great experience for the fans. The improvements to the week have nothing to do with the on ice activity, but more of the ancillary activities to draw people to the area and keep them there for a few hours. They range from improving things inside the arena during practice to having activities outside during down time. Here are just a few ways to make the week significantly better:

– Make the players available. I count nine players on the Sabres’ NHL roster that are new to the team since the trade deadline; the average fan couldn’t pick Ryan O’Reilly or Zach Bogosian out of a lineup. O’Reilly, Bogosian, Evander Kane, and Robin Lehner are players fans will (theoretically) be watching for the better part of the next decade; it would behoove the organization to let the fans get a glimpse of them and put faces to all the new names. This could be done by having autograph booths, having the players just go section to section, or any other number of ways. It’s not a difficult thing to execute.

– Improve the in arena amenities. I was down at the arena on Monday for the practice and grabbed the last soft pretzel at one of the two concession stands at 1:30 pm. That’s totally fine if the practice wasn’t ending at 3. Having a concession stand open with only half of its menu items available, and having the available items understocked, is pointless. Either open them and do it right or don’t open them at all. There was also nothing to do inside the arena other than watch practice. Having a few interactive activities for fans would help solve that issue, especially when kids get antsy from watching three hours of hockey practice. The Slapshot Accuracy machine, for instance, would be a nice addition that could be run by an intern for the day. Sabretooth was also not there on Monday from what I saw. There were tons of young kids who don’t get to FNC very often, and the team’s mascot was nowhere to be found. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a small thing that goes a long way to improving the experience of younger fans.

– Take advantage of Haborcenter. The facility is open with pregame activities during the season, yet not this week. Having the open skates at Harborcenter (that they do before home games) either before or after the prospects are on the ice would’ve been a nice way for people to make a day out of being at the arena. You could even have a roster player skate around with the fans for a half hour if you wanted to get crazy. Having lunch/drink/happy hour specials should’ve also been a layup. Looking at when the on-ice portion of the camp ends each day, one would think a lunch special makes perfect sense. The organization could even promote some of the new retail shops opening up in the building. It’s yet another way to keep people in the area, plus it’s an opportunity to make some money for the restaurant.

– Street Hockey Fest. This event seems to be an annual thing, although nothing appears to have been released in terms of the event happening this year.

Street Hockey Fest would be a nice addition to Development Camp Week

Looking at the schedule, the Saturday of development camp (an off day for prospects) would’ve been a perfect for it. The team could make a few bucks on team registration fees, kids aren’t inside playing video games, and parents find something to occupy their kids for a day; it’s a win for everybody. Add a few players signing autographs (or guest refereeing?), and perhaps some arena tours, and you’ve got the makings of a great day for fans.

– Utilize Canalside. This is the perfect weekend for a “Sabres Carnival” type event. Hosting the event Saturday during the street hockey tournament and Sunday after the 3 on 3 tournament would be perfect. The team did this a few years ago and even brought in a band (10,000 Maniacs), so there’s precedent for this happening.

All of these suggestions are not incredibly complicated, and some have been done before. With where the organization has been the last few years this week could’ve really served as a catalyst to get fans back into the Sabres and back into hockey. Fans still filled up FNC the last two seasons (for the most part) despite the on ice product being pretty poor, by doing a few little things (like player autographs) the franchise can show its appreciation for those who showed up every night to watch a historically bad team, while also taking a few steps to repatriate some fans who may have been turned off by the happenings of the last couple years.

Development Camp stream would be an easy win for the Sabres

The Sabres are hosting their annual Development Camp this week, perhaps you’ve heard. The week’s festivities will be capped by Friday’s Blue-Gold scrimmage and Sunday’s three-on-three tournament.Development Camp stream would be and easy win for the Sabres

So far there have been all sorts of #fun and #engaging parts of the week as we’ve seen grainy videos shot at terrible angles of prospects doing hockey things. Friday’s scrimmage will provide fans their first chance to see Jack Eichel (and all the other prospects) in game action. It’s a quasi-debut of the franchise-altering prospect and the team is all but guaranteed to out-draw last year’s scrimmage which had fans seated in the upper deck of the arena.

The only way you can see the game, however, is to make your way to First Niagara Center. Tickets are $10 and proceeds are going to charity. All-in-all this is a good way to capitalize on an event that will come with plenty of fan frenzy while giving back to the community. Unlike last season, the Sabres will not be providing a stream for Friday’s scrimmage which has disappointed a fair segment of the fanbase. Particularly those who don’t live in Buffalo.

The reasons for the Sabres failing to stream Friday’s game haven’t been made public. I imagine the reasoning is close to the justification Lewis Black once gave for the lack of a national energy policy.

Because it’s hard. It’s really hard. Makes me want to go poopie. – Lewis Black

Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Murray at the Trade Table

There’s no doubt that Tim Murray has put a definitive stamp on the Buffalo Sabres roster in the year and a half that he’s been on the job. He’s managed to proceed with an aggressive pragmatism that has kept the Sabres active on the trade front while maintaining a strong foundation through the draft.

Murray has made 16 total trades by my count since taking over. They range from tent-pole blockbusters to minor-league transactions. But everything has rolled together to get the Sabres to where they are today; on the cusp of leaving the tank in the dust and returning to the ranks of contenders.

They aren’t there yet, however. If they managed to ascend to 10th this season it would be a minor miracle considering their lowly 2014-15 season. However, the last four months have been filled with exciting acquisitions that will affect Buffalo’s on-ice product both in the short and long term.

I’m expecting at least one more trade from Murray before training camp begins at the end of the summer as he’s still lacking a capable top-four defenseman and it appears as if the shallow UFA market is all but dried up. While we wait to see if Murray adds to his lengthy list of transactions, I’ll take a look back at his deals in an all too early ranking of his trades to date. I will rank the trades numerically and on a scale of zero-to-five scowls – since everyone likes to poke fun at Murray’s serious demeanor. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast Episode 41 – Waiting on the Frenzy

Ryan O’Reilly officially inks his deal with the Sabres and we discuss what direction Tim Murray may head when it comes to shoring up the Sabres blueline.

Instigator Podcast Episode 41 - Waiting on the Frenzy by The Instigator Podcast on Mixcloud

Murray’s makeover moves forward with aggressive draft day moves

It was a whirlwind of a weekend for Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres as Buffalo’s GM maneuvered to acquire a new starting goaltender, a legitimate top-six forward and a potential franchise defining talent with the first three picks at his disposal.

Oh, yeah, NOW you smile. – Terry Pegula.

The selection of Jack Eichel was all but guaranteed the moment the Oilers card was pulled during the draft lottery. But trading for Robin Lehner, David Legwand, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn was hardly an expectation. The new acquisitions, coupled with this week’s signings, set the stage to push Buffalo’s rebuild forward significantly.

In January I wrote about the arsenal of assets Murray had at his disposal. At that time Murray held five of the first 60 picks in the draft along with a boatload of prospects at various levels of development. Today his roster is drastically altered. O’Reilly, Kane and Eichel are set to redefine the team’s top-six while Zach Bogosian and Robin Lehner will be vital pieces on the backend. Murray’s moves at the draft table completed a vital step of the rebuild and should push the Sabres firmly on the path back to competitiveness. Continue reading