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4/8/2008
03:42 PM
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Ovechkin, Crosby Will Star On NHL's Broadband Network

NHL Network Online is expected to feature channels that include archived game highlights from the Stanley Cup playoffs, as well as podcasts, live coverage of league events.

Hockey fans looking to follow Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and other stars through the National Hockey League playoffs and beyond can access a new broadband service that the league will formally launch Wednesday.

The NHL Network Online is expected to feature channels that include archived game highlights from the Stanley Cup playoffs, as well as podcasts, live coverage of league events such as the amateur draft, behind-the-scenes features, and links to XM Radio's NHL Live show. The portal is meant to be a Web-based counterpart to the NHL Network on cable TV.

The NHL playoffs kick off Wednesday with four games.

With the rollout of NHL Network Online, the league is hoping to extend its presence in the United States and cash in on the fact that many hockey fans are as at home in front of a PC as they are at rink side. "NHL hockey fans are as tech savvy, if not more tech savvy, than fans in any other sport," said Larry Gelfand, senior VP for media sales for the league, in an interview.

Gelfand said third-party data from Scarborough Research shows that so-called puckheads are more likely to own a high-definition television and have broadband Internet access than other sports fans.

That fact helped the NHL land Cisco Systems, as well as Dodge and Bud Light, as sponsors for NHL Network Online. "There's potential for a great deal of incremental revenue for the league," said Gelfand. He declined to estimate ad sales for the site.

The portal, accessible through NHL.com, is anchored by a Flash-based video player that was custom developed for the league by NeuLion. It features rotating ad panels built to specifications approved by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The video player will eventually be rolled out for use on Web sites maintained by the NHL's 30 teams, in addition to NHL.com. The NHL has no immediate plans to extend NHL Network Online to mobile devices, Gelfand said. The league already feeds some WAP-compatible content to handhelds directly from NHL.com.

The NHL estimates there are about 53 million active hockey fans in North America. Attendance for the just-completed 2007/2008 regular season rose 1.8% compared with the previous year, with average per-game attendance hitting 17,265, according to the league.

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