In the past year the NHL has signed agreements to post its content on YouTube, Google Video, the Joost Internet TV platform, Akimbo and many other websites.Television? The league seems to feel that they don't need no stinkin television. Or at least as much TV coverage as used to be needed to be successful, like back in the old analog days.
In addition to the league's electronic efforts, broadcasters have been frantically working to offer more hockey games online as well as in high-definition as the home theatre HD boom continues.
It's a digital revolution for sports broadcasting in Canada, with companies offering more hockey in ways and times to suit the viewer, and with the best possible picture quality.
"What we are trying to do here is look over the horizon and to place strategic bets on technology and companies we think are promising down the road," Ritter says. "You want people to discover this however they can. You are hoping it will drive people to higher quality broadcasts ... ultimately you want to drive them into a building to watch the game live."
While the Senators battle for the Stanley Cup in Anaheim, California, or here in Ottawa, broadcasts of the games, highlights and analysis are available to viewers at the click of a mouse anywhere in the world.
In the past five months, more than 14 million viewers have accessed the NHL's content on YouTube.
Thousands of users of the MySpace social networking site have included the NHL (www.myspace.com/nhl) as one of their "friends," and regularly visit the league's page to watch video highlights and clips.
Replays of games are available on Apple Inc.'s iTunes store and through Amazon.com's Unbox portable video service, allowing fans to download highlights or entire games for as little as $4.99 U.S. and take their hockey with them.
Further, thanks to the digital offerings, traffic to the NHL's own webpage, www.nhl.com, was up by more than 62 per cent last month, according to ratings guru Nielsen/Netratings.
"A lot of this stuff is designed to drive traffic back to NHL.com," Ritter explains. "NHL.com has been one of the top sites in year-to-year growth.
"We want to make sure that we are in all of these new platforms ... (where) there aren't gatekeepers saying we don't want to hear about Ray Emery."
By allowing fans to pick and choose, Ritter said the NHL can offer all sorts of tailored, in-depth extras that wouldn't be available on many broadcast TV channels, such as a feature on Ottawa Senator's goaltender Ray Emery or a comparable segment on Anaheim Duck's defenceman Chris Pronger.
Howard Bloom, president of Sportsbusinessnews.com, a website that researches and reports on the sports industry, says the NHL has done an admirable job of boosting its coverage to 21st century standards. [...]
Given how this has changed how society communicates, learns and plays, it makes sense that the NHL and other businesses are trying to find new ways to use the Internet and drive more support for their cause.
The NHL is also expanding its offerings to provide people mobile access to games, highlights and related content, no matter where they are.
Deals with companies such as Bell Mobility allow cellphone users to download clips of their favourite teams or players to watch on their phones.
An agreement with Apple's iTunes allows people to download games to their iPod digital media players.
The NHL signed a deal with online game maker Exponentia to let hockey fans predict the scores of live games, giving them a chance to win prizes.
For the NHL's Ritter, all of the work is necessary if the NHL hopes to expand interest in the game and stay relevant in a world that is quickly changing.
"We have a very technically literate audience," he says. "The way they find information about our game is different then what it used to be. You have to be in all of these places because you don't know how your content will be delivered over time."
Welcome to the brave new world of 21st century NHL web-based digital hockey coverage.
The future of Hockey is online. Just like everything else.