Major League Baseball’s streaming video unit is taking over hockey, too

A 2014 NHL game between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, played at baseball’s famous Yankee Stadium.
A 2014 NHL game between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, played at baseball’s famous Yankee Stadium.
Image: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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MANHATTAN—The success of MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM, or BAM for short) is one of the coolest stories in sports media and technology. The company, jointly owned by the 30 Major League Baseball franchise owners, started in the 1990s as a way to manage team websites. From there, it ballooned into a multibillion-dollar behemoth, responsible for MLB’s social media operations, mobile apps, and, of course, its best-in-class video streaming products.

Today, BAM is arguably the preeminent internet video producer in the US. In addition to developing a video interface and infrastructure for major league baseball, it has been hired by ESPN, World Wrestling Entertainment, and CBS Sportsline to build out their video offerings. Most recently, it created the infrastructure for HBO’s new standalone streaming service, HBO Now. And now BAM is going to do all that, and more, for the National Hockey League.

Starting in January 2016, BAM will completely take over the NHL’s web operations. That includes the league’s and individual team sites, mobile apps, and, crucially, its live streaming video. The six-year deal is worth an estimated $1.2 billion, according to Sports Business Journal. The NHL will reportedly receive $100 million in rights fees every year in addition to a 7-10% stake in BAM.

“This type of partnership has never been tried before,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a press conference Tuesday. ”It’s going to be more and it’s going to be better than anything either of us have done to this point.”

The deal will be welcome news for hockey fans who have long complained about the NHL’s shaky video streaming, and perhaps for its players as well: CBS reports that if this new influx of cash is considered “hockey related revenue,” it will cause the NHL’s salary cap to increase. But the partnership may cause concern for some fans, who worry that hockey highlights could be taken down from platforms like YouTube and Vine. The NHL has been quite lenient about allowing its content to stay on YouTube, but the MLB has a stricter reputation. The NHL said that it will maintain “editorial control across all of its platforms.”

The NHL Network will move its studios from New York to Secaucus, New Jersey, where the MLB Network is based. NHL COO John Collins stopped short of saying current NHL Network employees will be let go, though their status certainly seems to be up in the air. ”There are a number of staff and employees on the NHL side who will be affected by this shift,” he said. “We’ll work to see how we can transition those people.”

BAM’s partnership with HBO was arguably the more buzzworthy deal, as it showed the company’s reach extends far beyond the realm of sports, but the deal with a rival sports league is perhaps more symbolic of BAM’s ascendance. The company’s diversified business has spurred talk that BAM could be spun off as its own business, but IPO talks seem have cooled off for now: “Not going to happen,” CEO Bob Bowman told Quartz last year.