Everything you must know about MLB Advanced Media’s NHL digital overhaul

(Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP)

How do you get your sports?

Not just sports news or sports photos or sports video, but your sports?

That’s the question facing professional sports leagues in 2016, as fans jettison their cable boxes and leave their desktops behind. In a world where the phone in your pocket might be your primary source of content delivery, how can they deliver their product to you?

“Cord-cutting is a concern for us. The biggest concern with it is we don’t know exactly – nobody knows – how big and persistent this phenomenon is going to be,” said Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball commissioner, to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

“The cable model has served this industry really well. Anything that interrupts that model is something we have to worry about. Having said that, I do think our over-the-top capacity at BAM (MLB Advanced Media) and BAM Tech gives us downside protection that is a little more robust than other businesses.”

The NHL doesn’t have the television contracts that baseball does in the U.S., but it is developing the same “downside protection” with BAM. After entering into a blockbuster deal last year, the rollout of new products and revamped current ones begins on Feb. 1. Nearly all of it targets the mobile experience, and much of it targets fans who consume games using something other than their cable box.

But Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, says it’s not all about cord-cutting.

“It’s more complicate than that. There’s a whole host of other factors,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about delivery to fans the way they want it.”

One of the reasons this deal was so important? The NHL has, in nearly every study, the most tech savvy fans.

“And more avid, and more affluent, and better educated. That’s why when we decided to do this relationship with BAM, we knew we could do some great things together,” said Bettman.

The greatness of these new “things” debuting on Feb. 1 will be determined by fans and consumer. But an initial look at them on Monday night at Madison Square Garden proved promising. (They’ll also be on display at the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville.)

Here are seven essential innovations in the BAM and NHL tech overhaul.

 (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

1. NHL Premium Changes The (Late) Game

How many times have you been on social media or gotten a text that alerted you to an incredible finish in an NHL game, whether it’s a pulled goalie or a game entering overtime.

The NHL has decided to tap into this with NHL Premium. It’s a $2.99 monthly streaming service that delivers the last five minutes of any game – well, any out of market game – plus overtime to your mobile device. You can set your app to send push notifications for any team, and you’ll get an alert that says the game has entered the final five minutes.

This is pretty cool. As an NFL Red Zone devotee – and someone who will flip to any game on Center Ice that’s tied or close near the end – it’s a handy way to watch the definitive moments of a game. The last five minutes of a close NHL game can be must-see. (Unlike in the NBA, where they’re the only five minutes you need to see.)

2. NHL.tv Replaces GameCenter Live

Launching on Feb. 1, NHL.tv is a rebranded and turbo-charged version of GameCenter Live, the NHL’s video streaming product.

Among the new features for NHL.tv on mobile are favorite-team customization, in which the “home” feed for any game is automatically fed to your player; six-camera mosaic layouts, with alternate angles; better DVR controls; and most importantly, an increase of the frames-per-second rate from 30 to 60.

The picture clarity of this new video is remarkable when fully rendered. And it’s a smart play from the NHL and MLBAM, understanding that many who use streaming video are sending them to televisions through devices like Apple TV.

“It has to compete with HDTV. It’s what fans expect,” said Bob Bowman, President and CEO of MLB Advanced Media.

It’s more expensive to produce, for sure, but it’s a necessity for the speed of the game. According to Bettman, “the latency won’t be as great either. It’ll be closer to real time.”

There’s also going to be extended six-minute highlight packages available to premium subscribers.

(Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

3. You Can Favorite Teams And Follow Ones You Hate

Personalization is a big key for this entire redesign, and one of those new options is the concept of “favorite” teams and teams you just “follow.”

In other words, if you’re a New York Rangers fan, you can make that your favorite team – get all the news, video, game notifications and have a Rangers icon on your mobile app. Then you can have teams you “follow” … like the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils, getting their news and the like but not having to make them your “favorite” teams.

Again, not the most earth-shattering change for the app. But it’s kind of like when you read a terrible story on Facebook and want to support it but don’t enjoy having to “like” it. Because the Islanders are not your favorite team, right Rangers fans?

4. NHL App Targets Your Tablet

The target for much of this redesign is for tablets, which makes sense, given the leaps iPad has made in functionality.

Its IOS 9 is awesome for multitasking, and the new NHL app takes advantage of that. There can be an active scoreboard on the right side of the screen while you work on other things. But most impressive is the fact that you can now watch an NHL game streaming in a small picture-in-picture box anywhere on your tablet while you’re scrolling through photos or playing Candy Crush.

5. Mobile Box Scores Have Actual Content

One of the better innovations in the new app is in the box scores.

There’s something called “list view” in which all the scores for that night are on display. Open one, and not only are there game stats but a swipe-friendly goal summary that will have one-touch access to each goal. And the goals highlights are updated at the same pace they are on NHL.com, and are a hell of a lot easier to find.

NHL
NHL

The objective is to have the full story of the game presented in a mobile box score, instead of just the Cliff’s Notes it currently has.

6. NHL.com Gets Cleaner Look

The first thing you’ll notice about a revamped NHL.com is the white space. It’s a much cleaner, much more mobile-friendly look.

The current NHL.com has more boxes than The Container Store:

NHL
NHL

The new NHL.com is much, much less cluttered:

Now, maybe you prefer cluttered. Especially if you’re someone accustomed to going to NHL.com, glancing at the sidebar headlines and going from there. The news is now available underneath the main header – a geo-targeted module that you swipe through for stories – and you have to scroll down the page to see it on what’s called “the media wall.” Each story has a picture and a headline and a summary; you click to expand or contract the story itself. The feed is curated by an editor, and will include original feature stories, videos and social media content.

When you click on a headline, it’ll take you to a traditional story page, and that’s where you’ll find a sidebar of ever-changing headlines from which to navigate.

Another big change is in the way box scores are presented:

NHL
NHL

(Apologies for the picture quality.)

The goals and penalties are shifted to the right sidebar, and the “real-time” stats are now featured in at the top – faceoffs, power plays and giveaways, for example. Again, a cleaner look and a bit easier to navigate.

The player pages are getting a makeover as well, but just aesthetically. No additional stats behind what’s available.

On the video side, NHL.com has a revamped video page with promises better curating, but it also will have long-form video recaps of games that will feel like segments on NHL Network: complete highlights with voiceovers and other packaging.

Two other changes we really dig. First off, the standings have adopted a bell and whistle from MLB.com, as the last game and next game are added after their record in the last 10 games.

And then, on the schedule page, one of the simplest, most obvious changes they’ve made, and yet one of the best: Segmenting the schedule by the day, rather than having all the games in a giant list for each month.

Simple, but so essential.

7. NHL Network Will Keep Making Baby Steps

MLB Network President Rob McGlarry oversees the NHL Network, and said his group was able to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time. They’ve peppered the set with new faces like Scott Stevens. Their game-night coverage has shifted from simply showing highlights to telling the full game story and offering more expert analysis.

But it’s very much still a work in progress. NHL Network will get its own dedicated studio space in April, launching a new set. The additional programming for the network, like during the day, won’t be developed until next season. And NHL Network still faces some major hurdles before it will be available for streaming on NHL.tv.

McGlarry likes the progress they’ve made … even when there’s been unexpected bumps in the road. “We didn’t expect to have John Tortorella as an analyst for only two and a half weeks,” he said of the still-new Columbus Blue Jackets coach.

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Again, much of this is promising. There’s still much work to be done. Bowman called this Version 1.0 of what they’ll be able to accomplish. Bettman said the League is still working on getting things like in-market games into their streaming feeds.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re trying to come to a common ground, but I think there’s a difference yet to be resolved. We’re trying to get everything cleaned up and orderly. We’re trying,” he said.

But so far, he’s happy with what he’s seen from the BAM and NHL partnership.

“Once we get through the basics, the sky’s the limit,” said Bettman.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.