Ask any AHL fan about the league’s online streaming service over the past several seasons and you’d hear the same complaints. The price was too high. The quality was hit and miss. The overall experience was lacking. Rest assured, those gripes weren’t falling on deaf ears. The AHL, including president David Andrews, had been listening. He’d been watching, too. “If you were watching games from certain arenas in our league, the quality was outstanding,” Andrews said, citing Toronto Marlies, Manitoba Moose and Texas Stars broadcasts. “But some of our other buildings where the cameras either weren’t as good, the camera operators weren’t as good or the bandwidth wasn’t as good, that’s where things fell down.”
So, when the AHL’s contract with NeuLion was up, the league opened up the floor for proposals. That’s when HockeyTech stepped up. Founded by former Florida Panthers CEO Stu Siegel, the company’s HockeyTV service provides streams for the AHL, ECHL, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, among others. And as a longtime AHL partner on projects such as real-time statistics and standings, HockeyTech could offer the league ownership of its own streaming platform. In turn, that allowed the AHL to get more aggressive with the cost and helped spur an infrastructure overhaul in buildings where things weren’t quite up to snuff. “As part of this entire restructuring with HockeyTech and creating AHLTV, we are addressing those bandwidth issues, we are addressing camera issues, and we have certainly addressed the price point,” Andrews said.
Chris Nikolis, the AHL’s executive vice-president of marketing and business development, helped oversee the transition from NeuLion to HockeyTech and added that the opportunities with the service are farther reaching than ever before. Viewers are no longer confined to their computers. AHLTV will allow for streaming on a mobile device or any over-the-top gadget such as AppleTV and Chromecast. Viewers can now also make use of DVR services, archived games and will have the ability to cut and share highlights with other AHLTV users. And with HockeyTech’s ViPr system – of which Siegel said he would “hate to use the word revolutionary, but it pretty much is” – gives mobile users the ability to tap in to a panoramic camera and control their own view, even isolating one player and following him around the ice if they so choose. That opens up greater possibilities for viewers watching for both pleasure and business. “It has been a good process,” Nikolis said. “I think it will be well received not just by fans, but by team management, NHL management and others that are going to use the service in different ways.”