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NHL TV package settlement might feel like win for fans, but it's not even close

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The league wins, as it always does.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The NHL and a bevy of its local broadcasters quietly settled a class-action lawsuit last week, agreeing to provide a cheaper, single-team version of NHL GameCenter Live to fans who wish to only pay for access to games involving their favorite team.

The plaintiffs basically got all that they asked for in the settlement. The league will create a package that will be "at least twenty percent" cheaper than existing packages, but that package will only give the subscriber access to games from their one team of choice. Reuters has more of the sticky details.

What's changing, exactly?

Say you're like me, a Flyers fan living in Washington, D.C. You want to watch Flyers games, but you only care about Flyers games. Not Capitals games or Sharks games or Stars games. Just the Flyers.

Previously, your only choice was to purchase the NHL Center Ice television package or the NHL GameCenter Live package for $159 per season, and those packages would get you access to out-of-market games from all teams, not just the Flyers. Perhaps you found this to be a waste of money, considering ... again, you only care about one team.

That's where the change comes in. Starting this coming 2015-16 season, the NHL has made a five-year commitment to offer a single-team only package that should cost roughly $105 for a season. You'll save some cash versus the bigger, catch-all package and you'll only get what you want to pay for.

Will there be a single-team version of NHL Center Ice?

All indications are that the single-team package will only be available via the Internet. So no, there will be no version of this single-team package available via your cable/satellite package. Just via the Internet. It's simply a slimmed-down, single-team version of NHL GameCenter Live.

Does anything change for local fans?

Hahahahaha, of course not. Much like the full versions of NHL Center Ice or NHL GameCenter Live, this only applies to out-of-market fans.

If you're a local, in-the-Philadelphia-area Flyers fan and you want to watch every game, you still do not have any choice but to subscribe to a cable or satellite package that includes the channels Flyers games are broadcast on locally: Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, The Comcast Network and NBC Sports Network.

Are blackout restrictions still in effect?

Yes, of course. Just like with NHL Center Ice or NHL GameCenter Live today, the new package will black out games that are available to you locally or are on national television.

So again, using my personal example as a Flyers fan living in Washington, D.C. ... if the Flyers are playing the local team, the Capitals, that game will be blacked out via the package I paid $105 for and I will be forced to watch on the local channel, which means I'm forced to subscribe to cable or satellite. Same deal if the Flyers game is on national TV -- NBC Sports Network, NHL Network or NBC. I will need to watch it there, as it will be blacked out on the package I paid $105 for.

Wait. Why should the price be the same for all teams?

This is where this new package gets very interesting to me, and where you start to see the benefit the NHL gets out of all this. Teams like the Flyers are on national television significantly more than, say, the Florida Panthers. The Flyers were on NBCSN or NBC a total of 16 times last season, while Florida didn't have a single game on national television. (We're excluding NHL Network games because not all of them force blackouts.)

If single-team GameCenter existed in 14/15...
Flyers Favorite Team Panthers
82 games Games Played 82 games
16 games Nat'l Blackouts 0 games
66 games Games Shown* 82 games
$105.00 Price (USD) $105.00
about $1.59 Price per game about $1.28
* more blackouts possible depending on location

That means that if you're a Flyers fan who pays for this single-game only package, you would have paid the same price for 16 fewer games than a Panthers fan who purchased the same product.

The NHL should probably price this out on a per-game model if they really want to achieve some level of fairness -- factor in just how many games will be subject to national broadcasts and adjust from there -- but we doubt that'll ever happen.

The league wins and nothing big changes for fans.

This settlement might feel like a win for some out-of-market fans, but it's really not much of a win at all.

Yes, some fans will save $54 dollars by subscribing to this cheaper single-team version of NHL GameCenter Live. That's good. But is that $54 savings even fair?

NHL GameCenter Live Package Comparison
Full version Package Single team
1,125 games* No. of Games 82 games*
$159.00 Price (USD) $105.00
about 14 cents Price per game about $1.28
*exact number of games depends on geography and team

Consider that with the full version of GCL, you get approximately 1,125 games in a season (1,230 total games subtract 105 games on national TV). That number excludes local blackouts since they vary so wildly depending on location, but for example reasons let's run with it.

At $159 for the season, you get about seven games per dollar you spend. With the single-team package, the best case scenario is that you get 82 games for $105, if you're a fan of a team like Florida with no national TV games. You get about an eighth of a game for every dollar you spend on the single-team package.

You can safely assume that the cheaper, $105 single-team package will entice more folks to drop the cash and pay for the product -- fans who wouldn't have paid for the $159 package previously. That means more money and more customers for the league, while they're actually charging a much higher price per game than they are on the bigger full version of GameCenter Live. They win.

Fans, meanwhile, are left with ever so slightly more choice. But they're still stuck with an expensive product plagued by old-world blackout restrictions an frustrating lag.