NHL Tests Web 'Center Ice'

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The National Hockey League is close to skating its live games to broadband.

The league is currently testing distribution of its cable-and-satellite “NHL Center Ice” out-of-market game package on the Web and could make it available to any hockey fan with a high-speed Internet connection before the end of the season, according to Keith Ritter, president of NHL Inter-Active Cyber Enterprises.

Ritter currently said the league is beta-testing a broadband version of the $169 package, which offers around 40 out-of-market NHL hockey games a week. He added the network wants to make sure its broadband package is secure so as to protect its broadcast partners: NBC, Versus and the regional sports networks.

“So far the test is going very well, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to offer it in the not-too-distant future,” Ritter said.

The NHL would join the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and ESPN in offering a companion broadband package to their respective television-based, live-game out-of-market services.

Like MLB.TV and ESPN's out-of-market college basketball and college football packages, Ritter said the NHL would charge a fee for its broadband service, although a specific price has yet to be established.

Baseball, which is close to securing a seven-year, exclusive DirecTV distribution deal for its MLB Extra Innings television out-of-market package, charges $89 for that package's broadband companion.

ESPN charges $109 for its GamePlan college football broadband package. The network only offers a half-year broadband package for its $75 “Full Court” college-hoops service.

The NBA provides its “NBA League Pass” broadband service free to subscribers of its $179 cable and satellite service.

Ritter said the league is making its package available on broadband to better serve its fans, who are heavy broadband users. He added that 80% of the traffic on NHL.com is accessed via a broadband connection.

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