Last week's announcement that Twitch has obtained exclusive rights to live stream NWHL hockey games was met with mixed reaction. Some fans and correspondents expressed concern about how the community built on previous streaming platforms would transition to a platform like Twitch, which is known primarily for eSports. Those concerns quickly faded away and the general consensus among hockey fans was very reception of the deal, which gives Twitch exclusive broadcast rights for live-streaming, for a three year period.
The Ice Garden reported that prior to this landmark broadcast deal with Twitch, most NWHL games were broadcast on Youtube. There was also a “Game of the Week” live-streamed on Twitter, and a few games were aired on Facebook Live. The league had built a loyal community of followers on Youtube, many of whom tuned in frequently to watch games not televised in their local market. The question remains how many of those followers from other social media platforms will be willing to make the jump to Twitch to keep watching games.
“With its accessible players and devoted fans, the NWHL is a perfect fit for Twitch in our global efforts to grow our traditional sports verticals,” said Jane Weedon, Head of New Verticals at Twitch in the league’s press release. “We are proud to partner with the league in its mission to build the professional women’s hockey league the athletes and fans deserve.”
Twitch is no stranger when it comes to using their live streaming technology to broadcast major sporting events. The NFL used Twitch to live stream 11 games during the 2018 season, and the NBA G League took advantage of special streaming features offered by Twitch, including stats overlays, community voting and a fan chat box.
Aside from a proven history of successfully broadcasting live games, one of the primary considerations in awarding the contract to Twitch is a broadcast rights fee. This is the first time this type of revenue stream has been made available to the NWHL, and everyone will benefit. Under the terms of the NWHLPA's revenue split agreement with the leage, 50% of the broadcast rights fees will go directly to the players.
“Sports should be fun, so to have this opportunity to make that fun contagious with our fans “
In an interview with The Hockey News, NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan made it clear that the league is looking forward to adding engagement opportunities to their games. She described a number of scenarios that would allow fans watching a game to interact with other fans and perhaps even the teams or players.
Rylan was realistically optimistic as she described a fan engagement experience that would evolve over time. Rylan pointed out that the Twitch contract was for three seasons, and the amount of user experience enhancements that exist during the third year will certainly be more extensive than what is initially available during the first year. Still, Twitch's live streaming technology offers a number of broadcast enhancements that allow the league to interact with fans to make the viewing experience more engaging.
Some fan engagement options will be available with the first Twitch broadcast on October 5. Ryan mentioned including fan polling options, such as “Who is going to score the next goal”, or “Who should we interview at the end of the period”. Ryan went on to explain why providing fans with interactive, engaging features is important to the NWHL.
“ Sports should be fun,” Ryan was quoted as saying in The Hockey News interview, “so to have this opportunity to make that fun contagious with our fans as they tune in to watch our games, that’s exciting for us.”
Ryan also hinted at the possibility of expanding the coverage on Twitch with spin-off programming designed to embrace Twitch's core eSports audience. A study conducted by the NWHL revealed that a large number of players are gamers, so it is not out of the realm of possibilities to see NWHL players live streaming their gaming on Twitch while having a direct discussion with fans.
Ryan concluded the interview by making the point that the NWHL's deal with Twitch is not just good for the NWHL, its players and it's fans, the deal is good for the sports of hockey as a whole. There is a large audience of people on the Twitch platform that may not yet be hockey fans, but after being exposed to professional hockey, may find that they like it. That's not only good for women's hockey, that's good for the sport as a whole.