NHL-ICE (Interactive Cyber Enterprises), to be based in the league's New York offices, is part of a larger sponsorship deal with IBM, a three-year pact valued at $25 million, including media com-mitments to NHL broadcasters.
Among pro sports leagues, NHL-ICE represents a different way of approaching interactive media. It will handle all online ventures and licensing of CD-ROMs and other interactive products, in addition to producing its own branded line.
By comparison, the National Basketball Association and National Football League have split their new-media activities. Starwave handles Web sites for both leagues, while their publishing or consumer products divisions handle the licensing of interactive products.
"We felt we would be more powerful in combination with IBM than if we went off and did it on our own," said Steve Solomon, NHL senior VP-chief operating officer.
Added Charlie Schmitt, NHL-ICE general manager-executive producer, "If you look at other arrangements, they are pretty much Internet-focused. This joint-venture takes a broader, long-term view that looks ahead to the era of convergence, when the phone lines and the cable lines will be plugged into the same machine."
The joint venture will create content for NHL OpenNet, a revamped version of the league's current Web site (http://www.
nhl.com). Visitors to the site can access NHL stats, pictures and cybercasts of games and special events. Eventually, visitors will be able to participate in NHL-themed interactive games on a pay-per-play basis.
"It's not unlike the magazine concept," Mr. Solomon said. "We will be able to measure how many people visit and sell on a CPM basis.
"Within five years, some advertisers will spend $5 billion on the Internet," Mr. Solomon said, citing a recent Jupiter Commu-nications study. "We want a piece of that."
Another feature of the OpenNet site will be a "super cyberstore," a virtual catalog going up in October that will offer NHL licensed products, including authentic and replica jerseys marketed by Nike and Starter Corp. IBM will provide trans-actional services online.
NHL-ICE also wants to create a hockey "digital library," an electronic archive of articles, photos, full audio and videotapes of games. Messrs. Schmitt and Solomon admit the concept is a little ahead of the technology.
As part of the alliance, IBM will also create a real-time scoring system to be installed in all NHL arenas that will allow coaches, reporters and, eventually, fans to access statistical information about the game in progress.