Last week’s landmark deal between the NWHL and Twitch saw the streaming service score exclusive rights to become the live-streaming home of the professional women’s circuit, and the history-making partnership between the two teams also saw the league land a first-of-its-kind media rights fee.
But what does the partnership mean for the future of NWHL broadcasts? What changes could be coming? And what opportunities exist for the NWHL in the wake of the agreement?
The Hockey News spoke with NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan to get the scoop on the league’s new partnership:
The Hockey News: A deal like this with Twitch doesn't happen overnight, so when did you start speaking with them and what was the process like for the NWHL?
Dani Rylan: I started talking to Twitch a couple months ago, and it was very clear from our first conversation that they were incredibly excited about the opportunity to work with us and grow their traditional sports verticals. As you probably know, they have a couple other traditional sports on their platform right now, as well, but it's historically been an eSports platform. Conversations really accelerated from there, knowing that we were shopping our distribution rights, and it was really exciting to see how fast things came together. Usually between first hand shake and the announcement of a deal, there's a lot of work that goes into getting it over the finish line, so to get that done this off-season – and not only get the deals done but also a media rights fee included in it – are huge wins for us and our players, as we do share 50-50 in all league-wide sponsorship and media dollars with our players.
You mention shopping the rights. Were there other platforms you were in discussion with and ultimately what made you choose Twitch over other available platforms?
DR: We were talking with a couple of OTT (Over The Top) solutions, and I think what excited us about Twitch is they're the largest streaming platform in the world, it's a subsidiary of Amazon and their dedication to continuing to innovate and grow communities on Twitch. We will be a community on Twitch, and the engagement opportunities that exist between our broadcasters, our players, our fans within the chat and throughout the broadcast is going to be remarkable. On top of that, all the monetization opportunities that exist in addition to the rights fee will be exciting to watch come to life. Really, just how dedicated their team is to growing with us and being a true partner invested in us made it a no-brainer, if you will.
Engagement opportunities are mentioned in the press release. What kind of engagement opportunities are available and what does Twitch offer you that maybe others couldn't?
DR: It's definitely going to be something that evolves as we work together with Twitch. It is a three-year deal, so our first broadcast on Oct. 5 will look much different than our broadcast in 2021. That said, the engagement between our fans who are tuning and our broadcasters, so it's actually being able to communicate with the broadcasters or polling or game presentation features, like, 'Who's going to score the next goal? Or who should we interview at the end of the first period?' So, a lot of opportunities that probably wouldn't exist in a traditional streaming platform.
How important was that interactivity with the fans and the community to the league as you were looking for a streaming deal?
DR: Yeah, it's fun, right? Sports should be fun, 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. We really think it's the future of how all of sports will be consumed at some point. You see the success they've had with eSports and other traditional sports, we believe that we're going to have similar success with pro women's hockey. I'm excited to jump in and I know that a lot of our fans are. I really don't even think that we know all of the opportunities. We're hardly scratching the surface with what could be. We're excited to continue to scratch.
Are you contemplating using the platform to showcase more of the personality, whether it's players playing games or things like that? Fans already have been talking about it, so is that something you're considering?
DR: We definitely want to do that. We want to give the fans what they want, and it was pretty clear (Thursday) that is something that would excite them. We definitely want to do that. We actually sent out a player survey recently and we were excited to learn that the majority of the players in the league are also gamers. So, to be able to connect them and have them faceoff against fans is a fun thing that we could do throughout the season.
Is there going to be anything that we notice in the immediate, as far as the broadcasts go, that is going to be different from what we've seen in the past? Any improvements or changes to the style?
DR: Outside of the UI (User Interface), I don't think you'll notice much different with the broadcast itself.
What can this deal provide you with and the money from this deal provide you with the opportunity to do?
DR: We're looking to advance our broadcast. Some of the things will be enhanced on Twitch's side, with the overlays and other things we'll be looking to enhance on our production side. We're never content, and always looking to make improvements.
If you were to envision what the next three years of this deal looks like, what do those three years look like to you?
DR: The real visionaries are the people at Twitch. They're so smart, so creative and a lot of the ideas we'll work on together as they're growing their traditional sports vertical and coming up with these improvements. But it's something that we're going to work on together and a lot of it is being led by their development team.
In the release, Twitch was called the exclusive live-streaming platform. Is there still an opportunity for the league to sell television rights? Or is this an overarching deal, the only one we'll see the games on?
DR: There's still an opportunity to sell our linear rights.
And is that something the league is looking at? Are there negotiations going on?
DR: We're always looking.
What does this deal, overall, say to you not just about women's hockey, but about the NWHL?
DR: I think this is an opportunity to continue to grow our fan base, not just women's hockey, but hockey, period. I think there are a lot of people who might be on Twitch who aren't fans of hockey just yet and we're going to introduce pro hockey to them. I think this is exciting for hockey in general. The opportunity to plug into this platform is going to be huge for us.
(Note: Parts of this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.)
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