Five For Howling was given the opportunity to try out NHL Gamecenter Live for free. Is it a must-have for hockey fans?
In order to reach as wide of an audience as possible, the NHL made Gamecenter Live. Accessible via a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone, the league hoped to connect with hockey fans all across the country and around the world. With a substantially reduced price this season due to the NHL lockout, many fans are contemplating giving it a shot. So for anyone still mulling it over, here are some of the pros and cons to the NHL's multi-platform viewing program.
- The Access. Once you've paid the subscription cost, Gamecenter gives you full access to nearly every game going on in the NHL on any given night (with a couple exceptions to be mentioned later). This is fantastic for fans of one team living in another market, or aspiring hockey writers looking to watch some of the action on the other coast. If you want to see how your team's next opponent is doing, you can do some scouting of your own.
- The Interface. I've found the Gamecenter interface to be fairly easy to use. It has all of that night's NHL action on the top of the screen, and you can switch back and forth between games at will. You can also choose to hide the scores in case you plan on watching an earlier game and don't want to know the result. You can also switch between home and away broadcasts (when both are available), which is particularly fascinating when a controversial call or review is ongoing. In one instance, I watched a waved-off late game goal between Anaheim and St. Louis, and each feed had a different reaction to the call on the ice.
- Replay the Games. I think my favorite feature of Gamecenter is the ability to go back and watch games in their entirety from earlier in the season. Sometimes the highlights packages the NHL uses will cut off some of the important action before a goal (particularly in high scoring games) or not show some of the controversial calls. NHL Gamecenter allows you to go back and see the good, bad, and ugly parts of every game.
- Media Blackouts. There are two major restrictions on what games are available that I found to be quite annoying. The first, and most obvious, is that locally broadcast games are not available to watch live. So if you're taking a trip down from Phoenix to Tucson for example, and you want to watch the Coyotes play that night, you're out of luck. If you're in a place without access to Fox Sports Arizona, or you don't get FSAZ+ you're out of luck. This prohibition also applies to games broadcast on NBC and NBC Sports, so if you don't have NBC Sports you're also hosed. The other restriction is that locally broadcast games are only made available after 48 hours. This one is particularly puzzling to me, as when FSAZ re-airs Coyotes games, they tend to be in the morning or early afternoon of the next day.
- Price. And we get to the biggest question mark: the price. Due to the condensed season, the NHL offered Gamecenter for $49.99 USD in 2013. In a typical season, the price is quite a bit higher. Last season, Gamecenter was $159 USD. That averages out to a little under $2 per game in an 82 game season. While that might not be a terribly bad deal, when your local team can't be broadcast live, you have to be a pretty big hockey fan to fork over that much dough to watch other teams play.
- The Array of Other Outlets. One of the nice things about Gamecenter is the ability to re-watch controversial moments or plays that didn't make the final cut of the highlight reels. The downside is that a lot of other people have that ability too. There are a variety of other free websites such as Puck Daddy, Backhand Shelf, and even here at SBNation that pick up what the NHL leaves off. An internet connection and a search engine are often all it takes to find whatever piece of a recently played game you're looking for.
If you live out of your favorite team's market or watch a ton of hockey, NHL Gamecenter Live is a pretty good deal. That's to be expected, since that's ultimately the target audience. For everyone else, the high price and range of other options make it a much tougher sell.