The NHL has agreed to a deal with IMG Arena that gives the London-based sports data and content company the exclusive right to provide US online sports books with live video streams of the league’s games.
The deal builds on IMG Arena’s existing partnership with the NHL in Europe, where it has been live streaming hockey games for some time. But it will mark the first time US digital operators will be able to offer the service to their customers.
European betting sites have, for many years, doubled as platforms for viewing live sports, often on a “bet-to-view” basis. Typically, customers must have at least a small wager riding on a game to be eligible to watch, or have recently deposited into their account.
According to its website, IMG Arena delivered more than 70 million hours of content and 42 million unique views globally in 2019.
Touchpoint for Engagement
The NHL’s executive VP of digital media and strategic planning, Steve McArdle, said the deal showed the league was taking a “progressive approach to sports betting,” adding that it would provide an “innovative touchpoint for fan engagement.”
Freddie Longe, executive vice president and managing director of IMG Arena, said the deal was “a major development in the US betting rights landscape.”
The NHL is a highly-valued asset in our portfolio, and we are proud to expand this successful partnership to offer one of the largest US sports to our growing customer base of sportsbooks,” he added.
IMG Arena is a subsidiary of global sports management group IMG. Its US expansion to date has included official data-streaming deals with the NFL and the PGA Tour, although it has yet to announce any operators as partners.
Scandal in the UK
Parent IMG, and the wider issue of bet-to-view broadcasting, came in for criticism in the UK last month when Bet365 streamed 23 FA Cup Third Round games over a single weekend, while only two were broadcast on free-to-air national television.
In 2017, IMG brokered a nearly $1 billion broadcasting rights deal between seven betting platforms, including Bet365, on behalf of English soccer’s governing body, the Football Association, which also owns the hallowed FA Cup.
Just months after the FA signed the contract, it announced it was pulling all its commercial partnerships with gambling companies following a review of its practices.
The organization had recently penalized several players involved in high-profile betting scandals. This exposed it to accusations of hypocrisy because of its commercial reliance on the gambling industry.
January’s FA Cup game coverage ignited debate about whether betting sites were replacing TV as the primary platform on which to watch live sports. Questions were asked in Parliament, where furious MPs threatened to scrap the FA’s 30 million-per-year subsidy.
Fearing the inevitable anti-betting industry backlash, the seven gambling companies threw the FA a lifeline, announcing they will permit the organization to stream the games itself for free.