NHL Fans' Woes Continue as Live Streaming Service Suffers Series of Problems

Adam MacDonaldAnalyst IIJanuary 28, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 20: A New York Rangers fan looks dejected late in the third period during a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on January 20, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Fans of the National Hockey League have another reason to be unhappy, as the league's premium live-streaming online service has experienced myriad performance problems on the first week of the new season.

Those who signed up to the NHL GameCenter Live service took to Twitter and Facebook to criticise the $50 (£32) program for its regular 'connection not available' error messages. On at least two occasions this week, 'GameCenter' has appeared on the list of terms used most often on Twitter, and usually not for good reasons.

One subscriber tweeted: "Opening day and NHL GameCenter Live goes down. Did [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman lock out the IT department too?"

The league's international appeal was highlighted by one fan attempting to tune in from Nagasaki, Japan. He said: "Man these games are something...said no one with the #Gamecenter app."

The problems come on the heels of a work stoppage which lasted 119 days and saw the cancellation of more than 500 games. The labour dispute between owners and the players' association, which largely revolved around how revenue should be divided and stricter limits on player contracts, threatened to force the cancellation of the entire season. That was the result of the last lockout in 2005.

The two sides finally reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement on January 12 and the first game of the new season was played one week later. However, many fans are still unable to watch their team play after the NHL GameCenter Live service experienced numerous failures, some of which are yet to be resolved.

The purchasing website was the first hurdle for some fans. Credit cards were mistakenly declined and payments over PayPal were met with error messages.  No explanation was given for either issue. Also, there is no British telephone number for customer services, forcing viewers in the UK to call a potentially expensive American line.

In one case, a fan attempted and failed to buy the subscription so many times, the fraud department of her bank was alerted and a restriction placed on her credit card. She said: "It's not the level of service you expect from a multi-billion dollar industry with millions of fans. They should know how to provide a stable, usable service from day one."

The NHL's only official response to fans' complaints came on Twitter, saying "We know you're having issues with GameCenter and elements of NHL.com. We're working hard to fix & thank you for your patience."

Some issues, such as the purchasing page and the constant connection troubles, have been remedied but others have not. Some fans are still being 'blacked out' of games they should be able to watch.

Normally, viewers cannot watch a team's games if they live in that team's local area. For instance, fans in Massachusetts cannot watch the Boston Bruins and those in New York cannot watch the Rangers. Many international viewers, though, were blacked out of these games too after the service incorrectly identified them as being in the United States.

Other devices have also experienced issues. British subscribers wishing to watch the games on their PS3 must create a separate American account to be able to download the application, as it is not available in the UK store.

Those with an iPhone 5, the newest iteration of Apple's smartphone, complained that their GameCenter app was not updated to fit the new model's larger screen. This resulted in black bars around the picture and a poor video quality. A new version was released on Saturday to fix the problem, however.

The performance failures have overshadowed what should have been a triumphant return for the league and the live-streaming service. The league announced last week that it would be available on more devices than ever this year. The most notable addition was Microsoft's Xbox 360 but even that is not straightforward; it is available only to those with an Xbox Live 'Gold' subscription.