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NHL app lets fans play predictive game in sync with TV

The pro sports leagues have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on the second screen, and the NHL has rolled out the most promising synchronized experience we’ve seen among the leagues to date. Called NHL Preplay, the iPad app (iPhone coming soon) enables fans to predict what will happen next in live games, competing head-to-head with their friends — the first app of its kind in U.S. pro sports. It launched just in time for the NHL playoffs, and we gave it a spin with the Phoenix-Nashville game.

Prior to the game, you can predict all kinds of outcomes, from the save percentage to specific shots on goals — then share your predictions with your friends. And when the game’s underway (above), you can predict who wins the next faceoff, who scores the next goal and who wins the period, for example.

As you make your prediction before the countdown clock hits zero, you can see other players’ predictions play out in real-time. Then the action plays out on screen, and the outcome is updated in the app about five seconds later (above). Points are rewarded — and deducted — for predictions, and you can compare and share your scores with your friends and the global leaderboard. You can also chat with friends in the game, look up game stats and compare your predictions across all the previous games you’ve played.

Chris Golier, NHL’s VP of mobile marketing and strategy, told us the goal is both to drive both TV tune-in and sustained viewership. “Beyond just a check-in, you can select a game you’re looking to watch, and of course tell your friends. But then what?” he said. “We wanted to take it a step further, and not just get you to tune in, but keep you in your seat longer.”

Molson Canadian beer has sponsored the app from top to bottom — the app is even named “Molson Canadian NHL Preplay” — and it even features an interactive commercial element, powered by Second Screen Networks. When a Molson TV ad appears on screen, the app serves up an interactive companion ad on the second screen. “No matter where the fan is, regardless of screen, we’re going to help Molson reach that fan,” Golier says. “As we build across mobile, tablet, broadband, connected TV and gaming platforms, it’s going to be increasingly important to us as a company.”

With the Canadian version of the app, you can browse a map of nearby Molson-friendly bars. “As time goes on, we’ll allow users to ‘friend’ a bar, in which case you can find out who else has friended that bar, and create your own mini-group of people sitting next to you on the bar stool, who you may or may not know,” Golier explains. In other words, social TV brought to life in public places.

The NHL is also interested in adding live video to the experience in upcoming features. “I was really impressed with the Oscars’ second-screen app (which offered several behind-the-scenes live feeds),” Golier explained. “Video is across the board where I’m focused.”

NHL co-developed the app with PrePlay Sports, a predictive game studio. “It’s going to be part of next season’s strategy and beyond, without a doubt,” explains Golier, adding that real-life prizes could be coming down the road. “Everyone seems to love it.” He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the other sports leagues follow with their own versions of a real-time gaming experience in a second-screen app.

Update: We reported that it’s the first predictive second-screen app in pro sports, but Fred alerted us in comments that Heineken launched a similar app last year for the European Champions League. You can watch a video promo of that app here.

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