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NHL buys out IBM's stake in Net plans

The National Hockey League will take the stake of its Internet partner, IBM, in an effort to control its online destiny.

The National Hockey League will buy out the stake of its Internet partner, IBM, in an effort to control its online destiny, the companies said today.

The NHL will spend about $10 million to buy out IBM's stake in the Internet venture, according to sources. NHL spokeswoman Bernadette Mansur would not confirm the figure but noted that $10 million is "about in the ballpark."

Mansur said the league intends to take financial control of NHL.com to boost its exposure overseas and market more heavily to younger hockey fans. Internationally, the league plans to partner with foreign media companies to create local versions of NHL.com. About 30 percent of NHL.com's hits come from abroad, Mansur said.

"We are looking at this as a global hockey portal," she said.

The move comes close to four years after the organizations teamed up in 1996 to develop the NHL's Internet initiative. At the time, IBM joined the venture as a technology and investment partner and gave the NHL its stake in the venture, according to Greg Golden, an IBM spokesman.

"From the beginning of the establishment of the relationship, and once (the NHL) went up and running, they had the option to buy us out," Golden said.

Golden added that IBM will "remain a hardware and software sponsor" for the NHL.

The NHL joins a list of major professional sports leagues taking more concerted steps onto the Internet. The National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball are trying to tap the Web for their respective e-commerce and promotional offers.

Just last week, the NBA announced an e-commerce and marketing deal with Barry Diller's USA Networks. The deal gave the NBA an online channel to sell game tickets and team merchandise online, and to promote itself through USA's television properties, which include USA Network and the Home Shopping Network.

Major leagues, such as the NBA and the NFL, have turned to outside partners to help manage their Web properties. The aforementioned are overseen by Go.com, Disney's Internet division.