NHL Becomes 1st League to Deliver Real-Time Analytics to Benches for Coaches/Players


The NHL introduced player and puck tracking technology – to fans – for the first time at January’s All-Star Game, software capable of calculating statistics like player speed, shot speed and distance traveled. JogMo World Corp. captured the player information from GPS-like sensors in player shoulder pads 200 times/second, while sensors inside the rubber disk picked up location based data 500 times/second. 6 tech companies – all VR or gambling focused – had the opportunity to showcase commercial applications for the comprehensive data collected. The league has announced that it will deploy the tracking technology (full-time) for regular season games next season.

Howie Long-Short: The VR technology introduced allowed fans to project a game in 3D onto any surface (Trigger Global), watch the game from any vantage point (Beyond Sports), enjoy a broadcast offering real-time next-gen stats (VIZRT) and to create instant highlight packages using AI (WSC Sports), but in-game sports betting provides the league with the greatest opportunity to monetize the insights collected; we’ve already seen the NHL agree to a partnership with MGM Resorts International that includes access to the league’s official data. On the gambling side, Genius Sports introduced a platform for live in-game prop betting and Swish Analytics rolled out gambling software that offers real-time updates and statistics.

Jake Williams is the Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs at Sportradar (the NHL’s global media embedding data rights partner). I asked Jake how far U.S. sports fans are from having real-time in-game tracking related prop betting available to them?

Jake: It really depends on how willing the leagues are [to sell the data]. The main issue sportsbooks have in offering tracking related prop bets is that the proprietary data necessary to set lines (and determine outcomes) is not in the public domain – at least not in the sense that the final score is. There needs to be a willingness on behalf of the leagues to distribute that data and to engage with sportsbooks. I think we’ll see gaming companies make those types of prop bets available, it’s just going to take time.

Ahmad Nassar (President of NFL Players Inc.) recently compared the potential monetary upside that proprietary league data brings to the leagues, to what television offered 50 years ago; in that, no one truly grasps the size of the opportunity. I’m not so sure. While data is certainly a commodity, most wagers are placed on results found in the public domain. I have a hard time believing that many sportsbooks could ever take in enough tracking related prop bets to warrant a costly investment in the data rights. Sportsbooks are already a low margin business.

While sports betting has since taken precedence, when the NHL first set out to develop the technology it was seen as a “broadcast application”; to enhance the fan’s viewing experience. The NHLPA has acknowledged it has allowed players to be tracked out of fear the league would fall behind from a technology standpoint. I asked Jake, if the players were to oppose the collection/sale of tracking data, what risks would it pose for the league?

Jake: With all the advanced computing power, play-by-play and tracking data, teams would be forgoing the opportunity to optimize what they’re doing on offense or defense in near real-time. The league would also be passing on the chance to stimulate fan engagement during game broadcasts. Advanced data prompts the announcers to correctly explain why a team would follow a given strategy.

Fan Marino: The NHL became the 1st and “only sports property delivering real-time video and data to the benches for the coaches and players” when (following the ASG) it began feeding teams on-ice analytics during games. Historically teams had an assistant print out game summaries and run them to coaches at the completion of each period, for review during intermission. The change, which now gives coaches access to more than 30 real-time statistics (on +/- 350 events/game) in real time, enables them to make informed adjustments on the fly. The data being transmitted today is found in the public domain, but the league has plans to integrate player and puck tracking analytics upon completion of testing.

Capturing real-time data during a hockey game has proven to be more difficult than other sports (which explains why it took 4+ years – and 7 figures – to develop). As Jake explained “puck tracking is a difficult space. If you’ve ever been to a hockey game, you know it’s not always easy to see the puck. Tracking solutions that have worked for other sports – like Second Spectrum (which relies on video to capture movement) – doesn’t work for the NHL; the video camera technology has the same problem following the puck as the fans do. Technology like Second Spectrum’s works best with the NBA game where it’s easy to see the ball, the players and track them.” Of course, the temperature of the puck/ice creates a whole other set of issues with regards to electronics.

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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