BOSTON — One complaint about watching hockey on television is how difficult it can be to see the puck, given its small size and the pace of the game itself.
Technology can help provide a solution and potentially offer fans, broadcasters, and teams more insight. Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is considering puck-tracking technology.
The NHL actually tested puck and player-tracking gadgets during the 2015 All-Star Game via a partnership with Sportvision — the same company which developed the yellow first down lines for football broadcasts — but the league has yet to implement it for regular season games.
“It can have a whole host of uses, whether it’s teams collecting more information for competitive reasons, broadcasters having more information to tell stories, or for fans being able to look inside a game that is incredibly fast and break it down into components they are interested in,” Bettman said on Friday.
The NFL also has shown interest in similar technology dating back to 2010 and placed sensors in footballs during the 2015 Pro Bowl. But it too has yet to implement the technology during the regular season and playoffs.
Back in 1996, the NHL also partnered with FOX for the “Glow Puck,” but that was discontinued after two years.
Bettman also talked about the league’s recent $600 million deal with the technology arm of Major League Baseball — MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) — which includes a 6-year deal for media rights to the NHL’s digital properties.
The partnership is already having effects for the NHL, which is utilizing MLBAM’s robust streaming technologies that host not only live MLB games, but also content streamed by companies like HBO.
Bettman, who became commissioner in 1993, said that the NHL considered building its own technology in-house, but ultimately decided it was best to partner with MLBAM.
“Over time, I think you will see an evolution of how we program,” Bettman noted. “It’s not inconceivable that you will have the ability to buy year-round programming the same way you do with satellite or cable, but on a streaming platform instead.”
Separately, last week Yahoo announced a deal with the NHL to live stream four out-of-market games per week, at no cost to viewers.
When asked about NHL teams utilizing data and analytics in a “Moneyball”-like way, the commissioner said that teams “do everything possible to get an edge” but added that “you can’t win games on paper.”
“I think our teams, coaches, and managers covet and crave as much information as they can get,” he said. “But I think you don’t play these games on paper. There is a human element, an emotional element. While I think data can point you in the right direction, a really good manager has to have a feel for the game, for the locker room, and for the players on the the team and how they interact. Because no matter what the stats are, if the guys in the room don’t like each other and respect each other, they won’t win.”