The NHL has long been perceived as somewhat behind the times with their unique brand of legalized fisticuffs, but their latest partnerships with GoPro and Sportsvision could make the NHL the leader of the big four pro sports in player tracking technology.
First, the NHL announced they will broadcast live GoPro footage of its players during telecasts. Previously, GoPro has been relegated to partnerships with extreme sports. This is is their first foray with a major pro sports league. According to Techcrunch, GoPro will receive additional branding opportunities as part of their deal with the NHL as an “Official Partner.” The live broadcasts were a part of the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend and you can see a clip of some previously shot footage below.
In another announcement, the NHL revealed they would be using player tracking technology in both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game. The technology was created by Sportvision, which also provides real-time tracking technology for NASCAR and the NFL. To track the players and the puck in real time, Sportsvision has created a puck that contains a microchip and has infrared light tubes around the outside. As Sportsvision CEO Hank Adams explained to Yahoo Sports, “We have infrared cameras up in the catwalks, 10 of them. They see the flash of the puck, which is a unique frequency, and different than the flash of a player tag. And each player tag has a different frequency. We slip it into a pocket of the jersey, and it shines through brightly.”
The puck was the toughest nut to crack, something that took Sportsvision years to perfect. According to the Washington Post, Sportsvision partnered with the NHL’s puck manufacturer to recreate a puck that would play the same way as current game pucks. Adams says, “When you throw the puck on the ice, and the standard puck, they won’t be able to tell the difference,” Adams said. “It’s not livelier, deader, no extra rebound, heavier, it is basically the same puck from their standpoint.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman praised the possibilities of the technology, saying, “This is, if I can coin a phrase, in the embryonic stages of a work in progress, but ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy. In short, we are attempting to embark upon a journey that hopefully will enable us to create and then maintain a digital record of everything in our game and compile a complete digital history.”
For NHL fans, the technology will provide real-time times stats during broadcasts, including player speed, shot speed, and player ice time, among other information. Below is some footage of the tracking technology in use during the NHL Skills Competition.
The technology will also be used for viewers using a second screen, where fans can follow the game in real time similar to MLB’s At Bat app. Users will able to track in the puck, player position, and ice time in real-time. Below is the second screen software the NHL showed off during All-Star Weekend.
The are plenty more uses for this technology, including the ability to develop advanced analytics like the MLB and NBA, as well as new ways for fans to watch their favorite teams. For the naysayers who remember the glowing puck experiment by Fox Sports in the 1990s all too well, I can assure you this is not a repeat. On the contrary, these new partnerships could provide the NHL an advantage that it doesn’t have over more popular pro sports leagues for years to come.