NHL commissioner Gary Bettman affirmed that new, league-wide puck- and player-tracking systems will be ready for the 2019-2020 season and acknowledged, for the first time, that the NHL will have ownership of the technology.
The NHL initially commissioned development of the tracking technology to be used as a broadcast and fan engagement tool, with an early test at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. The Supreme Court decision that paved the way for legalization of sports betting has created an additional use for the system. This new advanced data source is the centerpiece of the NHL’s betting partnership with MGM Resorts.
“We will own the technology that we’re using,” Bettman said Monday, adding: “We’ve had to make some direct investments to get the type of technology we think we need and to make it work.”
David Lehanski, NHL senior vice president of business development and global partnerships, told Sports Business Journal in October 2017 that the league was speaking with one or two tech vendors. Bettman told reporters at the Board of Governors meetings last December that the league was “working with some technology companies” on the project. Those public comments made clear that the NHL was not developing the whole system internally, but the question of ownership had not previously been addressed.
League executives have indicated that there actually will be two discrete tracking technologies: one for the players and one for the pucks. A computer vision-based optical system will record player movements, and a sensor-based technology will monitor the puck. This proprietary tech will provide sports books, such as MGM, advanced data in real-time to help create prop bets and set lines. This is creating a new revenue stream for the NHL for an off-label use of a broadcast tool.
“It wasn’t designed for this—it’s applicable, but that wasn’t what our intention was,” Bettman said.
#mc_embed_signupbackground:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif;
/* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.
We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */
Get the latest sports tech news in your inbox.
Details, to date, have been scarce. When appearing at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last February, Bettman identified the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany as having worked on a new puck. The commissioner said the research group had re-invented the physical compounds of the hockey puck to permit an embedded sensor while still behaving and moving like a traditional puck.
No other vendors have been explicitly linked, although there are likely candidates. Sportvision—now SMT—provides the league’s official real-time scoring system, HITS (Hockey Information & Tracking System), and participated in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. That system, however, relied on transmitters stitched into each jersey and infrared cameras to track the action. Omega provided a similar system for hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but that also necessitated tracking chips. The NHL has said players will not wear sensors in the new system.
“While we’ve tested it in some forms at the World Cup, that was 16 games in two weeks in one arena,” Bettman said. “Having to scale this for 1,271 regular season games in 31 arenas is a little bit harder.”
Sportlogiq and Iceberg are among the other optical tracking systems that have worked with individual NHL teams, and PlayGineering Systems has worked with numerous teams, leagues, and tournaments overseas, including the Kontinental Hockey League. ChyronHego, STATS SportVU, and Second Spectrum are some of the leading systems in use for other sports. Kinexon and Zebra are prominent companies that make tracking sensors used in the NBA and NFL, respectively, and could conceivably contribute technology for the puck.
The above list is a roundup of leading tech companies who may have helped contribute a foundational piece for the NHL to invest and build on top of. Bettman declined to speak in specifics on Monday, and none of those vendors has publicly commented other than to offer a few generalities.
Sportlogiq cofounder and CEO Craig Buntin, for instance, said recently that the NHL’s plan is “one of the most forward-thinking, innovative, interesting approaches in any league I’ve seen so far. I really think that the insights these guys generate, based on the ideas they have so far, could really, really change the sport.”