This is really, really cool. During tonight’s NHL All-Star Game and Sunday afternoon’s NFL Pro Bowl, all nine fans watching both games will be treated to data-tracking technology previously tested in restricted settings. The user experience will be drastically different in terms of presentation, however it’s worth taking advantage of the unprecedented access on a few levels. If you’re a fan of either sport, you’ll be treated to tracking data that’s been limited in scope (NFL) or has never been seen in any live setting (NHL). If you’re into sports betting, welcome to the advent of a new level of prop betting.
The NHL’s technology is so much more innovative and engaging it’d be doing it a disservice to supplant it as the lead, even though the NFL is exponentially more watched. Available via a digital-only broadcast, every player and puck will be fitted with a microchip that will track every player’s skating speed, shot speed, and time on ice. Not to be confused with FOX’s glowing puck of the 90’s, NBC will experiment with the live usage of a small trail behind the puck to aid viewers in tracking the small rubber disc.
NBC Sports producer Steve Greenberg said to the Associated Press:
“Eventually it’ll go to possession time and more advanced (data), but right now it’s mainly focused on speed, shift time, distance traveled, mph on the shot and virtually connecting players on a goal. We’re scratching the surface here, and what we’re able to display this weekend is not what we’re going to be able to display next year and in the future, but it’s going to be able to be a really good first look at what these chips are going to be able to give us.”
In terms of something fans are somewhat used to seeing, the graphics – specifically player bubbles with names and speed – will likely look like this:
.@KendallCoyne was the first woman to participate in the NHL All-Star Fastest Skater competition.
She did not disappoint 💨
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 26, 2019
The initial graphic on the lower third of the screen is as traditional as it gets, but 35 seconds into that clip, you see something akin to what a player in NHL 19 would see. It’s important to point out that the live digital broadcast could overwhelm viewers, especially with every skater on ice having his own bubble. That’s part of the reason the NHL chose to debut the technology for public consumption during the 3-on-3 All-Star Game rather than normal 5-on-5 play.
In an interview with the Associated Press, NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said of potentially overwhelming viewers with new technology:
“It’s a balancing act. Think about years ago when the yellow line came in for the first down in football. It’s now universal. There are going to be elements that’ll become universal in hockey telecasts based on what we learn over the next period of time.”
When you parse together Greenberg and Flood’s comments, along with previous statements by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other high-ranking officials, it’s clear that there’s more to the implementation of the technology than just improving the broadcast experience. The potential live-betting possibilities seem endless. Imagine watching a seemingly meaningless game between the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets. One one side, the league’s fastest skater Connor McDavid is squaring off against Columbus’ Cam Atkinson, who in his own right is one of the league’s fastest skaters. McDavid would likely be installed as the odds-on favorite to reach top speed in the game, but with 30 seconds left, Seth Jones finds Atkinson on a breakaway. While he misses the game-winning shot, he edges out McDavid’s top speed by 0.1 mph. That’s the future of prop betting, and the NHL is at the forefront of what’s possible.
More on the NFL’s real-time engine after the jump:
The NFL’s offering is no slouch, but it’s effectively an expansion of the league’s Next Gen Stats engine. The biggest difference is that instead of only providing selected player data after the game, fans will be able to follow all players’ movements within milliseconds of their actual motion in the Pro Bowl. Per SportTechie, this is what the interface will look like:
(Image courtesy of the NFL via SportTechie)
It remains to be seen how reliable the NHL and NFL’s technology will be, and opinions vary on which league has more to lose. I’m looking forward to seeing how the NHL’s broadcast on NBC Sports streaming will look, and I’m interested to see how it will evolve over time.
Ultimately, with the unlimited potential for prop betting and in-game betting, it would behoove each league to optimize the technology and make it as user-friendly as possible. The next time you see a professional sports league work out a deal with sportsbooks or casinos to license their exclusive data, keep this use of technology in mind.