NHL, technology partners showcase next generation of fan experience

NEWARK, NJ — The NHL prides itself on being at the forefront of using technology in a variety of ways to create a better gaming experience not only for players and coaches, but also for the casual fan.

The NHL and its partners, including Verizon, Immersive, Source Digital, Vizrt, Apple and SAP, WSC Sports, Amazon Web Services, Beyond Sports, Sportradar, and SportsMEDIA Technology, demonstrated these advances, which were implemented in Verizon 5G technology during the NHL Technology Showcase 2022 were achieved at Prudential Center on Thursday.

“NHL fans are so excited, it’s amazing,” said David Lehanski, NHL executive vice president of business development and innovation. “I think it’s because hockey is fast, there’s a lot of action, no downtime, but we think there should be more (for the fans) because there shouldn’t be anything that our fans don’t have.

“We have a real plan to expand and our interest is to eventually take it forward from a league wide standpoint and the overall theme is really how we use 5G and the cloud to create new fan experiences.”

The NHL used four suites at the Prudential Center to demonstrate future in-arena experiences and enhanced live streaming capabilities that played in real-time during that night’s New Jersey Devils game against the Buffalo Sabers.

Among the applications used to demonstrate the arena experience:

* Verizon introduced an app that allows fans to view multiple in-game camera shots and angles of a game in real-time on their Apple device.

“You can have the best seat in the arena, sit in the front row and not be able to see what’s going on behind the net on the other end, but now you can do that from a mobile device,” Lehansky said.

* The NHL and WSC Sports have partnered to create instant access to Arena Replays, giving fans a continuous stream of replays and highlights of the action that just took place on the ice.

*Teams used the SAP NHL Coaching Insights app for iPad, which displayed real-time information such as ice time, possession time, shot position, and faceoff percentage with easy-to-use displays and customizable filters. This technology is in its fifth year.

“We have three or four iPads on the bench, and you’re seeing the newer generation of players reaching for those things more,” said Sabers coach Don Granato. “I know it’s been a real boost for the NHL and we’ve regularly had a lot of conversations about new technology in the form of video and analytics. As a coach, I love that.”

Applications expected to enhance live game broadcasting and streaming include:

* Vizrt presented a cloud-based game production model that can create multiple shows in real-time from the same set of video feeds in the cloud.

“We’re getting close to a point where you won’t have to park production trucks outside while cables run into the building,” Lehanski said. “You will be able to produce live games in the cloud and produce as many versions of the game as you want.”

* Beyond Sports and Sportradar demonstrated a concept that gives fans the opportunity to immerse themselves in a live virtual gaming experience. Additionally, Beyond Sports featured two versions of the game, one that addresses sports betting with real-time odds and stats, and a youth-themed show that features player avatars and fun exploded graphics.

“We’re showing what’s actually happening on the ice, but adding fun characters and effects,” said Beyond Sports co-founder/CTO Nicolaas Westerhof. “So whenever there’s a slapshot, there’s a little explosion. Fireworks go off in the net every time there is a goal. They’re fun little effects that make the kids more fun.”

* Source Digital showcased examples of how fans can customize their NHL streaming experience to tailor what they do or don’t want to see and hear, including stats, live social networking, multiple audio feeds and more.

The NHL fully installed its puck and player tracking technology and branded it the NHL Edge this season. Each of the 32 arenas has 14-16 infrared cameras that track sensors in pucks and jerseys throughout each game, generating data for teams, media and fans.

The NHL and Amazon Web Services created an in-game graphic that instantly shows a player’s odds of winning a faceoff and displays them on-screen for fans watching the game’s broadcast.

“The face-off app was developed by our media partners,” said Lehanski. “Breaks in hockey are brief, but it’s a moment for broadcasters to tell a story. We developed a predictor that shows who is more likely to win the draw, and then broadcasters can tell the story to fans. This guy’s 5-for-6, this guy loves the bottom left faceoff spot, or we’ve got a right-vs-right.”

The NHL won the Alpha Award for Best Sports Innovation at the 2022 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March for its puck and player tracking technology.

“All of these things will play out over time,” Lehanski said. “I use the example of the goalie all the time. There are really two stats to analyze goalkeepers… goals versus average and save percentage, and one of those (GAA) isn’t really a goalkeeper stat, it’s a team stat. Now we can see where each shot was made, who made it, how fast it moved, whether it was deflected, what zone it came from, the time of the game, the result of the game and whether the goalie is playing back or not -to-back nights.

“We’re trying to build these things with the mindset that you want to consume the NHL differently than I want to consume it. Our partners look at this data to help us figure it out. It will take time, but there is no doubt that we are scratching the surface and it will only widen.”

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