NHL, technology partners showcase next generation of fan experience

NEWARK, N.J. — The NHL takes pride in the way it remains on the cutting edge of utilizing technology in different ways to create a greater in-game experience not only for players and coaches, but even the casual fan.

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

“NHL fans are so avid, it’s great,” NHL executive vice president of business development and innovation David Lehanski said. “I think it’s because hockey is fast, there’s lots of action, no downtime, but we think there should be more (for fans) because there should be nothing our fans don’t have.

“We have a real plan to build out and our interest is to carry it forward from a League-wide standpoint at some point and the general theme is really how we’re leveraging 5G and cloud to create new fan experiences.”

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

Among the applications used to demonstrate the in-arena experience:

* Verizon showcased an app that would allow fans to view multiple camera feeds and angles of a game on their Apple device in real time during the game.

“You can have the best seat in the arena, be sitting in the front row and not be able to see what’s going on behind the net at the other end, but now you’ll be able to do it through a mobile device,” Lehanski said.

* The NHL and WSC Sports collaborated to build instant access to replays in-arena that would provide fans with an ongoing stream of replays and highlights of the action that just took place on the ice.

* The teams used the SAP-NHL Coaching Insights App for iPad, which displayed real-time information like ice time, possession time, shot location and face-off percentage with user-friendly displays and customizable filters. This technology is in its fifth year.

“We have three or four iPads on the bench, and you see the newer generation of players reaching for those things more,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I know it’s been a real push for the NHL, and we’ve had lots of talks, consistently, about new technology coming in the form of video and analytics. As a coach, I love it.”

Among the applications expected to enhance live-game broadcasts and streaming:

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

“We’re getting close to a point where you no longer need to have production trucks parked outside with cable running into the building,” Lehanski said. “You’re going to be able to produce live games in the cloud and produce however many versions of the game you want.”

* Beyond Sports and Sportradar showed a concept that will give fans the ability to immerse themselves in a virtual live-game experience. Additionally, Beyond Sports displayed two versions of the game, one that appeals to sport betting with real-time odds and statistics, and a youth-themed broadcast that features player avatars and funny explosion graphics.

“We’re showing what’s actually happening on the ice but adding funny characters and effects,” Beyond Sports co-founder/CTO Nicolaas Westerhof said. “So whenever there’s a slap shot, there’s a little explosion. Whenever there’s a goal, fireworks go off in the net. It’s fun little effects that make it more enjoyable for the kids.”

* Source Digital showed examples of how fans will be able to customize their NHL streaming experience to determine 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 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 built an in-game graphic that instantly shows the odds of a player winning a face-off and displays them on-screen for fans watching the broadcast of the game.

“The face-off app was born from our media partners,” Lehanski said. “Stoppages in hockey are short, but it’s a moment for broadcasters to tell a story. We created a predictor that shows who’s more likely to win the draw and then the broadcasters can tell the story to the fans. This guy is 5-for-6, this guy loves the left lower face-off dot, or we got a righty-on-righty.”

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 this stuff is going to come to fruition over time,” Lehanski said. “I use the example of goalie all the time. There’s really two statistics to analyze goalies … goals-against average and save percentage and one of them (GAA) isn’t really a goalie stat; it’s a team stat. Now we can tell where every shot was taken, who took it, how fast it was moving, if it was deflected, what zone it was from, the time of the game, the score of the game, and whether or not the goalie is playing back-to-back nights.

“We’re trying to build these things with the mindset that you’re going to want to consume the NHL different from how I want to consume it. Our partners are looking at this data to help us figure it out. It does take time, but there’s no doubt we’re scratching the surface and it’s only going to expand.”