NHL and Fans Score with Predictive Analytics

(Image: skeeze/Pixabay)

(Image: skeeze/Pixabay)

If you're a hockey fan, you've probably noticed that the statistics are more comprehensive than they once were. That's not happening by accident.

The National Hockey League (NHL) uses predictive analytics to learn more about fans, improve its direct marketing efforts, track players' performance on the ice, and improve fan engagement.

Making an IoT Play

During the 2015 All-Star game, sensors were embedded inside pucks and players' jersey collars which provided insight into where the puck and players were, how fast they were moving, puck trajectory, players' time on ice and more.

The information was used during replays to better explain how a particular outcome came about. Fans were able to visualize the paths players and pucks had taken, giving them more insight into players' performance. Experimentation continued at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which was substantially the same thing -- tracking pucks and players.

The key to winning a hockey match is puck possession. If Team A possesses the puck longer than Team B, Team A will score more points over time.

The information derived from the devices, particularly the jerseys, can be used for training purposes and to minimize injuries.

A Data Scientist Predicted Winners and Losers

A couple of years ago, the NHL worked with a data scientist who reviewed historical data including player statistics and team statistics over several seasons. When he crunched the data, he found that there are certain statistics and factors that, over time, can help predict team performance on the ice, especially in the playoffs.

Thirty-seven different factors were weighted in certain ways and applied to the 16 teams that started the playoffs in April 2015. The goal was to predict how the playoff teams would do when playing against each other. And, as the rounds progressed, how the teams would perform in new matchups.

The results were very interesting. The data scientist was able to predict at the start of the season that the Chicago Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup. He also was able to predict which team would win each playoff game, most of the time.

"What's interesting about that is our sport is a pretty unpredictable sport," said Chris Foster, director of Digital Business Development at National Hockey League, in an interview. "The action is so fast, goals happen rather infrequently and a lot of it has to do with a puck bouncing here or a save there. It' very fast action that is sometimes hard to predict, but it just shows that data, when properly analyzed, and really smart models are put around it, that predictive analytics can tell you a lot about how a team is going to perform."

If You Could Put Sensors Anywhere, Where Would You Put Them?

Sensors are finding their way into more physical products these days because the cost is low, the sensors are small, and the data has lots of value. If you could place sensors in anything, what would it be? What would the sensors do?

We'd love to continue the discussion in the comments section.

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 4/1/2017 6:03:07 PM

Did he touch the base before he was tagged, or not? That's a great question for IoT.

And we can broaden that to the aspirational goal of eliminating the umpire (or referee) with IoT, as much as we can?

Calling balls and strikes would seem to be possible with IoT. What else?

Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 3/31/2017 8:27:15 PM

Statistics can be overdone and too many commentators rely on them too much to keep the conversational ball in the air. And when what you have is reliable airtime filler, you're one step away from being a noise machine.

Re: Tennis sensors
  • 3/31/2017 8:24:21 PM

Whether it's tennis, basketball, hockey, volleyball or any other sport with a defined field of play, why not put IoT sensors in the grass/floorboards/ice/astroturf? The field/court is probably not the only place you want them, but it would yield lots of data.

Tennis sensors
  • 3/31/2017 7:42:08 PM

I read about tennis sensors and embeded trackes in clothes. However, I don't think the technology is accessisble for lower-level players (non-pros).

Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 3/30/2017 8:14:23 PM

@Joe Durability and longevity of connected sensors would certainly be in issue in some sports.

That pesky physics principal could really get in the way of great data...

Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 3/30/2017 11:46:27 AM

At some point, however, adding things to sports equipment could fundamentally change (even if only minutely) the way players are able to play the game -- i.e., the slightest difference in weight/balance/etc.

Also from a physics standpoint, there is the observer effect...

Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 3/29/2017 9:37:21 PM

There are lots of fun places you could put sensons in sports.  It would be fun to track how fast a football or baseball was going, how fast and hard a baseball bat was swung and where exactly this the ball come in contact with the baseball.  Sensors in baseball player's sneakers and bases could confirm in's and outs. 

Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 3/29/2017 3:30:21 PM

Pretty amazing stuff cited here for me as a peson who knows zero about hockey. Putting sensors in pucks....just how to make the game more attractive to fans, that would seem to be pretty wild. Measuring speed and angles would seem to be more than I would want to know!

Re: Sensors in Sports
  • 3/28/2017 7:45:56 PM

It's less about the camerapeople themselves and more about the TDs (technical directors).  They have to be skilled and experienced enough to know where and how the cameras should be positioned -- and know when to call a cut to a different camera during the game.

Moneyball outside of baseball
  • 3/27/2017 10:35:10 PM

This is a natural consequence of being in the wake of the Moneyball era (many people, incidentally, forget that Moneyball was originally a book -- YEARS before the movie was made).  Having seen its success in baseball, managers, coaches, and front offices have started applying it in other sports.

Football (US), alas, seems slow to come around.  In the NFL, everybody still punts or goes for the field goal on the 4th down.

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