On Monday NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced a new multi-year “betting partnership” with MGM Resorts International, which will include non-exclusive rights to the league’s next-generation data. The “next-gen” data will be primarily made available though the implementation of new player-tracking systems. The move signals a new day for the NHL and potentially a sizeable shift for the hockey analytics community.
Bettman stated he was confident that the new tracking systems required for the generation, aggregation and processing of new data sources tied to player-tracking technology will be ready for next season (2019-2020 season). Data generated by new player tracking systems will represent an exponential leap in hockey data and analytics capabilities.
In a nutshell, the new player tracking systems will generate real-time, three-dimensional data for each and every player in a game. This will include previously uncaptured data for elements such as player biometrics tied to shifts, skater speed-charting tied to shifts and games, shot speeds and trajectories, real-time player locations for shots, player route mapping, all generated in real-time. All of this will be capable with new GPS chips embedded in player jerseys and the puck. [More on the new tracking systems can be found here and here.]
The difference between today’s data capabilities and capabilities ascertained from new player tracking systems will be night and day – stone-age and space-age, if you will.
An example. The new tracking systems will not only be able to track speed of a shot made for a goal, but will also be able to tie the shot to each and every player’s biometrics (heart rate, etc.), time of shift for each player, player locations at time of shot, etc. A three-dimensional time stamp for all of these attributes, in real-time.
But it’s unlikely all data will be made available to all interested parties, thus potentially creating an analytics divide. Teams will presumably have access to any and all data created by the next-generation systems, but the general availability of the new data types will likely fall-off after that.
Data privacy and data rights are huge topics in all walks of life right now, and hockey is just catching up. The question many have now is, who will have access to what? For example, it’s anticpated the NHLPA will vigorously fight the public availability of any specific player data claiming data privacy rights. It could even be likened to doctor-patient privacy rights.
As a result, we are likely to begin seeing a refined hierarchy of access rights that will create levels of analytics capabilities among all those interested in evaluating players and games. Those striking deals with the NHL (MGM today) will likely have the greatest access to the data deemed suitable for release. All other access rights will likely fall-off rather quickly, thus creating a knowledge hierarchy.
There is plenty to still be worked out by the league, the teams and the gaming industry, but it’s fairly clear that we are entering a new era in analytics. The arrival of tiered access to hockey data will likely reshape the hockey data and analytics industry, from top to bottom.
Much more to come. Stay tuned.
By Jon Sorensen