The NHL recently announced that they’ll be adding some of the “advanced” stats to their website for fans to access. These stats have really been developed by online hockey fans since about 2005 thanks in large part to people like Gabe Desjardins and Vic Ferrari, whose websites developed the core principles of hockey analytics. Over the past few years, the field of hockey analytics has grown to the point where many of those who pushed the discussion on analytics are being hired by NHL teams. The field is still in its infancy as the data collection tools and application of the analysis to game situations is still developing.
The NHL involvement with collecting data and publishing it on their website has been long overdue. While they continued expanding their traditional stats, fans developed their own websites and blogs that collected game-data (using NHL.com) and aggregated advanced stats. Fans worked outside the traditional model of information consumption and became sources and distributors of information themselves. Blogs especially played a critical role as fans discussed the stats, collaborated and developed strong information networks.
What the growth of hockey analytics has confirmed:
- Compared to any other type of fan (i.e., comic book, movies, celebrities, etc), sports fans spend the most time and energy on their fandom. They are connected before, during and after games by reading articles, playing fantasy league, consuming content (TV, radio, web). They’re a big reason why mobile technology is the beast that it is today.
- The web is a magical place that allows human beings to develop social networks to break down the barriers to information. If people want information, they will get it. The web is just designed that way.
- When an online community is connected to one another by something that they are truly passionate about, they’re extremely generous with their time and energy. Hockey bloggers are intrinsically motivated to not only produce content, but also share their support to others.
Knowing what we know about online hockey fans, it would be a huge mistake for the NHL to charge fans any sort of fee to access hockey data. The league has already taken steps to restrict fans from scraping the data from NHL.com and using it for their own websites. Becoming the sole source of data is likely their ideal vision, but they have to find a balance to ensure they play a role in the field of hockey analytics. Analytics is an excellent tool for fan engagement, so it would be in their best interest to keep the data open, easy to access and easy to use.
Professional sports leagues should really want their fans to be informed and to develop knowledge to whatever level they want. The league is much better served if they have a fanbase that’s free to interact with data, push any sort of hockey discussion and share their thoughts across their networks. That’s what fan engagement is at its very core.
Keep the Data Open
To put up any sort of barrier, whether it be a fee for data or technological restrictions, would be detrimental to the overall interaction between the game and its fans.
Knowledge and information will always be free. The barriers and the traditional models to keep data and information from the general public have been dropping in every aspect of our social world as the creativity of human beings will always get what it wants. Think of the illegal downloads of music and films; the open data projects of Governments and the death of encyclopedia books.
If the NHL does try to restrict access to data, you can be sure that fans will work together to collect the data themselves. The tools are available, the network is already established and the motivation for people to participate will be high. There are also companies collecting data of other sports that can quite easily adapt for hockey and begin collecting data at a much larger scale.
Really, the NHL doesn’t stand a chance if they put a barrier to their data.
If you’re interested in learning more about collaborative online communities mixed with information/knowledge management topics, I highly recommend the following:
- Benkler, Y. (2011). The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Co-operation over Self-Interest. New York: Crown Business
- Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin Press.
- Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive Surplus. New York: Penguin Press.