The NHL’s foray into providing advanced stats to fans has been an absolute failure. They’ve made a heavy, long-term investment in the technology and development of the website, but they’re still not providing their fan base any sort of value.
I wrote an article when the advanced stats were first released by the NHL in February of this year, believing that the NHL was on the right path, but cautioned where the pitfalls would be if they didn’t approach it differently. Hate to say it, but everything has gone wrong.
Travis Yost put together an excellent summary of the problems the NHL has had with their advanced (enhanced) stats. Based on my own experience of the NHL’s website, and how others have experienced it, I’ve come down to this: The NHL does not completely understand the field of analytics and what their fans want, and as a result, the features promised by the NHL do not meet expectations.
So what’s the problem?
From a high level, the problems the NHL is facing are similar to what other large-scale IT projects go through. This would include things like substandard requirements gathering, poor project planning and not enough customer/user engagement. But taking a step back, I see two major issues that are at the foundation of the problem. Not saying resolving these two issues will solve everything. But improving on it can impact the NHL’s overall strategy when it comes to advanced stats and future projects.
First off, the NHL does not truly understand what analytics is, what it’s for and how it’s used by their fans. Analytics are more than just stats. It’s a process, continuous in nature, that spurs new ideas, new questions and new understandings of a topic. It’s about collecting raw data, aggregating it into useful metrics, finding patterns, testing it’s validity/reliability and applying it in some way to a real problem. For people like me, websites like War on Ice have done most of that and have an easy to use tool for me to gather the data needed to answer my questions. On top of that, the website provides all of the raw data, so I can take it, integrate it into other software and apply my own queries and models.
To provide stats to a fan base that’s eager to discover new information and share their findings with others, the NHL has got to provide the outputs that reflect the creative nature of fans. Infographics are great, and the NHL does a nice job producing them. But they don’t provide the ability for fans to drill into a particular stat seamlessly to answer their next question. If the NHL wants to be the primary resource for advanced stats, they need to stop providing their data as reports and instead deliver the data with interactive, customizable tools.
Secondly, the NHL has viewed, and continues to view, fans as simple consumers of their products. The league relies on the traditional model of consumption (i.e., the NHL provides entertainment, fans buy tickets and merchandise) and develops their services and overall marketing strategy accordingly.
The problem is that the traditional model of consumption cannot apply when offering enhanced stats. The fans that are looking for data are there to not only consume, but to also build on their findings and share with others. Consider the thousands of artifacts created daily by fans (blog posts, videos, photos, etc), which in turn promotes the league, its teams and its players.
The growth of analytics, including the ideas, the knowledge building and the tool development, is caused in large part by the overall evolution of the fan community. We’ve seen how communication technology such as social media, blogs and mobile phones, have changed fans from simple consumers to “produsers” (Bruns, 2008) that have an influence over the information and knowledge surrounding the game.
If the NHL is serious about playing a role in hockey analytics, they need to adjust their current strategy with a couple things in mind.
- The NHL needs to recognize where the existing gaps are in the analytics field that would improve their fan’s experience. Right now the most pressing issue is the actual collection of the data and the data quality. The current public websites such as War on Ice and Hockey Analysis used scraped data from the NHL website. This means that the data does have some accuracy, but it would be vastly improved if the NHL took the lead in collecting and publishing real time data. This would include shot location data, player tracking and shift tracking.
- The NHL must also become a collaborative partner that supports private development of applications that would publish the data. The NHL does not need to replicate War on Ice. Instead, it would be in their best interest to support these types of websites knowing full well that their fans will be using the applications and generating new NHL-related content. And judging by the “visualizations” that the NHL currently provides, they need to leave the creativity to fans and private developers.
Even though the NHL is struggling with their enhanced stats page, and appear to be tied to their agreement with SAP, there is hope. The NHL can definitely have a role in the field of hockey analytics, but they must first understand the concept of analytics and recognize the importance of fans as not only consumers but also sources of hockey information and knowledge.
NHL Enhanced Stats Released – The SuperFan (February 22, 2015)
SuperFan 2.0: Exploring the produsage qualities of hockey fans (March 23, 2012)