Hockey Fans and the Leviathan II: All Three Zones Tracking Project

Yochai Benkler

Yochai Benkler – Author of Penguin and the Leviathan

Corey Sznajder of The Shutdown Line is seeking funding for a project that will collect very unique hockey data.

Here’s a short description of the All Three Zones Tracking Project:

I am tracking zone entries & exits for every game of the 2013-14 NHL season and making the data available publicly through either an e-book or an online database. What I end up doing will depend on how much money is raised through this. In addition to this season, I may also track previous years and include playoff data.

If you’re at all interested in supporting Corey, follow this link.

A couple things to note:

  1. Corey is going to manually collect data that isn’t available anywhere else. It’ll be interesting to see how others will use it to develop new ideas and information.
  2. It’ll also be interesting to see what other projects focussed on hockey analytics and data collection could pop up that will utilze crowdfunding/crowdsourcing.
  3. Even if you’re not into analytics or you don’t think you’ll use the data collected by Corey, knowledge and information about the game will grow because of this project. Fans/bloggers will use this data to create new ideas and add to the current discourse that surrounds the game.

Related Links:

Hockey Fans and the Leviathan – The SuperFan

Google Glass in Professional Hockey

ImageWith the recent announcement that Google will soon release its wearable, augmented reality glasses, there has been a lot of discussion about how the technology can be used.

What’s most intriguing to me is how these wearable devices can be used in professional hockey. I’ve come up with three uses.

  1. Professional hockey teams could use the device to send real-time information to players throughout the game. This could include who is on the ice with them, what play to run or where to place the puck.
  2. Coaches could use the data collected by these devices and apply them to their strategies for each game.
  3. Those outside the game, such as fans, hockey analysts, sports journalists or league officials could use the data collected to do their own analysis.

These are all just random ideas, so until the limitations of the device are shared, we can dare to dream. I’d be interested to hear what others think of using Google Glass in professional sports.

More information about Google Glass can be found here.

Blogger Part of Oilers’ Analytics Team

Source: Wikimedia Commons

David Staples of the Edmonton Journal reported Friday that the Edmonton Oilers have employed an analytics team to assess player and team performance. Interesting timing, since a growing number of NHL teams, including the Oilers, have representatives at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this weekend in Boston. The Oilers’ analytics team is made up of “university professors, business analytics specialists and hockey bloggers with analytics expertise” (Staples, 2012). One member of the team is Bruce McCurdy, a contributor for The Copper and Blue blog, as well as the Edmonton Journal’s Cult of Hockeyblog.

It’s great to see the Oilers recognize the contributions a blogger can make to the information and knowledge surrounding professional hockey. Enough research and evidence exists that demonstrates the benefits of blogs. Allowing anyone to participate, providing less restrictions compared to other publications and allowing individuals to collaborate are just a few of the benefits. Unfortunately, the hockey club fails to acquire the full benefits of blogging communities. McCurdy can definitely be that link between the hockey team and the online community, but to really benefit from the collective intelligence of fans more would need to be done. Moving away from the traditional producer-consumer business model to one that welcomes participation and engagement from more fans would increase the chances of uncovering information and knowledge that could benefit the club. This would include the Oilers management being active, trusted participants within the community without trying to control and dominate the development. As it stands, the collective intelligence generated within blogging communities is still uncharted territory.

Yochai Benkler (2011) put it best:

For the commons has finally come into its own. Because in today’s knowledge economy, the most valuable resources – information and knowledge – are themselves a public good, and the best way to develop and maximize this good is through millions of networked people pooling that knowledge and working together to create new products, ideas, and solutions (pg. 153).

Related: Blog post from last year regarding the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference here.

Related: Blog post about a hockey blogger looking to crowdsource data collection for analysis here.

Benkler, Y. (2011). The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Co-operation over Self-Interest. New York: Crown Business.

Staples, D. (2012, March 2). Oilers start up analytics group to delve into Moneypuck issues. Edmonton Journal Cult of Hockey. Retrieved March 2, 2012 from http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/03/02/oilers-start-up-analytics-group-to-delve-into-moneypuck-issues

Hockey Fans and the Leviathan

While reading through Yochai Benkler’s “The Penguin and the Leviathan”, this crops up.

Blogger Tyler Dellow over at mc79hockey.com is looking for volunteers to track statistics from Oilers games. Instead of the standard goals and assists which are already offered by the league, Dellow proposes some advanced statistics tracking:

I divided the rink into 24 zones and recorded where each event started and ended. I did, I think, come up with some interesting stuff, even in only ten minutes. I was recording what happened with the puck when a player touched it and where he touched it.  

The collaborative effort of fans to collect and analyze data will be something to see if it can get off the ground. If there’s anyone interested in helping, you can contact Tyler (mc79hockey@gmail.com). The challenge will be to breakup the work so that it can be manageable and provide a high enough degree of satisfaction that participants come back to do more.

Once my research proposal is approved by the University of Alberta, I’ll start examining the online behavior of hockey fans. One thing I hope to uncover is how this level of fan participation isn’t surprising, considering how committed fans are to the game of hockey, the participatory culture that exists and the technology available. As I mentioned in my post NHL Needs to Provide More Data, the NHL can either start helping fans out and be part of the movement, or just watch the collective creativity take flight.

Benkler (2011) put it best:

For the commons has finally come into its own. Because in today’s knowledge economy, the most valuable resources – information and knowledge – are themselves a public good, and the best way to develop and maximize this good is through millions of networked people pooling that knowledge and working together to create new products, ideas, and solutions (pg. 153).

Benkler, Y. (2011). The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Co-operation over Self-Interest. New York: Crown Business.

Advanced Statistics and Hockey Analytics

Traditional hockey statistics have been around since the birth of professional leagues. The NHL’s first game was on December 19, 1917, with the Montreal Canadiens defeating the Ottawa Senators 7-4. According to hockeydb.com, the Canadiens went on to win the league championship that year after winning 13 games in a 22-game season. Assists were not tabulated, but Joe Malone did score 44 goals. The accuracy of these stats is sketchy, but there is evidence that basic stats were tabulated early on.

Today, the NHL publishes hundreds of statistics. Aside from goals, assists, penalties and shots in a game, the league also provides ice time, hits and faceoff percentages and breaks it down by power-play time and even strength. The amount of information the NHL provides has increased over time, and reflects a growing demand for statistics.

These stats can be used for a variety of reasons. They can used by game broadcasters to give more detail about a player or team and to add to the narrative of a game. Fans can use these stats to build their own fantasy league rosters and track favorite teams. Players can use these stats in contract negotiations as they provide more detail about a player’s ability. Coaches can use statistics to focus on specific competition and develop a game plan for their team.

Recently, advanced statistics have surfaced, to supplement these traditional stats. The site behindthenet.ca, a leading provider of advanced statistics, supplies data on where the player starts when play begins, the quality of the teammates he plays with, quality of the competition the coach plays him against, among others. Combined with the basic stats the NHL provides, these statistics provide more insight into the game. An FAQ regarding advanced stats can be found here.

Gabriel Desjardins is the individual behind the site and was recently interviewed on Nation Radio (Team 1260, Edmonton). Alan Mitchell, or Lowetide in the Oilogosphere, hosts the new show and talked to Desjardins about advanced stats, how it started and where it could go in the future.

Regarding how behindthenet.ca started:

“There wasn’t really much interest or much to do in terms of hockey analysis during the lockout (2004-2005 season). Then the NHL started publishing ice time in a much more usable format. Charts with green boxes showing who was on the ice. So they switched that into a text format that I could much more easily process into a website and once I saw that, there were a lot of ideas that sprang to mind. A lot of things that we could borrow particularly from basketball in terms of analyzing players and analyzing what they do on the ice.”

According to Shirky (2008), when the barriers to getting things done drop, more and more people will participate and contribute online. As soon as the league made their stats easier to use, fans were all over it to produce and share high quality data and information. Today, the NHL.com site has data sets that are detailed, updated regularly and easy to use.

Regarding where hockey statistics are going in terms of the data:

Desjardins believes that acquiring more detail about the game at the micro-level is the next step. Examples would be tracking passes and tracking exact pass location.

“Step after that is where you would have every single player and the puck tagged electronically at all times. So you know where absolutely everybody is. And obviously there’s some massive, massive database construction and programming problems to get any useful information out of this. But I think we will really push forward in terms of understanding some of the things that confuse us right now about how the game works.”

If hockey analytics is to expand, the NHL needs to get on board. Fans can take the data that the NHL provides and apply countless mathematical formulas and theories to develop new, innovative, information. There is the possibility that fans can collaborate with one another to begin tracking their own data, as done by Cult of Hockey and mc79hockey.com. But it would be in the NHL’s best interest to be involved in the accumulation of data.

Regarding the visitors to the site:

“Usually I only get a lot of request for things that aren’t there or are things that are broken down. It’s a pretty broad distribution of the pages that people look at. But I think the biggest thing people look at are the Oilers, and then they look at the Flames, and then they look at the Leafs, and that’s basically the bulk of the traffic is going to those three pages.”

“Much more interest in Canadian teams. Which is interesting because I think that the notion that advanced stats in hockey, a lot of people look at it as an American baseball idea, whereas its Canadians who are really pushing it and are really interested in it.”

Canada being hockey obsessed is already known. Recent studies have also shown that Canadians spend a lot of time online. But the fact that the Edmonton Oilers’ advanced statistics gets a majority of the traffic is interesting since the market is considered much smaller than cities such as Montreal and east coast hockey markets such as New York and Philadelphia. Why the Oilers content draws traffic would require research before drawing any conclusions.

Advanced statistics in general will continue to grow since we’ve seen in the past a growing desire by fans to get more involved in the game. Fans are moving from simple observers of the game to participants as they collaborate with other fans to build new information and share knowledge within an online community. The next step may be electronic tracking of professional players, but it’s more likely that a crowd-sourced method of building data sets is much more closer. Mobile technology continues to improve and could give fans the ability to share their observations and data instantly with others. New statistical methods and theories will continue to drive how the data is analyzed, but it will be the collaboration amongst fans that take hockey analytics to the next level.

Behind the Net (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.behindthenet.ca.

Hartley, M. (2011, March 8). Canada maintains title as world’s most engaged Web nation. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/2011/03/08/canada-maintains-title-as-worlds-most-engaged-web-nation.

HockeyDB.com. (n.d.) Standings for the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL. Retrieved from http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/display_standings.php?tmi=6929.

McGourty, J. (2007, November 26). NHL celebrates 90th anniversary today. NHL.com. Retrieved from: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=369827.

Mitchell, A. (2011, February 19). Interview with Gabriel Desjardins. Nation Radio. Team 1260, Edmonton. Retrieved from http://oilersnation.com/2011/3/3/nation-radio-february-19-2011.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.

Ebbsfleet United – Fan-owned soccer team

In 2007, a group of fans pooled together enough money to buy a minor league soccer team in England. The website MyFootballClub.co.uk collected money from fans to become owners of the Ebbsfleet United Football Club. Roughly 26,000 people at the time signed up and contributed $70 US each (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Fans would be able to vote on different issues such as selecting a coach, approving player transfers and game day lineups.

After one year, however, the number of owners dropped to roughly 9,000. As of September 2010, there are only 3,500 paying members (Wikipedia). The team has struggled as of late and has dropped down to a sixth tier level of soccer.

This crowd sourcing tactic seemed like a great idea at first. Utilizing the collective intelligence of fans can be a great benefit to a professional sports team, but has its challenges.

From different quotes in a recent BBC article, it appears there were critical factors that led to the drop in ownership members.

Fans appear to have been given false promises and hope regarding the team and dedication of owners. According to Gary Andrews of SoccerLens.com, it took seven months for the Pick the Team option to be offered but needed to be voted on by the owners. The final vote was 265-227 in favor of Team Manager Liam Waish selecting the team rather than the fans. Such a low voter turnout is concerning and makes you wonder if the majority of the owners are even real fans of the club.

“I think we failed to give many members the feeling of ownership and closeness to the club they had hoped for. Perhaps the idea of being part of a takeover and making decisions was more exciting than the reality.” – Will Brooks, MyFC’s founder (has since departed), BBC article

There is a tiredness about the whole MyFootballClub project. I think a lot of people when it first started thought it would have been a large football club – someone like Leeds United. That would have been ridiculously optimistic to take on a football club like that. There’s a lot of frustration that there were larger numbers and between us all we haven’t achieved a little bit more. – Phil Sonsara, voluntary chairman, BBC article

It also appears that not everyone was on board with having so many owners controlling so much. Coaches have enough to deal with when handling players and game plans, let alone a fan community with some power. It’s also tougher to make decisions regarding player transactions when you have to consult a community.

I don’t have the time to sit and write blogs and podcasts or whatever they are. I have a lot on my plate. I’m not going to be sitting in front of a computer six hours a day, answering everyone’s emails. – Liam Daish, Team Manager, BBC article

I honestly felt the club could never progress so long as MyFootballClub was involved. There comes a point when these people need to say this is damaging the football club now. When it comes to transferring players, for example, other clubs don’t always want their details bandied about in the public domain. Decisions have been made in the past that don’t involve the members. They’re swept under the carpet. Nobody’s probably trying to do that in purpose, but it’s the reality of the situation. – Roly Edwards, former director and vice-chairman, BBC article

Today, the club continues to struggle on the field while problems exist with the current ownership system. A site has been launched called FreeMyFC, a community of fans unhappy with the current situation.