Data Journalism in Hockey

old-time-reporterHockey analytics is doing some pretty remarkable stuff for the game. Not only are there new methods of understanding and following the game, but we’re beginning to see some of the more unintended consequences of its growth.

One thing to keep an eye on will be the evolution of hockey reporting and journalism. Analytics has received widespread attention this summer with NHL teams hiring experienced professionals and discussing the new statistics quite publicly. All of this is great, but now the people following the game, especially those that are relatively new to hockey analytics, will demand supporting evidence, in an easy-to-use, storytelling format.

Travis Yost brought up an excellent point, citing the potential for new data tracking technology as a reason why the demand for better sports writing will likely grow. There will definitely be teams looking to hire individuals with experience in analytics to keep up, but there will also be media outlets looking to enhance their coverage of the game and these advanced stats.

This will put the onus on anyone developing information about the game, whether it be newspaper writers, hockey analysts on television and fans online. The game has changed because of analytics, and now the information surrounding the game has to evolve.

What this means is that the distribution of  information has to shift from simple reporting to more data journalism. It won’t just be about grabbing quotes from coaches and players and then referencing some of the new stats like Corsi and Fenwick etc. But it’ll also mean having to embed graphics and information in an interactive and engaging way to tell a unique story.

The good news is, there are a handful of newspaper writers and bloggers who have been doing this very well for a few years now. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, as well as Japers’ Rink and SB Nation’s Outnumbered come to mind. But now, there will be an increasing demand for it. And I can definitely see some slick new platforms or reporting dashboards that can take all of the advanced stats and put together a strong game story.

Blogging platforms have served as a solid foundation and medium to develop hockey analytics. And now, they can be a real training ground for those looking to advance their careers in writing about the growing field.

 

Spengler Cup and World Junior Hockey Championship

Two hockey tournaments going on right now. The Spengler Cup is an annual tournament in Switzerland for individuals playing in Europe. A lot of former players head overseas for various reasons. Could be the end of their career, maybe they couldn’t cut it in the NHL or perhaps they just enjoy the less rigorous schedule to balance hockey and family life. The tournament itself is pretty entertaining with some tight games. It hasn’t caught on in North America but is very popular in Europe.

The World Juniors Hockey Championships (WJHC) on the other hand, is a tournament for players under 21, who for the most part, are highly touted draft picks with a lot of potential. Ten teams compete for gold, with Canada and US being heavy favorites this year. This tournament is broadcasted by TSN so it gets tons of hype and coverage. It’s a big ratings draw in North America…not so much anywhere else.

So why is the WJHC a bigger draw than the Spengler Cup?

The Spengler Cup has mostly players in the European leagues, so we don’t know much about them. The ones we do recognize are former NHL players past their prime. On the flip side, the WJHC players are all unknowns as well since junior league games aren’t huge draws. Both tournaments have a Team Canada, so national pride can’t be the factor either.

The media machine known as TSN does a pretty good job boosting the WJHC. Player profiles, game analysis, commentators, and expanded coverage on TV and their website all contribute.

The big difference between the two tournaments is the linking and alignment of fans to the product.

The potential of young players is heavily emphasized as most of them are already drafted or will be eligible next summer. The player will always have a familiar NHL team attached to them at all times. Working with the familiar constructs in a viewers mind builds that attachment right away. Spengler Cup broadcasts have less to work with when trying to connect with the familiar. Former players are long forgotten and have established themselves in the European leagues.

Second, since there’s potential in the WJHC, fans have something to take away from the broadcast and work with. The player has time to become a professional, so a fan can watch them develop, follow their stats and make their own judgments over time. It’s also easier and more interesting to discuss potential players with other fans. Guesses can be made about how good/bad this player can be and then eventually be verified. Former players are is less relevant to fans with no real future and thus, less interesting to work with.

It’s easy to blame a mega sports network like TSN for over-hyping an event, but really its collective fan behaviour that dictates what gets coverage and what doesn’t.