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.

 

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“Fistic Ice Savvy”: An Example of Irresponsible Sports Journalism

hordichuk2After being sent to the minors by the Edmonton Oilers, Darcy Hordichuk was recently  interviewed by long time hockey writer, Jim Matheson. The article wasn’t anything unique, but one line stood out in particular.

I think the Oilers still need Hordichuk, even in limited minutes because he has fistic ice savvy, but the roster size is very limiting when they’re carrying eight D.

Fact is, Hordichuk is a 32-year old enforcer, with years of experience in the NHL and the minors. But nothing in particular sets him apart from other enforcers. His stint with the Oilers, in my opinion, hasn’t been anything to write about.

Jonathan Willis of Oilersnation provided a play by play description of every event involving Hordichuk in a recent game. Pretty much sums up his usefulness on this team. So it wasn’t surprising to see him get sent to the minors.

Matheson provides a summary of how Hordichuk is doing in the minors, which is fine. But describing him as having “fistic ice savvy” is just bad sports journalism.

For one, it’s a made-up description with a very unclear definition. At no point has Matheson clarified what “fistic ice savvy” entails or who else might have this quality.

Secondly, there’s no way to measure this. I’m not asking for detailed data metrics and methodology. But how do you know you’re fistic and have savvy? Is it when you fight? Where on the ice you fight? Who you fight?

Thirdly, and most importantly, “fistic ice savvy” is a perfect example of the misinformation that surrounds professional hockey. Rather than make a claim, explain its rationale and then provide examples, Matheson uses a vague description of Hordichuk and leaves it as is. Not even an attempt is made to support “fistic ice savvy”.

Matheson is definitely a good hockey writer, but more detailed information should be provided when making claims. More and more of his readers are knowledgable fans, and claiming Hordichuk is anything more than an enforcer is just irresponsible journalism.

Hockey Reporting and Hockey Analysis

usb1Typewriter“We shape our tools,and then our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan

 

Influence of Technology on Sports Journalism

The impact of web technology has had a profound impact on how professional sports are consumed by fans. For example, fans have numerous options when they want to watch or listen to a game, including, among others, using mobile technology or data tracking software. Fans can interact and share content with others by publishing their thoughts and ideas about hockey on blogs and other social media platforms. To keep up with their loyal fan base, the NHL has readily adopted technology and software that helps their fans get closer to the game. Examples include providing detailed statistics available online or social media promotions to connect players to fans.

One area of professional sports that technology continues to strongly influence is sports journalism. Specifically, individuals who are employed by television broadcasters that hold NHL distribution rights, such as TSN or Sportsnet, newspapers and the NHL. These individuals typically have direct access to players and managers and are responsible for providing news and updates regarding NHL-related activity.

In the past, individuals who covered sports for the local news channel or newspaper were considered “reporters”. They would attend games and produce a story using the results of the event. Within the story would be quotes from players and coaches, a summary of key events within the game and maybe a preview of the next game. Since speculation is an important facet for professional sports, gossip regarding players and team could also be included, depending on the reporter.

Today, individuals who cover sports for mainstream media outlets are labeled all sorts of things. “Insiders”. “Analysts”. “Correspondents”. At first glance, they all appear to have the same role, which is to cover the game and provide some sort of content for fan consumption. But it’s the technology they use that differentiates them, as not all sports journalists produce the same kind of content. Understanding the tools they and what type of content they produce, can allow us to classify them and understand their roles and objectives.

Defining Reporting and Analysis

The technology sports journalists use differentiates those who report on the game, and those who analyze the game. Both “Reporting” and “Analyzing” are interchanged regularly, not only in sports journalism, but also other industries such as information management. While both actions produce content, they each entail different objectives.

I did a quick search online and came across this differentiation of Reporting and Analysis on a blog from Adobe, a major software company:

Report­ing: The process of orga­niz­ing data into infor­ma­tional sum­maries in order to mon­i­tor how dif­fer­ent areas of a busi­ness are per­form­ing.

Analy­sis: The process of explor­ing data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand and improve busi­ness performance.

So applying these definitions to sports journalism, I’ve come up with this:

Hockey Reporting: The process of coordinating data and information into summaries that describe hockey-related events. This is someone that summarizes current events, including games, player or team performance and current rumors.

Hockey Analysis: The process of exploring data and reports in order to extract mean­ing­ful insights, which can be used to bet­ter under­stand the game and support further analysis and continue extending the knowledge surrounding the game. This would be someone that could summarize current events, but spends more time looking deeper into the data from hockey games to provide further insight.

These definitions need some work, so I’m hoping to get feedback from anyone interested.

Why the need to classify sports journalists?

It’s critical for fans to understand the roles and objectives of the contents’ producer. The present environment for hockey fans contains a lot of information, and it’s really up to them to filter through the noise to find value in the content available online, in print and on television. Fans do more than just consume the content as they have demonstrated their ability to extend the content by providing their own feedback and raising new, applicable ideas.

By understanding the producers role, fans can put the content into perspective before extending the content and building new ideas. This is not to say that what sports reporters produce cannot be built upon by fans. But a more appropriate response can be made after understanding what the producers objectives are. And it’s much more beneficial to the game if ideas are built on solid claims and information, rather than bogus hockey rumors, for example.

As always, feel free to leave feedback below or contact me directly!

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.