NHL to Provide Advanced Stats

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Checking in on the Oilogosphere

One thing I’ve enjoyed writing about on this blog is the link between hockey fans and communication technology. It was the basis for my research project in school, and it’s been a while since I really paid attention to the current Oilogosphere landscape. So reading Wanye’s latest post on OilersNation conjured up a lot of ideas. Here goes:

  • While it’s true that many blogs have gone by the wayside, the majority of the content that these websites published is still available. Ever wondered how bad it was in 2008? There’s some great articles that summed up the team, the management and of course the general consensus of fans (man, we were an optimistic bunch back then). Even though these blogs aren’t active, there’s some excellent archived material that the current crop of bloggers could potentially build off of.
  • Fans have definitely embraced Twitter. It’s a fantastic tool to connect the Oilers fan community and the hockey world at large. It’s a great people connector. Blogs on the other hand, are more of an idea connector that facilitates a tighter, and more fluid discussion. Done right, blogs can still serve as a fantastic tool for information sharing and knowledge development.
  • There’s also a lot more people commenting on blogs than there were in years past. The comment section isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there are a lot of people who commit a lot of time and energy, the same amount they would have committed on their own blog, to contribute to the overall discussion. Commenting rather than blogging just works better for some.
  • There’s a very clear meritocracy at work in the Oilogosphere. Bloggers are differentiated by the quality of their work rather than their job titles or financial backing. This is a good thing when a community is growing and developing. But eventually the gap between the content produced by top bloggers and the rest increases. This has happened gradually over the past 9-10 years within the Oilogosphere. It can be awfully intimidating now for new bloggers when the Oilers fan community already has a lot of heavy hitters. Many just simply comment or focus their attention elsewhere. I will say that the Oilers fan community in general is very receptive to new or emerging bloggers, so if you have new content or want to build off older stuff, do it now. There’s always something to create or build off of.
  • If you’re interested in making money from blogging, treat it like an actual business venture. It’ll become pretty apparent that the financial rewards are very low. Blogging is about developing new information and sharing ideas. And many of the bloggers that have gone on to do big things were not focused on the money when they started out. They were instead very intrinsically motivated, focused on the quality of their work rather than the potential ad revenue.
  • The value of a press pass has decreased significantly over the past ten years. You can get live press conferences, post game scrums and every single quote in real time and on your phone these days. Giving a blogger a press pass would be nice so they can ask questions directly and possibly enhance their work. But the reason why bloggers have done so well is because they work outside of traditional media rules and standards. Instead they’ve focused less on what player’s say and instead pushed the discussion on things like analytics to focus on what players actually do. The lack of direct information from players has pushed bloggers to analyze the game more creatively, relying on a more collaborative approach to information and knowledge development. They’ve carved out a nice niche in the overall coverage of the Oilers, while those that do have access to players are somewhat floundering in their positions.

Again, if you haven’t read Wanye’s post, it’s here and well worth a read: Oilogosphere Down

Potential Jobs in the field of Hockey Analytics

The recent NHL hirings are a good indication that there will be more jobs out there for hockey bloggers, especially those who have a good understanding of analytics. Analytics really is a continuous discussion, so following the flow of information that comes from the process can shed some light on what areas of the game will likely hire more individuals.

So far we’ve seen a few bloggers get hired to work on the analytic departments of NHL clubs. My assumption here is that they’d sift through all the of the available data and provide recommendations on things like player personnel and possibly game tactics.

But as we’ve seen the Leafs do, recently hiring Darryl Metcalf, there’s also a need to collect data and then publish it in an easy-to-use, dashboard format for management and coaches to access. As we’ve seen online, there are a lot of fans who have developed tracking software and reporting tools, like Super Shot Search, Player Usage Charts and Shift Chart, that might be of interest to NHL clubs

Taking it one step further, teams will likely need some in-game analysts who can gather and share information to fans and the media. Teams typically provide some sort of game file with an assortment of stats and other information. These types of communication pieces will now likely include some high level stats that could be of interest to the public.

Teams may also look for people with coaching experience, who might have experience applying the analytics to coaching tactics. For instance if a club is finding that their defenceman is struggling and the opposition has been found to be strategically attacking his side of the ice, how does a team respond?

Teams may also want simple data trackers, and could rely on external companies, such as the one in Europe that specializes tracking soccer games

And of course, like in any professional sport, there are many, many people outside of the league who want to dissect the play of a team and players, including journalists, broadcasters and of course fans.

There will definitely be a huge demand for writers, specializing in data journalism, as major sports websites will want people who understand the full spectrum of analytics and its application to the game. But tv and radio broadcasters (in-game color commentators, talking heads, etc) will also have job openings, as there will likely be more discussion pertaining to the new questions from viewers about what impact the analytics will have on team success.

Following the flow of information, there will be a very high demand for hockey analytic expertise outside of the game. This would include groups involved in fan engagement such as video game developers, fantasy league service providers and even gambling sites. These external groups have always relied on hockey information to supplement the fan experience, and will likely look to expand their operations to include additional advanced stats (if they haven’t already).

And keep in mind, others that you may not expect to care about analytics just might be looking for some help to understand teams and players. Maybe there’s an advertising company out there that wants to align itself with a team that will  have a talented young core (that gets lots of ice time), for branding purposes. It’s a stretch, I know, but analytics really is a continuous discussion that can lead down many different paths.

Any job that is related to hockey analytics will require an individual to possess more than an understanding of analytics. Taking a step back and following the flow of information that can come from analytics, there will be a growing need for individuals with various backgrounds and experience. Organizations will likely search for people with information technology, broadcasting, or communication skills, among others, to really solidify their approach to analytics. The good news is, anyone who is interested in working in this field can begin honing their skills online using blogs and other publicly available applications.

Oilers4Life

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Derek Zona of Copper and Blue posted an interesting question for Edmonton hockey fans: Why haven’t you quit the Oilers?

It’s a fair question that I’m sure most Oiler fans have thought about. The team last won the Cup in 1990. It’s been eight years since the team made the playoffs. And since Daryl Katz took ownership of the club, the Oilers have been the worst team in the entire NHL.

For an outsider who may not value sports fandom, this may seem like a bizarre scenario: sports team keeps losing, yet the fans keep coming back for more. So here’s my response to Derek’s question.

Being a fan doesn’t follow the same traditional model of consumption that other products rely upon. It really functions in a unique ecosystem that has all sorts of weird norms and values. It’s tough to rationalize a lot of what happens in a cartel like the NHL and compare it to other consumable products.

A key element of being a fan of sports teams is continuously extending the product, before, during and after any game. Think of the conversations you’ve had about the Oilers with others, the articles you read, the stats you’ve glazed over, the digital artifacts you may have created (i.e., blogging, Youtube, etc). I don’t think there’s any other product for humans to consume that involves so much time and effort.

All of this continuous extension really engrains the fans deeper into their team. Quitting the team means you leave behind the continuous extension, a lot of which is spins off some extremely positive stuff that probably gives fans some relief from the losing. A lot of the positive relationships built, whether it’s at the game or online, keep fans following the shared product. And having a shared product like the Oilers also gives us a vehicle to connect with others and share our own ideas and values….all the stuff that’s critical for community building.

Trying to calculate your sunk costs like they do in the Freakonomics podcast (“The Upside of Quitting”) Derek links to is tougher for sports fans who consider quitting their teams. It’s tough to put a number on the emotional and intellectual investment you put into following the game and extending the content.

So good luck to the Oiler fans who want to quit now. Especially the bloggers and hockey analytic folks who have made valuable contributions to the game. Your creativity and intellectual contributions have you got you all in too deep. 😉

Related: Hockey Gossip and Blogs (2012, February 1)

Importance of Hockey Analytics II

Source: Zimbio

Source: Zimbio

Originally posted at Hockey in Society.

It’s been remarkable to see how quickly the field has developed over the past few years. The amount of new information being derived from hockey analytics has grown and continues to be discussed across a large and diverse online community. And while the focus has rightfully been on the hockey data and extracting meaningful patterns, it’s important to assess some of the foundational concepts that have supported the development and growing popularity of hockey analytics.

Analytics in any industry is a continuous process. Regardless of what patterns are found, new questions will arise to continue advancing the discussion initiated by analytics. Hockey analytics is no different as it really is a never ending process to uncover, share and build upon new information. Because it pertains to professional hockey, there is new data available almost every day and involves analysis from anyone that’s interested in the topic. The game itself, including the off-ice business (i.e., trades, free agency, draft) is highly chaotic and at times unpredictable.

Related: Importance of Hockey Analytics – Hockey in Society (2012, June 11)

What makes hockey analytics, or any sports analytics unique, is that it’s being done in an open environment that allows for anyone with basic analytic and communication technology tools to join the discussion. Using blogs and Twitter, participants have created a very collaborative environment that supports discussion and the continuous extension of ideas and information.

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Thoughts on the Oilers: HNIC; Fighting; Fans; NASSS Conference

Source: The Windsor Star

Source: The Windsor Star

Another awful loss at home on Hockey Night in Canada this past weekend. Would be nice to get a win on HNIC. CBC does a good job showcasing the teams and get a big audience, but unfortunately, the Oilers can’t get their act together. The last two high profile HNIC games for the Oilers have been losses with their team weaknesses being exposed.

Not easy going on CBC After Hours to talk about the loss, but Ference did a nice job explaining the struggles on Saturday. I’m a big fan of the show, mainly because it’s pretty raw, so you got to see just how disheartening the loss was for the captain. You can view the interview here: CBC After Hours.

The Oilers are starting up a four game roadtrip tonight. Let’s hope this group figures it out and shows up with a better strategy and effort.

Fighting

Not at all surprised by the Emery-Holtby “fight” this past weekend. Situations where one goalie pummels another unwilling participant can be expected in a league that supports fighting and has very subjective rules. And as long as these things happen, the league will continue to be a niche sport in the world.

Even though the Flyers won their next game after their embarrassing loss, you’ll be hard pressed to convince me that the line-brawl had any influence. The majority of fights are just side shows, that slow down the game and either results in a 20 second wrestling match and/or a serious brain injury. Really isn’t my thing.

Fans

With the Oilers on a five game skid and back-to-back home ice shut-out losses, there’s a real nasty vibe among the fans. The in-house crowd showed their displeasure and the online world is just a depressing place right now.

2013 NASSS Conference

The North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference is being held in Quebec City this week. There’s a tremendous amount of research being shared at these events by students and researchers.

For a summary of the hockey related research being presented at the conference, check out Hockey in Society.

Recommended Links

Breaking Up is Hard to Do – My Life on the E-List

Infinite Happiness – OilersNation

What a Joke – Oilers Addict

Finding a Spark for the Edmonton Oilers – Oil on Whyte

Grindhouse – Lowetide

 Two Reasons Not to Give Up Hope on the Edmonton Oilers – Cult of Hockey

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!

Categorizing Sports Blogs

From what I’ve seen, sports blogs can be seperated into different categories.

1. The fan blog – Exactly what it sounds like, but with no affiliation with any major sports networks or sites.

2. The MSM blog – Blogs hosted by mainstream media networks such as TSN, Sportsnet, The Score or Edmonton Journal etc. Blog writers are employees of the major network.

3. Network Blogs – This is when fan blogs join a network of other blogs. This would include SB Nation, The Nation Network. Blogs that started small and grew to join a network of other blogs.

Social Media Manager in Professional Sports

Professional sports has really embraced social media to promote its product, connect with fans and release news and updates regarding teams and players. Of course there’s a trade-off to the information that they, being the league, teams, and players release online. Professional sports entities also use the online fan community to gather information about their clients and keep tabs on what’s being said and done.

Realizing how important it is to interact with fans and utilize the information available, professional sports teams want to maximixe the opportunity.

The Edmonton Oilers are looking for a manager of social media. Job description and requirements are below:

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MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

MIT Sloan School of Management recently held its annual Sports Analytics Conference in Boston focusing on Sports Analytics. Its goal is:

To provide a forum for industry professionals (executives and leading researchers) and students to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry. MIT Sloan is dedicated to fostering growth in this arena, and the conference enriches opportunities for learning and understanding the sports business world.

Different panels discuss a wide array of topics related to their field and take questions from attendees. Examples of panel topics are sports gambling, golf analytics and referee analytics, among others. What’s interesting is that the conference provided, for the first time, a hockey analytics panel, which consisted of representatives from teams that have had a fair amount of success in recent years. Whether they attended because they value hockey analytics, or because other teams had more important matters to attend to is unknown. It was definitely encouraging to read that professionals and students had an interest in the topic of hockey analytics.

This conference made me think of online hockey fan communities and their connection to the game and active participation online. Using blogs, fans have developed, shared and utilized sports analytic techniques to predict games, measure player performance and analyze season results. At the same time, professional sports teams in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL employ their own methods to measure performance to make business and roster decisions. Hockey analytics is important to both the online fan community and the professional team, even though it’s for different reasons. This common interest of hockey analysis and value of the field may be why fans dedicate their time and energy to the cause. It’s a feeling of connection to the sport they follow regularly. Most fans won’t ever become owners or managers of professional sports teams. But to see the game from the eyes of a manager is what connects a fan to the game.

Cullen, S. (2011, March 11). Hockey at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. TSN. Retrieved from http://tsn.ca/blogs/scott_cullen/?id=357614.

Dizikes, P. (2011, March 8). Strength in Numbers. MIT News. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/sloan-sports-conference-0308.html.