Between World of Warcraft and Fantasy League

Through different tools and applications, the space between fans and professional athletes has diminished significantly. The conduit between the two parties has been removed as social media replaces traditional media outlets as information distribution platforms. A new relationship exists between fans and professional athletes as the rules of engagement are still being worked out.

Recently, a blogger compiled some statistics to examine the amount of chances a team creates when a certain defencemen are on the ice. Using both traditional hockey stats and advanced statistics, Dellow pointed out how Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney struggled in comparison to his teammates. Dellow then posted his findings on Twiiter, much to the chagrin of Whitney.

Not surprised the blog post upset Whitney. Reputation is critical for professional athletes and their market value. But the work of hockey bloggers is becoming more and more engrained in the mainstream information surrounding the game of hockey. Fans are analyzing the game and using various communication tools to create, develop and share information that reaches professional athletes and managers.

Whitney’s tweet was trying to reduce the significance of the blogger by portraying the individual as someone who’s distant from the game. I do agree that bloggers are similar to World of Warcraft and fantasy league fans as they all engage within a participatory culture. All three categories include fans who do more than just consume, but also produce new, creative content.

But it would be in Whitney’s best interest to see fans more than just passive consumers of the game. Rather than mock the blogger, Whitney would be better off either ignoring the critique completely or raise counter-arguments. The last thing he should do is mock fans who participate as contributors to the information surrounding the game.

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

NHL Fan Experience in 2020

Source: SB Nation

Before the season began, the NHL announced that players would now have their numbers stamped on the front of their helmets. In the past, player numbers were on the back of their jerseys, their arms and behind their helmets. Some teams have even begun placing numbers on the front of their jerseys. Numbers on the front of the helmet, however, was a league-wide policy. This could be done for fans to recognize their players or perhaps, as some have noted, to get people used to having more advertising on player equipment.

Bottom line: fans now have another piece of visual information required to track and analyze games.

I think it’s a matter of time before the current technology available combined with the dedication of hockey fans influences the availability of information. I can see a fan being able to snap a picture of a game, either live at the stadium or on television/web, to retrieve data about who is on the ice, how long they were on for, and what they did with and without the puck. This data can be analyzed to produce a real-time, customizable visual diagram for fans to save and use how they see fit.

I also think it’s possible that a cooperative relationship can exist between these active fans and the NHL. For example, teams and players could use the information and knowledge generated by fans in exchange for their availability for questions before, during and after games. Instead of viewing fans as consumers of the game, the NHL should recognize the fans produsage capabilities and how a cooperative relationship that harnesses their knowledge could benefit both parties.

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.

Creativity

Henry Jenkins interviewed David Gauntlett, author of Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Full interview can be found here.

Regarding the importance of the internet to creativity:

Having easy access to people who share their passions means that individuals can be inspired by each other’s work and ideas – which can lead to a positive spiral of people doing better and better things and inspiring more and more activity by others. This could happen before the internet, in clubs and societies, but it would tend to be slower, and the inspiring inputs would most likely be fewer, and less diverse.

NHL Needs to Provide More Data

It would be in the best interest of the NHL to begin generating and providing more advanced data for fans to work with.

The amount of hockey statistics has come a long way. Along with goals, assists, points and penalties, the league now provides even greater details, breaking down results by period, by division, arena, etc.

Fans have demonstrated a high demand of statistics which are used in debates with other fans, their own blogs/commentary, fantasy leagues and gambling. Some have even used statistics to create visual representation of the game. For example, TimeOnIce (ex. game number 30311) shows which players were playing with and against  to give fans an idea of who the coaches tried to match up.

To really stay relevant and remain a valuable source for information, the NHL needs to join the community of fans who use stats regularly for their own purposes. Two things need to be done:

1. Expand the amount of data being captured. For example, tracking player mistakes, similar to what the Cult of Hockey does, could be done. For an example of advanced hockey analytics, see BehindTheNet.

2. Make the data easy to work with and share. Provide the statistics, but also tutorials on what it is and how to use and share it. Anyone with basic computer skills should be able to learn some export and embedding functions to use the information on their blogs.

The object of these statistics should be to encourage fans to do something with it. Hockey fans are more than just consumers. Blogs and fan videos demonstrate the creativity of a community passionate about their sport. Sport fantasy social clubs show us that fans are involved and committed. Some even bet on sports! Look at this, CompareTheBets’ List of Promo Codes. From that, we can all deduce that lots of people do it!  It’s also imperative to reach out to new fans and teach them about the game. The best way learn is to be active and engaged with the material available.

If the NHL doesn’t provide the content fans need to create their own material, it won’t matter. Fans will find a way to get things done. The league can either be a part of the community’s movement towards active fandom or a spectator of creative content.