Data Is Changing the Way the NHL Does Business

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The NHL wants to play #HiTechHockey.

“We absolutely are a data company. It’s affecting everything that we do.”

One conversation with Senior Vice President of Business Development & Global Partnerships for the National Hockey League David Lehanski, and the future is quite obvious.

The ability to collect, analyze, package, and deliver data is one of the biggest opportunities the league has.

The league knows it, its partners know it, the NHLPA knows it, and that’s why they’re all leaning into it.

Alongside sports betting, the rise of data has arguably the biggest chance to impact the industry in 2019 and beyond — and the NHL feels as if it is ready to capitalize.

While sports betting might be sexier to talk about and the numbers are bigger, behind the scenes, data is powering everything from how bookmakers make lines to the information being tracked by wearable devices attached to players.

“People were way more cautious a few years ago when we first started this. Pretty much everyone involved now understands this data is just telling us what’s happening on the ice. We want to be able to tell those stories, and that’s good for everybody. It’s good for the players, it’s good for the agents, it’s good for us, it’s good for the PA, it’s good for broadcast, and it’s good for our fans.” – David Lehanski, Senior Vice President of Business Development & Global Partnerships for the National Hockey League

One of the main players behind making this happen is SAP. A longstanding partner of the NHL, SAP and the league have teamed up on a few recent initiatives that have brought about new insight to both fans, players, and coaches.

The first move was to redesign the overall experience for the NHL to create better and faster experiences in regards to data, stats, and analytics. The two parties took that a step further this year after the league and Apple saw success with their integrated coaching system they debuted in 2017.

“After we released the first version, it became clear to us that (coaches and players) were looking for complementary stats and data to augment the highlights we were delivering to them,” noted Lehanski. “Because of this, we partnered with SAP to work with Apple to build a coaching insights app that would integrate certain data points into the same system.”

While not finished yet, it’s Lehanski’s hope that the system will be ready to go for the second half of the season.

The NHL as a Data Company

Of the top-five most valuable companies in the world, the case can be made that data plays a large, if not the dominant role in the success of each of them.

While it may not be able to replicate the successes of the Apple’s and Alphabet’s of the world, the NHL sees a bright future ahead thanks to data that it has never seen — let alone analyzed — before.

“Data, the collection of it, and the analysis of it is a major focus for us,” added Lehanski. “We know that that this data is incredibly valuable to a number of groups. It will help our coaches and our players be able to make decisions more quickly, and it’s going to help our media partners with regard to how they present the game so they can think of new, innovative ways to pull viewers deeper into the broadcast.”

With everyone set to benefit from the data points, the league is working closely with the NHLPA to determine what data they are going to distribute and how they are going to do it.

As for now, there are no plans for what data will be shared and how it will be shared with partners like MGM.

There are plans, however, to make it a major part of the way fans experience the game on both linear networks and streaming platforms.

With the first iterations of products like this appearing in broadcasts in 1996 thanks to FoxTrax, the league saw plenty of opportunities ahead. Although it would be until more recently that initiatives like we have seen come to fruition, Lehanski credits the league’s timeline for innovation, as well as the recent trends in the industry, as to why it seems like all of the sudden these new opportunities are popping up left and right.

“As we went from test, to test, to test, all of these factors and new developments in the sports and entertainment industry as it relates to gaming, betting, and fantasy were coming to a head at the same time.”

Read More: NHL Fan Fair Gives Fans Look at New Coaching Tool in VR Game

Talk about the perfect storm — one that is also changing the way the league does business.

“We certainly are a data company, but at the end of the day, we’re still a league too,” noted Lehanski as he spoke about the league’s future. “There’s a lot that we will always need to do with regard to managing the game on the ice, the rules, catering to our fans, and creating incredible live events. That’ll never change, but data is helping us to change, evolve, and enhance the way we do all of that.”

Although the data might not have all the answers, it isn’t a bad place to start.