NHL Puts Puck- and Player-Tracking Technology to Test in Las Vegas

At an abuzz arena on the Las Vegas Strip last week, hockey fans from Sin City and San Jose mixed with attendees taking time out from CES. Unbeknownst to any of them, the NHL was quietly testing new puck and player-tracking technology that it believes will fundamentally shift the game.

After announcing in 2018 that it was looking to track the puck at a rate of 200 times a second, and after strategizing for years about how to best track players, the NHL officially announced last week that it has partnered with JogMo, a maker of RFID tracking systems.

Thursday’s game at T-Mobile Arena between the Golden Knights and Sharks marked the second time JogMo’s real-time tracking system had been used in a regular season game. The first test took place two days earlier during the Knights’ game against the New York Rangers. In both cases, chips in the pucks and player shoulder pads generated official league data at a rate of 180 times a second.

While the NHL considered a number of vendors for the job, including NFL tracking partner Zebra Technologies, JogMo’s system won over the hockey league because of its accuracy and its ability to build chips into dense, frozen hockey pucks.

“They did the best job overall from an accuracy standpoint but they really did an amazing job of engineering the puck,” said David Lehanski, the NHL’s senior vice president of business development. “That’s really the hardest thing: how do you get a chip into a solid mass that’s indestructible, that you can freeze, that still has some playability? That was a challenge and most of the other tracking companies out there didn’t even want to take it on.”


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To compliment the real-time test, the NHL invited six vendors to Thursday’s game to showcase how real-time tracking data might ultimately be used to enhance the fan experience: Beyond Sports, Genius Sports, Swish Analytics, Trigger, Vizrt, and WSC Sports. Displays ranged from sports betting to augmented reality statistics, real-time graphics displaying dynamic inputs such as speed, and virtual reality.

Vizrt and its partner Astucemedia, for example, displayed real-time speeds of players skating on the ice via virtual bubbles that popped up above their heads. Data collected throughout the game was used to create a leaderboard of top player speeds.

Trigger created a virtual replica of the arena and used VR headsets to put people on the ice, where they could view the game from any player’s perspective seconds after the action happened.

Genius Sports built a gamified mobile betting platform leveraging official hockey data to show how fans (even nascent hockey fans and gamblers) could easily make real-time, in-game predictions in a highly visual experience. Genius also experimented with what it is referring to as “mobile marketing,” which are essentially banner ads and push notifications of dynamic betting odds to entice people to place bets.

“We were invited by the NHL to demo what an in-game betting experience looks like and what gamification can offer to make it more customer friendly,” said Chris Dougan, Genius Sports’ chief communications officer. “Rather than just offering over-and-under, we’re putting data in a graphic that most people can easily understand. It’s much easier for the novice sports bettor to access.”

WSC Sports showcased another sports betting experience, centered in video and backed by proprietary algorithms that could identify and mark key moments and highlights of a game.

None of the vendors on display last Thursday are official NHL partners. The league, however, is piggybacking off their ideas to imagine ways it might put this data to use, and could eventually partner with any number of them.

Last week’s tests took place behind the scenes, giving the league a dataset it can now use to make determinations about the technology itself, and about any necessary tweaks. The next test will take place at the NHL All-Star weekend—the NHL All-Star Skills on Jan. 25 and the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 26—where the league will begin to test the use of real-time puck and player data in official NBC and Rogers broadcasts.

The hope is to be able to officially roll out the tracking technology on a large scale by next season. The challenge, noted Lehanski, is that the NHL is attempting to build tracking for not only sports betting and player engagement, but for coaching analytics as well. It’s also eventually hoping to put in place a two-pronged system, using both RFID chips and an optical tracking system to provide “contextual relevance,” which Lehanski said could further slow down the league’s ambitious timeline.

Ultimately, the goal is to use real-time statistics to build new storytelling methods that will empower fans to more deeply engage with the sport while attracting non-NHL fans to the game for the first time.

“People come up to us all the time and say ‘I went to an NHL game and it was amazing! So much fun. It’s so fast. It’s the best game ever.’ We hear that and we’re like ‘That’s great, but it’s not like that on TV for you otherwise you would’ve already felt that way.’ It’s not coming through the television in the same way,” Lehanski said. “Casual fans, non-NHL fans, may not be understanding how fast those guys are moving, how quick they’re making decisions, how unbelievably quick the goalie’s reflexes are. And we think tracking is going to allow us to tell that story. I think it’s going to help us take what’s going on on the ice, what all these fans are loving, and pull it through a screen more so than we’re able to do today.”

This content is part of the CES Sports Zone Innovation Showcase. If your sports technology will impact the world of professional athletes, sports leagues, owners, coaching staff, and fans, you can’t afford to miss CES Sports Zone. Learn more here.