The Ultimate Hockey Fan Experience: Heroes And All-Stars, Past And Present

Fred Isbell

Pens Goalie

As I discussed in several recent blogs, the NHL fan experience has undergone a major transformation that is largely fueled by disruptive technologies. As a Flyers fan growing up in Philadelphia, I remember the 1976 NHL All-Star game vividly. The Flyers hosted the game at the Spectrum and were coming off of back-to-back Stanley Cups. With six Flyers selected to play and Flyers Hall of Fame Coach Fred Shero coaching the game, it felt like a home game. This was years before the NHL adopted the skills competition before the game; the game was played, and we went home. I don’t recall ever seeing replays or highlights back then, although I do remember someone having a VHS cassette of the game once the VCR was finally invented.

And while this primitiveness is long-gone, the 2016 NHL All-Star game in Nashville, TN, is a reminder of how much things have changed. After the game, I sat down with Ronna Callahan Therrell, sports editor and writer for Pro Hockey News, to discuss how this classic game and sport has evolved over the years.

Fred Isbell: Ronna, what were your major takeaways from this year’s 2016 NHL All-Star game?

Ronna Therrell: As technology and athleticism continue to push boundaries, so does the demand for more spectacles. In 1976, fans were quite satisfied with a no-frills all-star game featuring a three-period slugfest of good hockey.

Two weeks ago in Nashville, country music stars played pregame shows on fully equipped stages on the ice. The action was broadcasted on multiple huge screens all over downtown Nashville with concert-sized sound systems blasting the audio feed. The camera crew recorded the action on skates. And the fans loved every minute of it.


Many pundits bemoan the new 3-on-3 format with three one-period games, saying it’s a celebrity exhibition and not good hockey. I had a feeling that they were wrong, and I ended up being correct. It opened up the game and showcases just how fast these guys are – and the fans were delighted. Dylan Larkin was so fast that he almost fell in the last turn and still broke Mike Gartner’s 20-year-old record. And that’s what everyone enjoyed about the entire weekend. “Speed” was the buzzword that defined the tournament.

Ronna Therrell: Now, let me ask you a question. Hockey has always been a game about numbers – goals, assists, shots on goal, ice time, and penalty minutes to name a few. Think back to your 1976 NHL All-Star experience: How did you get your information as a fan, specifically statistics?

Fred Isbell: At the time, we went to the library hoping to find books that had the information we wanted. I also remember pouring over the box scores in newspapers and The Hockey News. I religiously bought annual guides – and as new players emerged,  you always needed to buy the latest book. I even received an official NHL register of player statistics as a present one year and read it for weeks at a time.

Interestingly enough, collecting hockey cards was another way of learning about player stats. Having the players’ statistics on the back of the card was our version of a modern-day Web page. The longer a player had played, the more statistics on the back of the card and the smaller the font. Now, we just go to the stats page.  Everything is now updated in real time, and no one even thinks of using books anymore. At least not me, LOL!
SAP Hockey Analytics Jersey

Ronna Therrell: How has technology changed what you just described?

Fred Isbell: From my perspective, the Internet and newer technologies such as in-memory computing, mobile, and social media have disrupted how we communicate, share, and consume this information.

As a member of the DEC Internet Business Group in 1994, one of my first demos of this technology centered on finding hockey information. Before the invention of search engines, that meant finding web addresses and writing them down or storing them as favorites. The AltaVista search engine was truly revolutionary at that time – indexing the entire Web in its main memory for quick query response times. This was a very early implementation of in-memory computing, which is now the power behind digital transformational technology. However, in an age of dial-up modems, most of this work was reserved for the office.

Now, the vision of seamless access to information and solutions regardless of location has finally reached fruition. We certainly have come a long way since that 1976 NHL All-Star game!

Fred Isbell: Okay, now it’s my turn to ask you a question, Ronna. In your career covering hockey, how has technology transformed your job? If we created a new and different statistic of the game for NHL hockey broadcasts, what would you like to see?

Ronna Therrell: It would be interesting to have some sort of “semi-official” stat for bad calls in a game. Of course, it would be a subjective report like game MVPs.

Fred Isbell: Thanks for your time, Ronna! You certainly are living your dreams in your job, which is quite awesome!

To learn more about statistics powered by SAP and SAP HANA, please read Phasing into Analytics: The NHL and SAP Innovate Their Statistical Database. Click here to view a video on how the NHL is using analytics to deliver statistics to fans of the coolest game on earth.


Ronna Callahan Therrell is a songwriter with songs currently being shopped in Nashville.  In 2013, she joined the staff at Pro Hockey News and used her love for writing and hockey to become involved in sports journalism. As the Single A editor, Ronna continues to be a feature writer and reporter – and she still gets to occasionally step on the stage and sing.

Want more on hockey and technology? See Heroes, History, And Marketing: A Game Plan For A Winning Hockey Fan Experience.

Fred Isbell is the senior marketing director and head of thought leadership Service & Support Marketing at SAP.

Join Fred online: TwitterFacebookLinkedInsap.comSAP Services Hub


About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell worked at SAP for nearly 19 years in senior roles in SAP Marketing. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing spanning nearly 30 years. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.