The idea of two or more things coming together to form one united endeavor has created exciting innovations in the world of sports. Not long after I ran my first – and last – marathon before retiring due to a knee injury, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) started putting chips in runners’ shoes to track their progress. Back then, my former employer, DEC Internet Business Solutions, provided the website that allowed runners and their families and fans to check race progress and performance in real time – which was though ultra-cutting edge at the time. But now, it’s become just a mundane expectation.
Fast-forward to 2014. My current employer, SAP, was unofficially named the “12th man” on the field when the German national team won the World Cup title in Brazil. Developed exclusively for the German Football Association, SAP Match Insights solution (now known as the SAP Sports One solution) helped the team play better, maintain greater ball possession, and track and optimize the performance of its athletes. As a long-time practitioner and follower of business intelligence, I saw the transformative power of integrating data from multiple sources to present and analyze information in real time and providing data-driven insights. After realizing the potential of this technology in this one sport, further developments are now underway for other teams, including ice hockey.
The common thread of all sports-related applications of wearable technology is the ability to access key insights through analytics and technology to connect the human element of athletics with the hope for better, optimized performance and reduced injury. For example, a world-class volleyball player can maintain jump counts to avoid reinjury. Even hockey players from a major D1 college hockey team are tracking their performance to prevent one of the worst hockey injuries, a groin strain.
From the field to the home to the rink: The rise of the data-driven hockey team
As we approach fall, I am very excited about the return of the World Cup of Hockey after a 12-year absence. Originally called the Canada Cup, this international tournament has featured some fantastic hockey over the past 30 years. I can’t forget the final hurrah of Bobby Orr in 1976, literally playing on one healthy knee and being an MVP candidate. Years later, the collaborative effort of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and my friend Brian Propp achieved what some say is the the greatest goal ever to win the tournament for Canada against the USSR.
This year, the World Cup of Hockey tournament in Toronto will host an incredible lineup of many new faces on the international stage, as well as seasoned favorites. Plus, technology will play a central role in creating an engaging event experience and hockey fan experience as fans access insights and statistics on websites and benefit from real-time insights.
Just as technology is reimagining the fan experience, wearables are set to revolutionize the player experience too. For the second time in NHL history, players will have chips and sensors embedded in their gear. Critical information will be tracked including player ice time, zone time, shots, distance, shot and player skating speed, puck trajectory, player travel, and overall puck possession data. In something that harkens back to the glowing puck used years ago for network broadcasts, the World Cup of Hockey tournament will feature 750 smart pucks that will transmit key information about the play itself in real time. The data will then be transmitted using an in-memory computing platform from SAP and insights distributed to the broadcasters, such as ESPN and Sportsnet, covering the tournament.
As we have seen over the last few years on the NHL Network and NHL on NBC, sports analytics is reaching a whole new level in hockey. The “Statistic of the Game with Insights provided by SAP” has become one of my favorite parts of their coverage. The NHL is set to assess the results from this new approach to evaluate a rollout to the NHL regular season and playoffs. All of this information will be made available in real time during tournament coverage and afterward to track team and individual performance.
Be sure to check out the innovative ways the NHL is using real-time insights powered by SAP and the NHL.com statistics. I can’t wait to see how wearables will enhance coverage of the World Cup of Hockey and how new knowledge will provide an even better view of the game. And when we see wearables applied to my own Sunday and Tuesday night adult hockey matches, we will know that the technology has matured – providing information on the performance of all types of athletes!