In the mid-1990s, hockey fans were introduced to a new technology called FoxTrax intended to make it easier for viewers to follow the puck during National Hockey League telecasts on Fox.
Many remember how the technology created a glowing puck on TV screens, leaving a cometlike trail of color once the puck reached certain speeds. But FoxTrax didn’t last long, to the delight of hockey purists who’d denounced it as too gimmicky for a sport steeped in tradition. Dave Lehanski, the NHL’s senior vice president of development and innovation, says FoxTrax was “way ahead of its time, but it just wasn’t ready back then. You could see it wasn’t working right.”
Now, the NHL is preparing to introduce a more advanced version of the technology in 2020 in an attempt to make itself more attractive to younger viewers. Players will don wearable technology—sensors about the size of an Oreo cookie—on the back of their shoulder pads, which will track certain metrics in real time. The puck will also be outfitted with a chip that can communicate with a series of cameras and sensors.
The technology was tested in January during two Vegas Golden Knights games at T-Mobile Arena.
Golden Knights winger Max Pacioretty says he’s intrigued by the idea, but adds, “There were a lot of issues with bouncing pucks and whatnot.” Still, he says, “It’s something that could be fun for the fans.”
That’s the league’s goal for this technology, which will produce more in-game data to enhance the viewing experience, especially for statistics fans and sports bettors who desire more information.
How fast is a player skating? How much time did he spend in the scoring zone? How long did he control the puck? Those and other questions should be answered with the new technology, with the resulting data presented to fans on TV screens and via streaming services and mobile apps.
“The system we put in place will generate millions of data points throughout a game,” Lehanski says. “It will track XYZ coordinates with the player and the puck, and we’ll turn those coordinates into meaningful data like speed or puck possession.”
The puck and player tracking technology can also be used for real-time wagering, something NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league now fully embraces.
“If you’re going to do [proposition] betting, you’ve got to do it in real time,” Bettman said at October’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. “Player tracking will create something like 200 data points per second. The puck will create something like 2,000 data points per second. This is something that we’re going to create, and the only way you’ll be able to access it is through us.”
NHL arenas are being outfitted to support the new system, developed by North Carolina-based SportsMedia Technology, a longtime NHL partner. Partly because the technology has already been tested at T-Mobile, the Vegas arena will be one of the first arenas to get it, according to NHL officials. The outfitting process includes the installation of a network of infrared cameras and cabling throughout the arena.
“We hope to have the entire system operational league-wide for the start of the 2020-21 season,” Lehanski says. “There may be some installation, too, for [January’s] All-Star Game [in St. Louis] this season. That’s our goal. It’s a big initiative, so we’re not going to force anything.”