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Sports leagues and media providers are constantly seeking new ways of improving the consumption experience of viewers. Several new technologies have arrived in the industry, but many have not proved financially viable. Among these new technologies is tracking technology, used to augment television coverage and for coaching enhancement. This has had mixed results. In this paper I argue that the emergence of Moneyball management practices in sport have created the supervening necessity (Winston, 1998) required to drive demand for player tracking technology in ice hockey. This technology is able to collect the data necessary to implement statistical analyses comparable to those used in professional baseball to cover media enhancement, coaching enhancement and Moneyball management.
The widespread convergence of sport and media technologies has resulted in a desire to create and provide new ways for fans to experience and consume sport. As a result, a focus has been on identifying new technologies with sports applications that will improve the technical governance and overall viewing quality of games and add content to supplement other forms of consumption (such as fantasy games). Despite their initial promise, not all technological innovations are widely adopted or prove to be financially feasible in the long run. This paper explores the development of tracking technology in ice hockey, within the broader context of social pressures impacting upon the successful adoption and use of this technology. I argue that the emergence of Moneyball management (sabermetrics), where statistical analyses of data are used to evaluate team and player performance, has created a new opportunity for the adoption of tracking technology in the sport. Recent technological innovations have implications for the adoption of Moneyball practices in other sports--using tracking technology that allows the collection of data on the movements of athletes on the playing surface. Applications designed specifically for ice hockey are then reviewed, with a focus on the most successful attempt to date, Trakus' Digital Sport Information System (DSIS). The emergence of Moneyball/sabermetrics in baseball and its applicability to other sports is then reviewed.
As explained by founder Eric Spitz, Trakus' DSIS technology has three parts: the acquisition of information, the processing of information and the display of information (Sweet, 2001). This view provided the platform for the business model adopted by Trakus. However, I argue that a fourth element has been introduced by the popularisation of Moneyball/sabermetrics: the analysis of information. The technology developed by Trakus was not used for developing a sophisticated system of evaluating player and team performance; rather, it was designed to provide descriptive information for television enhancement. Thus, Trakus' technology most closely resembles Winston's (1998) accepted prototype, where the early and incomplete supervening necessity was the use of data for television enhancement. Clearly, the prototype was not rejected as it was recognised as being a useful form of television enhancement. Trakus then adopted a business model that sought to recover costs by licensing the data to television networks and seeking sponsorships. Therefore, it can be argued that Trakus did accurately identify a market for its product, but did not determine enough uses for its technology to allow it to remain financially viable.
Moneyball management has provided the supervening necessity required to allow the successful adoption and implementation of tracking technologies in the hockey industry. Where previous attempts have failed, or not been completely successful, it has been because the technology has not been used across three overarching areas: media enhancement, coaching enhancement and Moneyball management. Tracking technologies in Europe have been primarily aimed at coaching and television enhancement, while Trakus focused on television enhancement. However, it is argued here that the success of the technology will depend upon the additional use of data collected through tracking for player and team evaluation purposes. If this occurs, we may yet witness a Moneyball revolution in hockey and new ways to consume hockey as a mediated entertainment product.
One need look no further than the pages of popular trade publications for sports business to witness the widespread convergence of technologies for sport and media. This makes perfect sense, given sport's increasing presence as a mediated entertainment product. However, there is also a practical reason for this convergence: "... fans have witnessed a steady increase in price of viewership (tickets, cable subscription) without an attendant increase of new, compelling content" (Singh, 2001). This has resulted in a desire to create and provide new ways for fans to experience and consume sport. Adam Acone, vice-president of broadcasting for the National Hockey League (NHL), described two basic strategies related to media coverage in his sport: "We want to bring fans closer to the action and help them feel the speed and power of the game. We also want to broaden the audience by bringing the viewers closer to the players." (Zelkovich, 2000). The focus has been on identifying new technologies with sports applications, in order to improve the technical governance and overall viewing quality of games, and to add content that supplements other forms of consumption, such as fantasy games.
Examples of recent technological advancements have included the Fox Box, which displays continuous information related to game scores, and ESPN K Zone, developed by Sportvision for Sunday Night Baseball telecasts. ESPN K Zone, using computers and special camera angles, outlines a batter's strike-zone during telecasts (Ginn, 2001). Sportvision (an interactive sports marketing and technology company based in the US) has also employed telemetry and global positioning satellite technology to record data on NASCAR car speeds, distances between vehicles and location on track for the Fox and NBC networks in the United States. In addition, sporting apparel giant Adidas is working with the Fraunhofer Institute and Cairos Technologies on a prototype 'smart' soccer ball which contains a sensor that will track its exact position on the field. The aim is to avoid incorrect referee calls where the ball crosses the goal and a goal is not awarded, and vice-versa (Blau, 2006). Finally, Trakus, a Massachusetts-based technology company, has developed a DSIS that allows sensors placed in hockey players' helmets, emitting radio signals to receivers in the arena, to record the speed and distance that players travel on the ice (Ginn, 2001).
Despite the initial promise of some technological innovations, not all are widely accepted and financially feasible, either through limitations in the technology itself or depending on the ability of the developer to find and/or develop a market. This can be caused by financial limitations associated with a technology (the revenues it can generate compared to the development and operating costs) or the financial stability of the developer (in most cases significant resources have been invested to bring the technology to market). Perhaps the most notable example of a new technology not being accepted in sport is the FoxTrax glowing puck, developed by Fox for use during coverage of NHL games during Fox broadcasts in the mid to late 1990s. The puck was widely vilified by critics and fans and, despite several attempts at refinement, was dropped from use during telecasts (Mason, 2002).
Even technological advancements that are widely embraced do not always confer financial stability to their parent companies. For example, the electronic first-down line used during American football telecasts, adopted in the late 1990s, is considered a staple of football coverage today. However, this has not necessarily meant success for the developers. Princeton Video Image Inc., a supplier of the first-down line used on CBS television, lost $65 million between 1997 and 2002 (Bernstein, 2002b), despite the widespread use of the first-down line. Princeton Video Image's rival provider of the same technology, Sportvision, has had a similar lack of success.