NHL’s Bettman: Better tech coming to all NHL stadiums

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Levi's Stadium press conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image).

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Levi’s Stadium press conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image).

He wasn’t really there to talk about stadium Wi-Fi, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was kind enough to spend a couple minutes geeking out about wireless connectivity with Mobile Sports Report following a press conference at Levi’s Stadium to announce a new NHL online stats operation powered by software giant SAP.

If you are a hockey fan (and there are lots of them in town this weekend for the Coors Light Stadium Series game Saturday at Levi’s) you are going to like the new NHL stats platform, which has an incredible amount of information available today basically at fans’ fingertips, since it works well online and on mobile devices as well. Full player breakdowns, advanced stats you didn’t know you needed and the (coming soon) ability to compare current players to players from the past should provide a lot more depth to the general knowledge of the sport.

But for the MSR audience we asked Bettman specifically if the NHL was doing anything on a league-wide basis to ensure that fans at NHL venues had enough wireless connectivity to, say, view the new SAP stats package during games.

New SAP-powered NHL stats on a mobile device

New SAP-powered NHL stats on a mobile device

“All our arenas are being upgraded [from a technology standpoint],” said Bettman in a quick Q&A with MSR following the formal press conference. “From bigger video boards to Wi-Fi we know our fans want what they want, when they want it.”

Since not every NHL arena has fan-facing Wi-Fi — watch for a list in an upcoming MSR report — we asked Bettman if the league was prepared to offer any financial help to get all venues wired. The problem, he said, is that in many stadiums the NHL team is a tenant and not an owner, so teams aren’t able to step in and deploy wireless networks. Plus, many of the NHL stadiums are older buildings, which are generally harder to retrofit with wireless networks.

“It’s easier to do when you’re in a greenfield situation, building a new stadium like this,” Bettman said, gesturing to the new walls surrounding him in the tony Levi’s Stadium United Club.

With the league-sanctioned stats platform, the NHL seems to be taking a step in the path blazed by Major League Baseball, where a unified digital strategy brings live action and other league information to fans in a single package. We asked Bettman if the NHL had any plans to add features like video replays to its stats offering, maybe moving more in the direction of MLB or even the NFL’s NFL Now offering.

New NHL stats page showing player info

New NHL stats page showing player info

“We’re looking at it,” Bettman said of offering video. On the new stats package idea overall, Bettman said “if there was one word to describe it, it’s ‘more.’ More data, more speed. We’ve gone from nothing to a rocket ship. Wait until you see what’s next.”

As far as the stats operation goes, what we saw Friday was pretty good, and holds the promise of getting even better. For starters the operation (which, according to SAP runs on its SAP HANA enterprise cloud service) will incorporate new, cleaner design than previous NHL stats offerings, as well as visualization tools to better show stats in graphical format. Coming in the near future is a feature that is really cool: The ability to compare current players’ stats to those of players from the past, thanks to an ambitious effort to find things like old scoresheets from as far back as the 1920s, and having that information scanned into the new digital system. SAP did a similar thing with Duke basketball, helping build a historic-comparison site for Duke fans.

Bettman and the NHL folks will be around Saturday to see if the ice stays frozen for the Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. Ice rink in the sun picture below.

Levi's Stadium with ice rink in place

Levi’s Stadium with ice rink in place

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