With NHL’s Player/Puck-Tracking System Still in the Works, NBC Sports Continues to Prepare For How It Will Change the Hockey Broadcast
Producer Stephen Greenberg tasked to run point on network’s relationship with tracking data
The 2019-20 NHL season is meant to be the ushering in of a new era with deployment across the league of its new player- and puck-tracking system. While the fallout of Jogmo World Corp. has thrown a wrench into the mix – and led to the league dropping the tech company as its technology partner on the project — the NHL says tracking remains on track, with it now now expected to see screens in April for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The unfortunate hiccup in the development does not mean that the NHL’s broadcast partners aren’t still preparing for how the data obtained from this tracking technology will impact how the game is presented to the viewer, though. That includes the league’s national broadcast partner in the United States, NBC Sports. To best ready his production staff, Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ respected Executive Producer & President, Production designated an internal expert on the subject beginning last year, naming one of his top producers, Stephen Greenberg, as the lead on the project.
American viewers got their first peek at Goldberg’s work and what a world with player- and puck-tracking data would look like during last winter’s NHL All-Star Game in San Jose. NBC partnered with graphics specialist SMT to offer real-time displays of new data including puck speed, player speed, shift times, live action player ID pointers, and more. NBC even offered a data-loaded live streaming product for the game that pushed all of those real-time statistics to the forefront.
Goldberg, who will serve as lead producer in St. Louis on Wednesday as the NHL drops the puck on a new hockey season when the Stanley Cup Champion Blues host the Washington Capitals (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN), has spent much of the offseason sorting through the learnings and the data obtained from last All-Star Weekend with his team. They continue to work on new graphic designs and other ideas that could prove to be valuable storytelling tools in future NHL broadcasts.
“We feel very good about the direction the process is going in,” says Flood, “and, most importantly, having one person with his eye on this full time has been really beneficial. We’re really pleased with how this is rolling out and what the thought process is as we create new content and new ways for people to immerse themselves in the game.”
In addition to the changes that player- and puck-tracking will bring to everyone on the broadcast — from graphics producers to replay ops, transmission engineers, and more — it’s also going to be a notable change for the role of the on-air analyst. As Major League Baseball has experienced in the age of Statcast, analysts are breaking down plays and players in a whole new ways thanks to information like exit velocity, launch angle, and lead distance. What with this era of tracking data bring to the sport of hockey?
“I think it’s just another way to, in my opinion, see, teach, appreciate maybe how quickly a guy can get up and down the ice or how quickly the puck comes off his stick,” says NHL on NBC lead analyst Eddie Olczyk, who will be in the booth in St. Louis Wednesday night with play-by-play voice Doc Emrick. “It’s more information. Sometimes it’s self-explanatory. I think that will be, at least for me anyways, a work in progress, once it’s full bore moving forward.”
As for the current status of player- and puck-tracking in the NHL, the league continues to work with SMT to finish installing complete infrastructure in all 31 NHL arenas, which according to a league rep will be in place by the 2020-21 season. While the target date is to see a initial rollout for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Flood says there will be more experimenting with the system for broadcasters again at this year’s All-Star Game, which is slated for the weekend of January 26-27, 2020, at Enterprise Center in St. Louis.