MobileSyrup recently attended the NHL’s third annual Tech Showcase in Seattle, Washington, set against the backdrop of the Seattle Kraken’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.
This year’s NHL Tech Showcase outlined a straightforward narrative. Throughout the evening of live demos and speaking to officials, the league is clearly experimenting with the various ways 5G and cloud-based services can be leveraged. There’s an obvious goal to create a more engaging viewer experience for lovers of the sport while also discovering ways to bring in new fans. With this in mind, the NHL is partnering with several tech companies, including AWS, SMT, Beyond Sports, Hawk-Eye Innovations, MLSE Digital Labs, Imagen and plenty of others.
The partnership between the NHL and AWS appears to be the backbone of how the league intends to power its fan experiences. This was demonstrated on-site during the NHL Tech Showcase. For instance, AWS showed a live demo of its end-to-end cloud production. This program was piloted in full for the first time on location during the game. The NHL was able to produce a well-rounded cloud-based broadcast of the Kraken’s match against the Ducks. This broadcast effectively highlighted the technology’s low latency capabilities while incorporating the various camera angles, feeds and other features you’d expect from a traditional NHL broadcast.
“I think one of the things that makes this unique is that it’s live. What we’re showing is happening in real-time, with the technology you see in front of you,” Dave Lehanski, NHL executive vice president of business development and innovation, told MobileSyrup during a recent interview.
What was astounding was the promise of low latency being fulfilled without any discernible compromises. A live broadcast of the game was placed on screens surrounding the Tech Showcase. Comparing what viewers at home saw to the AWS cloud broadcast, there was perhaps one second of latency, if that.
This technology could be effectively used to create a much more efficient and sustainable way to broadcast live games. Julie Souza, head of sports at AWS, painted a picture of how these broadcasts can be operated without production trucks and leverage remote workers.
“Our technical director for that game was actually based in Madison, Wisconsin,” Souza says. “We had graphics editors and folks in Toronto and Vancouver. Then we had yet another person working in, in Madison, Wisconsin. So, people who were making all the magic happen, were not necessarily in the room.”
Additionally, AWS can pull in feeds, camera angles, graphics, and highlights from concurrent games running within the league in real-time.
The other half of AWS’ activation was focused on building accurate stats and delivering them in a way that’s digestible to the viewer. For instance, AWS showcased what it calls “opportunity analysis.” AWS is utilizing NHL Edge IQ to read and analyze data taken from the players in real-time. Data relayed via 5G can then be used to show stats such as shift time, possession time, top speeds, and overall game distance on the ice. While these stats will likely speak to hardcore fans, they can also provide tangible statistics for new fans to build their knowledge of a team and its players. “It lets us tell more interesting stories. This is why this is so significant. This is where this stacks up in the pantheon of hockey history, right? So, it gives you context.”
AWS is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to NHL and its relationships with partners. The league aims to broaden the consumption of its content through creative and engaging means. For instance, Beyond Sports attended the Tech Showcase to show off its AI-based platform. The company utilizes the data from a game and re-creates the actions of players on the ice, animating it in the process. This all came to life during the NHL Big City Greens Classic, which aired on the Disney Channel.
In collaboration with NHL, ESPN, and Disney Channel, viewers were able to see a fully animated version of the game. Targeting a younger audience, Beyond Sports sees a future in which hockey can be accessible to kids across various platforms. Sander Schouten, the co-founder of Beyond Sports, tells us, “We do linear videos. Though, we can also go directly into Roblox and Fortnite as well.”
In 2022, Sony acquired Beyond Sports and combined it with Hawk-Eye Innovations. In an on-site demo, 3D recreations of the game were created using Hawk-Eye’s tech. The company is able to collect enough data to articulate 29 points on the player as well as five points from the hockey stick. This leads to a more accurate and malleable skeleton to use in recreations. Theoretically, digital recreations can be created, better mirroring the real-world game. This could lead to more immersive avatars or metaverse integrations down the road.
Toronto-based MLSE Digital Labs brought in its physical tabletop experience. Developed for in-suite use, this device capitalizes on NHL Edge for puck and player tracking. Essentially, the device is a touchscreen built into a coffee table. Those in a suite can look at player positions, face-off probability, top speeds, and an up-to-the-moment heat map. MLSE Digital Labs sees the future of this technology as accessible on the phones and tablets of fans in and out of the arena.
5G technology is still very much in its infancy, and because of this, everything shown during the NHL Tech Showcase is also in the early stages.
“Connectivity is the backbone of all of this,” Souza says. “Whether it’s 5G, private 5G, AWS Wavelength or other technology solutions, the connectivity has to be strong for this to happen.” As 5G and cloud-based innovations continue to be explored, it will be interesting to see how the NHL will adopt new innovations.
As it stands, the NHL is ready to revamp the hockey experience from a fan’s perspective. The core audience may not be ready to adopt second-screen experiences and smartphone app technology just yet. However, the NHL Tech Showcase raises a compelling argument of why fans and newcomers should keep close attention to emerging technology.