Moneyball as a Supervening Necessity for the Adoption of Player Tracking Technology in Professional Hockey

Article excerpt

Abstract

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.

Keywords

hockey

Moneyball

sabermetrics

tracking technology

Executive summary

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. …