TORONTO -- The future of hockey made a visit to the present on Thursday at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey Innovation Summit presented by SAP.
Executives in the fields of technology and broadcasting participated in separate panel discussions at Daniels Spectrum, just east of downtown Toronto, and the event concluded with a fireside chat between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Summit host Eddie Olczyk, the lead NBC Sports hockey analyst.
The Summit began with the topic of "Player Tracking and the Connected Athlete" and a panel, moderated by NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, featuring Sportvision CEO Hank Adams, MLBAM Vice President, Multimedia Technology Development Dirk Van Dall and SAP GM and Global Head of Database & Data Management Irfan Khan.
The topic was player and puck tracking that's being used in this World Cup, giving fans and teams data and insight into what is happening during games.
In the preliminary-round finale for Team Canada and Team Europe, the tracking revealed that though the teams were at even strength, the puck was in Team Canada's offensive zone 47 percent of the time and in Team Europe's offensive zone 35 per cent of the time.
The afternoon panel included Rogers President of Sportsnet and NHL Properties Scott Moore, President of MLB and NHL Networks Rob McGlarry and ESPN Senior Vice President Programming and X Games Scott Guglielmino. Moderated by NHL Network's E.J. Hradek, the panel discussed the "Business of Sport: The Evolving Broadcast Experience."
That conversation revolved around broadcast products available to sports fans today, trends and the expanding digital methods the executives see for delivery of sports content in the future.
The NHL is focused on being the meeting place of innovation and tradition, Commissioner Bettman said at the Summit's conclusion.
"They're compatible because in fact all the data we have and that we can go back and retrieve actually brings history forward and makes it more relevant to today's game," Commissioner Bettman said. "We have and will continue to have and develop better tools to take player records and data that we have from years back to compare it to today's game. It gives you the ability to, in effect, take the history and use it to connect to the game.
"If you're looking at box scores from 70 and 80 years ago, they're just there. If you have a database in (SAP's) HANA, you can squish it and smoosh it and look at everything you want to see as a fan and say, 'How will this goaltender's record hold up against that one?' It makes the possibilities unlimited and it actually becomes more important when you have the database going back 100 years."
HANA is the in-memory computing platform that enables you to accelerate business processes, deliver more intelligence, and simplify your IT environment.
Commissioner Bettman said that the blizzard of technology that is being introduced and experimented with will only enhance the fan experience.
"Ultimately it's going to be what you choose to use," the Commissioner said. "The broadcasters aren't using player and puck tracking on every play. They're going to use it to give insights to people who are watching the game. If you're a new fan, or a sports fan who hasn't been a hockey fan, or even if you're an avid fan, to know that an assist most frequently happens when the players are eight meters apart, or that they're skating at 32 miles per hour on a breakaway or that the puck actually traveled 80 miles in a game, it gives you a greater appreciation."
Choice is ultimately what the League wants to provide its fans.
"We're going to have the opportunity with digital platforms that if you want it non-stop, you can look at one screen," Commissioner Bettman said. "If you don't want it at all, you look at another screen. If you want to want to go back and see it on replay, you look at another screen. It enables you to customize your experience."
All of this change is being embraced, even fostered, by the League.
"When you have something like our game, where our product is living, breathing, organic, you've got to anticipate change and sometimes pro-act," the Commissioner said. "Change is something you have to embrace, and sometimes initiate.
"We have player and puck tracking that we're using in the World Cup. When you have a partner like SAP and they have HANA and all the resources and a great organization, it enables us to not only embrace change, but to cause it and understand it."
Make no mistake: The inclusion of data in hockey's future is coming, Adams said.
"We're just starting to scratch the surface," he said.
And sports fans have an increasing appetite for it.
"It's early yet," Adams said. "I haven't been looking at the feedback on Twitter and other stuff. It's conjecture … but I like to think it's valuable.
"We just have to make sure we're doing good storytelling. If at the end of the day we're telling good and interesting stories about the things that are impacting the outcome of the game, I have enough experience to know that will matter."