Ice hockey

AWS and NHL big data tie-up could change the game

The National Hockey League (NHL) has announced a new partnership with Amazon Web Services, that will see the online behemoth become the official cloud infrastructure provider of the US winter sport’s league in a move that could change how fans engage with the sport.

Sporting leagues are increasingly reliant upon technological infrastructure as fans demand more than just live broadcasts of games, but also video apps, on-demand replays, player stats, and additional deeper insights about each game. And thanks to Amazon’s prowess in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and pure scale, the Jeff Bezos’ cloud provider is often the first port of call for leagues looking to connect with their most passionate fans.

Following the introduction of new technologies like Hawk-Eye for cricket tests and later tennis and football matches since the early 2000s, sports leagues around the world have been in competition to provide fans with the best ball-tracking and player-tracking information. This data brings fans closer to the action and gives fantasy league players deeper insights into each game, which they in turn use to try and win their own titles.

For the NHL, their tracking technology is known as the Puck and Player Tracking (PPT) system, which has been in development since 2013. Rather than tracking a ball using visual camera technology, the NHL’s PPT works by having a number of antennas installed in the roofs of hockey stadiums and tracking sensors attached to every player and built into the puck to monitor speed, distance of skating, and shots by each team. In a previous interview, NHL Senior Vice-president of business development and innovation Dave Lehanski said that once fully operational, the puck sensors can be tracked up to 2,000 times per second to co-ordinates within the rink, with the data then available for analysis.

Describing the purpose of PPT, Lehanski commented: “The system we’re installing is to start to figure out what are we going to do with all this data, how are we going to turn it into meaningful experiences for fans and for everyone in the NHL community.”

Later, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman added: “AWS’s state-of-the-art technology and services will provide us with capabilities to deliver analytics and insights that highlight the speed and skill of our game to drive deeper fan engagement.”

Amazon Web Services is known for its scale and analytical capabilities, but the Seattle-based technology firm also has strong credentials in video services, with Amazon offering its own Prime video streaming platform around the world. The NHL plans to utilise Amazon’s Elemental Media Services platform to aggregate multiple video streams from each game into a single central repository, which will give broadcasters instant access for on-demand replays, as well as enable the league to integrate these videos with analytical data from its PPT technology to facilitate the creation of video highlights packages on a per game, per player, or almost any other basis.

The cloud giant said the combined NHL digital platform will encode, process, store, and transmit game footage from a series of camera angles to provide continuous video feeds that capture plays and events outside the field of view of traditional broadcast cameras and provide a “complete view of the game to NHL officials, coaches, players, and fans”.

The NHL will be introducing its new technological capabilities throughout the next season, with fans soon able to experience and engage with their favourite sport in a whole new way.

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