For NHL Teams, A Chip Is Now More Valuable Than the Puck

*This story was originally published in January, 2019

Hockey is one of the fastest sports to play and watch. Unlike a football being thrown in the air or a neon yellow soccer ball on a green field, a hockey puck can be nearly impossible for the casual fan to see, making it very difficult to keep track of what is going on during a game.

At the beginning of this month, the National Hockey League (NHL) decided to test the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology in a competitive game for the first time. This move is an effort not only to gain valuable insight about the game, but will be a key catalyst in making the finer points of the game more digestible to new fans.

On Jan. 11, the second round of monitoring of the Vegas Golden Knights during a live game was done by a much-anticipated system of embedding player’s shoulder pads and custom-made pucks with RFID microchips. Since the original mixture to make the puck prevented the RFID chip from working properly, Martin Bachmayer, CEO and Founder of Jogmo World Corp., the company responsible for the creating the new RFID puck had to get create to overcome the challenge.

“Overall, hockey’s the most challenging sport that you can think of because the highest mechanics, the highest speed, the highest impact,” he said. “We had to change the puck recipe, the puck mixture to make that work. That was super difficult.”

The new formula created results in real-time delivery of telemetry which can be used for an innovative aspect of broadcasts and player analysis. Comparative performance of individual players can now be tracked by the second, creating a better understanding of what is going on on the ice and why.

“We’re going to go from tracking or capturing maybe about 350 events per game now — shot, pass, hit, save — to 10,000. That alone at the end of the day, you’re going to have a massive amount of new data that no one has ever seen before,” said senior vice president of business development for the NHL Dave Lehanski told the Associated Press.

The National Football League (NFL) uses RFID chips provided by Zebra Technologies which are being placed in the shoulder pads of players and in the footballs (Produced by Wilson Sporting Goods) to track the players and gather data on the game.

Every NFL stadium has 20 receivers placed around the field for picking up the data coming off the RFID tags. The chips then send out a wireless signal 25 times per second to these receivers.

RFID technology is not a new concept, but it is a rapidly growing one, both in advancement and popularity. RFID use is common among retailers, because it can be thrown in the wash and is impact resistant, all while being small and flexible.

“The opportunity is unlimited in an era where technology is developing at a record pace,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said to the Associated Press.

RFID is being used to store and deliver various kinds of information. As it becomes smaller and more flexible, the list of applications continues to expand.

Coaches and general managers stand to learn much more about their players, but this insight will also provide a way for fans to learn and interact with live games. This includes sports wagering, which has become legal and regulated by several states in the last year.

Chris Dougan, Chief Communications Officer for Genius Sports, one of the tech companies invited by the NHL to demo what the data received from the RFID chip means for the in-game experience, mentioned the benefit this new data could create for sports wagering as well.

“Rather than just offering over-and-under, we’re putting data in a graphic that most people can easily understand. It’s much easier for the novice sports bettor to access.”

Data has become a major part of the way sports are consumed and played, and hockey now seems to be at the forefront of this new age of information.

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