By Barry Janoff
October 14, 2015: In February, SAP became the official cloud software partner for the NHL via a multi-year alliance intended to "enhance and improve the way the league operates" by implementing SAP technology and revitalizing the league's statistics and numerical analysis online site, NHL.com/Stats.
The initial output of the NHL-SAP hookup was a Phase One redesign of NHL.com/Stats, including enhanced numbers, videos and more than 30 extended stats, such as first- and second-assists, goals by time and average shot length.
Phase Two came just prior to 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, anchored by more drill-down stats and analysis for every post-season game and series.
Today, the NHL and SAP unveiled Phase Three, driven by some 15 intensified stats that were identified as "critical metrics that will help to identify new and interesting trends throughout the season."
Through the first eight months, the NHL is seeing a positive net result from its SAP activation.
Since the relaunch of NHL.com/Stats, the league has experience "up to 40% increase usage," in particular during the Stanley Cup playoffs and Finals, and a 25% increase in new visitors overall, according to Chris Foster, director of digital business development for the NHL.
"The biggest increasing factor we have seen is time-on-site," said Foster. "Once people are on, they stay on. And that was the metric for us that was a top priority."
Among the new Phase Three enhancements are face-off statistics by zone and game situation, shooting and scoring stats by shot type, new player biography attributes, goalie statistics by days rest, a Team Power Index and advanced filters to help visitors quickly and more efficiently navigate the site.
The plethora of numbers and on-going site enhancements target not only core and casual fans but are being driven by the what the league considers to be its very tech-savvy and stat-driven fan base.
"From my perspective, NHL fans are definitely interested in what's next, what's new," said Eric Blabac, an SAP data scientist who has been working with the NHL from the start of the alliance. "They have great opinions and great ideas."
"The fans have played a very valuable role in the development of the NHL Stats site and content," said Foster. "Feedback has been great, and very positive."
The SAP deal and NHL.com/Stats upgrade is part of the NHL's strategy to enhance the user experience for fans across all platforms.
In August, the NHL signed a a six-year digital media rights partnership with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the technical arm of MLB, that is expected to improve the quality of fan interaction at such destinations as GameCenter Live, NHL Center Ice, NHL Network and NHL.com.
"Most of what we are doing (with SAP) is pretty specific to the NHL," said Foster. "We have been using fan feedback as a way to aggregate a priority list of what may need fixes or corrections but, more importantly, what new features do we want to roll out."
Of particular interest on the growing NHL stat landscape, especially for those fans who seek every advantage as to why their team is better than the rest, is the Team Power Index. According to SAP, its data scientists "developed a statistical model that takes into account individual team winning percentage and strength of schedule to objectively rank all 30 teams throughout the season on a weekly basis."
In 2016, to coincide with its centennial celebration, as well as the World Cup of Hockey scheduled for next October, the NHL and SAP will launch Phase Four of the NHL.com/Stats redesign.
That rollout will feature the entire official statistical history of the NHL, including every box score dating back to the NHL's inaugural 1917-18 season.
SAP is already running a similar program with the NBA, offering people real-time access to the league's entire history of stats dating back to 1946.
Among others, SAP also works with the NFL and Under Armour, has naming rights to SAP Center, home arena for the NHL's San Jose Sharks and is a partner with Levi's Stadium, home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
According to the league, once the complete archives of the NHL's statistics are fully integrated, new tools and functionality of NHL.com/Stats, including advanced filtering and visualizations, will be applied to the entire history of the League.
"For the first time ever, fans will be able to compare players and teams spanning all generations," said Foster.
According to John Collins, COO for the NHL, "Hockey is extremely fast-paced with very little stoppage in play, which results in many aspects of the game failing to show up in the box score. In partnering with SAP and using its best-in-class SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud service, we are now able to capture data points like never before and present existing and new statistics in a visually appealing way.
"The new NHL stats platform goes beyond data to offer insights that will help avid fans go deeper and help casual fans understand the game better.," said Collins. There are also unlimited storytelling opportunities as we provide our fans with a personalized and interactive experience."
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