Saturday, 25 January 2020

Less Is More

This image, from last year's NHL All-Star Game, shows the player tracking that the NHL was working on then. Move forward one year, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated to the world that player tracking will be used during the NHL playoffs this season with the hopes of improving the technology to the point where it could be used during reviews on plays and determining whether pucks crossed the goal line.

With regards to the title of this article, I appreciate the efforts the NHL is making to improve its statistical information, but there needs to be some separation of the technologies from the TV broadcasts and the online broadcasts. I get that the NHL is trying to make the game better for all, but let's let the TV broadcasts look like they always do without the player pointers and little stats bubbles that appear above players' heads while allowing those who are seeking a deeper statistical analysis to go online and wade through that flood of stats that are being generated.

Yes, it's cool to have the stats bubbles pop up and deliver all sorts of information relevant to the player, but it's also slightly distracting as it forced the viewer's eye away from the puck and player. Like VH1's Pop-Up Video, you spend less time watching the game and more time reading the pop-ups. If the action on the ice is the most important part of the viewing experience, why is the NHL taking eyes off that? Shouldn't the game, not the pop-ups, be the most important part in watching the game?

Do I think the technology is cool and could provide all sorts of great stats and overlays for broadcasters between plays when discussing the action on the ice? Absolutely. The options for broadcasters to use all sorts of the info becomes nearly infinite as stats and information are blended with creativity and analysis, and there is already seamless integration where computer screens for NHL Advanced Stats can be displayed on television broadcasts. Beyond that, as stated above, the networks can then start using the stats found on the NHL Advanced Stats site for their own overlays and screens, and that opens up all sorts of options.

As it stands, I liked the presentation of the stats this weekend in the trial run the NHL did with the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, but I also just want to watch the game. Let me go back and find the stats I want or need during or after the game without taking anything away from the actual competition on the ice with pop-up bubbles and player pointers.

I might be in the minority here, but less is more when watching hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 24 January 2020

Frustration From The Booth

I have to admit that I really enjoy calling women's hockey games at the U SPORTS/Canada West level. Often, Kyleigh, my esteemed play-by-play colleague, and I are wowed by the athleticism of the players at this level, and we hope there will one day be a place they can further showcase their talents. But that's not what I'm angry about today. Instead, I want to take aim directly at the authoritative body who hands down the rules and requirements for our broadcasts in the Canada West Conference.

I am fully aware that one shouldn't bite the hand that feeds one's self, but it seems that the rules and requirements we were handed at the start of the season have either been ignored or have been interpreted differently. If you catch the Canada West broadcasts on Canada West TV, you know that there's a sponsor this season - Co-Op - who requires a specific number of mentions per broadcast. That part seems to have been received and understood by the eight schools who play Canada West women's hockey, but it seems the other asks of the schools by Canada West aren't even being touched.

Well, all schools except Manitoba as Kyleigh and I do our best to fulfill those asks. It's one specific ask, though, that really has me bent out of shape as we sit with just five games left in the season.

One of the asks that Canada West made to the schools at their annual summer meeting was to start promoting the other schools in the conference in order to show impartiality. Basically, the conference was looking for schools to less "homer-ism" in the broadcasts by having the broadcasters speak about the opposition on each broadcast. It makes sense from an integrity point-of-view when considering the broadcasts, and it should, in theory and in my view, make the broadcasts better by having those calling games do a little research on the opposition.

Being that this ask was made, I went one step further by not only learning about the opposition - something I do anyway - but by featuring the other schools and players by showcasing some of the amazing things the schools and athletes are doing or have done during the pregame show and the intermissions.

We've learned so much about some of the incredible things the other schools are doing or have done such as sexual violence advocacy at the University of Calgary, mental health initiatives at UBC, and the addition of the new high-definition broadcast facility at the University of Regina. We've talked to and about athletes such as Lethbridge's Alicia Anderson, the first Canada West recruits for the Trinity West Spartans in Jade Ridgewell and Desiree Wiens, and the efforts of the Saskatchewan Huskies' Canadian Cancer Society fundraiser. We've run features about Canada West's role in the first-ever World Junior Championship gold medal won by Canada in 1982, all of the Canada West women graduates who are playing pro hockey in Sweden, and Jon Rempel's amazing pro hockey career that he never seems to mention and always downplays.

In short, we're doing as many stories about other schools as we can because Canada West asked us to be more impartial and promote the other schools in the conference. Honestly, it's not hard to do, and I feel we're doing a better broadcast for our fans who are tuning into watch.

If you think I'm going to eviscerate the other schools for not following Manitoba's lead, I'm not going to do that. Each school has their own set of rules of how they broadcast their women's hockey broadcasts, and the differences between how the schools do that varies greatly. While the effort to produce these segments that we're running on the Manitoba broadcasts is sometimes significant, I respect that not every school in the conference has the time nor the resources to do what we're doing at the level at which we produce these features.

Instead, my ire is directed at the very people who made the ask of us to promote the other schools in Canada West. I would have assumed they would be watching to ensure this ask of impartiality while promoting the schools across the conference, but it seems that has yet to happen based upon the lack of cross-promotion happening at the other schools on the Canada West TV broadcasts. I would have assumed, based on past actions, they would have fined schools who weren't following the asks made by Canada West, but that assumption is tied to the assumption that Canada West is watching the broadcasts with their logo on them. I would have assumed Canada West gave a damn, but, clearly, I was mistaken.

Look, I get that Canada West doesn't have an unlimited bank account with which they can pay staff to watch games in an effort to review what is presented on the broadcasts. They are working hard to oversee the athletic competitions for a vast number of sports in their portfolio, and women's hockey is just one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to Canada West's online broadcast options. Between men's and women's competitions over the winter, there's basketball, volleyball, hockey, curling, and swimming to go along with out-of-season competitions for sports like rugby, wrestling, and track-and-field. Again, the schedule is busy, and I realize that one school's broadcast for one sport is a drop in the ocean for an organization like Canada West.

However, we're not just talking about one school here. At this point, we're talking about seven schools for one sport's entire schedule where not one of those seven schools has ventured outside the four corners of one's own campus to talk about the others. One school has, and it seems to have gone unnoticed despite it being something that Canada West desired to see this season.

I'm not asking for Manitoba to be put on a pedestal for what we're doing. We believe that our broadcasts, for a handful of people who have zero total professional broadcasting experience combined, are among the best in the nation based on our hard work off the ice to be informed and up-to-date about news and events happening across western Canada campuses. We feel these features containing information about other schools - information that was asked for by Canada West, I stress again - are interesting, compelling, and entertaining for those who watch the Manitoba Bisons women's hockey broadcasts.

Of course, maybe I'm completely wrong, and Canada West just rolls its eyes when we hit the intermissions, knowing there's another one of those "ridiculous" intermission features coming up. The only thing I want to point out, though, is that we're doing exactly what Canada West asked its schools to do on the Canada West TV broadcasts, and it seems no one else is.

I've never been one to seek recognition for what we do because, in my view, we do this for the student-athletes on the ice. The ladies who play Canada West women's hockey are some of the greatest minds and athletes this country has to offer, and we're happy to be able to talk about their academic and athletic achievements and the efforts being made by their schools to help their students and student-athletes become the best people they can be. Like the features on Hockey Night in Canada, it's about bringing awareness and recognition to those people and places we cover in our features.

Like any teacher who assigns homework, the ask made by Canada West to promote other schools and those schools' athletes on the Canada West TV sports broadcasts should have been done each and every week. Maybe our doing this work this season where others didn't will be the example Canada West can use going forward if they want to pursue this idea of cross-promotion among the schools for impartiality reasons. Maybe they won't and, looking back, this will all be for naught in the big picture. Whatever the case may be, I've taken pride in the effort we - Kyleigh, Bryan, Neil, John, and myself - put forth as a team this season when it comes to producing these features, and I hope the University of Manitoba and Bisons Sports is proud of the work we're doing.

I don't ask for much and I certainly never ask for credit when it comes to the work I do. However, to go unnoticed, unwatched, and unappreciated all season long after the efforts we made to not only fulfill the ask made by Canada West, but to go above and beyond in that fulfillment, leaves me disappointed in watching the broadcasts from the other schools after knowing what was asked of them this past summer. Again, I'm not here to throw them under the bus because it's up to those schools to mandate their broadcast teams to follow through on Canada West's requests.

I'm just frustrated that we put so much effort into our features about the other schools in the conference, and the governing body who made the request hasn't even taken a few minutes of their time to review our work. I'm hopeful the viewers watching our broadcasts appreciate the features we've done. It would just be nice to know the people who demanded that work be done appreciated it as well.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Hockey Show - Episode 383

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back in the studio tonight and on the normal channels you receive us to discuss some hockey-related news and stories. In other words, it's Thursday! There are a number of news-worthy pieces and interesting tidbits of stories we'll work through tonight on The Hockey Show as we throw our opinions out for debate on the topics discussed. It's a busy show tonight, so settle in at 5:30pm CT and get ready for some hockey chatter!

Tonight, I am joined by Jason Pchajek, editor of the sports section at The Manitoban, as we have a frank discussion about the Winnipeg Jets falling off the map in all advanced statistical analyses and in the standings. We'll also tear into Bakersfield's Brandon Manning and his poor choice of words towards an opponent, the five-game suspension he received for using a racial slur towards an opponent, and why his conduct likely warrants more than just five games of sitting at home. We'll chat about the Bisons hockey teams as the women are still mathematically alive despite Jason's advanced metrics on the team while the men may have missed a glorious opportunity against UBC last weekend. And we'll wrap things up in the second-half of the show with a discussion about one of the biggest tournaments in Canada for 16-18 year-old women as the 2020 Female World Sport School Challenge goes down next week at BellMTS IcePlex. All of this and perhaps more will be featured on the show tonight, so make sure you tune in on 101.5 FM or UMFM.com at 5:30pm CT!

Where's the best place can you hear us if you're outside Winnipeg or not near a radio, you ask? The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome if you want to listen online. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, but we highly recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or perhaps another browser. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Jason discuss terrible hockey, terrible things to say, a terrible February with no playoffs at the University of Manitoba, one of the best tournaments held annually in our rather amazing city, and much more exclusively on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: January 23, 2020: Episode 383
RESOURCES: Female World Sport School Challenge

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Digitally Enhanced Dasherboards

I don't normally write about advertising in rinks on the boards unless there's something crazy happening with them, but I was reading Elliotte Friedman's 31 Thoughts on Sportsnet.ca today, and Thought #23 caught my attention as Elliotte wrote about "Digitally Enhanced Dasherboards". I recall these from the World Cup of Hockey and didn't really give it much thought back in 2016 mainly because the World Cup of Hockey didn't really register on my radar, but the use of these digital ads on the boards at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend had me wanting more information about them.

According to the digging I did, this technology was created by a London, England-based company called Supponor. Supponor has used their augmented reality technology with a vast number of businesses all over the world with the NHL being a major client in North America. Seeing it live at the World Cup of Hockey was a different experience as the normal board ads would suddenly change from static ads for many companies to one ad that was digitally-superimposed over the static ads.

Here's a quick promotional video from Supponor explaining the technology of their digital advertising.
Kinda cool, right? It seems they already have the soccer world locked down with their technology - they are an English company, after all - and it looks like the NHL could be the next major professional league who brings this technology into their rinks and on to our TVs at home.

Supponor and the NHL went through a two-year process to get the technology in place and ready for prime time action in hockey rinks in 2016 at the World Cup of Hockey, but there were still complaints from fans as some complained they looked "glitchy". As with any new technology, there are likely to be some hiccups. It seems that the NHL and Supponor are ready to roll out a new, upgraded version of the technology in St. Louis this weekend.

You might be asking how this technology works. According to this article from The Globe and Mail, there is an infrared film that is installed over the boards and the static ads currently in place, and there is a sensor that is attached to television cameras around the rink that pick up the infrared film that is invisible to the naked eye. With the device on the camera and the film on the boards, a team behind the scenes can roll out all sorts of specific advertising based on location, time, and other potential demographics using this infrared technology.

Why did it take two years to put together something that seems to work so well in soccer stadiums across the globe? The film being used by the NHL had to be tested to ensure it could withstand the rigors of the game in terms of play along the boards along with ensuring that the ad images remained clean and sharp and didn't blend with the image of the game play. As we know, NHL players generally have solid scrums when they're along the boards, so making this film strong enough to withstand the abuse it may take had to be a priority.

The end result was that the NHL wasn't sold on the idea of the infrared film from a cost standpoint, but was willing to keep Supponor in the loop if a better solution could be found. This weekend, we'll see that new technology as Supponor will use infrared strips in the dasherboards that work with the same camera technology that will allow the digital advertising to be injected into the game. The changes have also seen the costs reduced for the technology as, according to Keith Wachtel, chief business officer of the NHL, "costs have been cut by 30% since the league first tested the technology at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Canada".

"It works flawlessly," Wachtel added in his discussion with SportsVideo.org, "but there are still some technological things we need to work through and perfect. Because our boards are rounded and also the camera is shooting through glass, we have challenges the other sports don't have. But we are confident that isn't going to be an issue or a problem. It's really more about showcasing, evaluating, and refining."

It seems the NHL and Supponor are going to be business partners for the foreseeable future if the technology and its far-reaching capabilities work as intended. Supponor has the ability to broadcast different ads to different audiences using the same video feed off the cameras, making this venture highly-customizable for advertisers who want to use different branding in different markets.

"We can't monetize anything of significance with our partners in other markets when we have an event in one market," Wachtel explained. "This game is a good example. Our US partners will be able to take advantage of very valuable camera-visible signage with our dasherboards. But, across Canada this weekend, we will have 4 million viewers, which is significant, and yet the likes of Scotiabank or Tim Hortons coffee and our Canadian-only partners are not able to take advantage of it. More important, we can't monetize it. One of the original thoughts is, wouldn't it be great if there was technology that could allow us to do that?"

By continuing to offer the static board ads inside the rink, the revenue generated by those ad sales would still benefit the team while the NHL would use its national broadcasts to sell the "Digitally Enhanced Dasherboards" to a number of national and international sponsors who want the isolation of having their logo and message as the only branding television viewers would see. There would be an increased cost for this, of course, but this opens up yet another avenue of revenue for the NHL that never existed before. Virtual static ads could still be used on the glass behind each net if the NHL chooses, but the "Digitally Enhanced Dasherboards" offer up a whole new opportunity for virtual advertising.

"The most interesting thing from a sponsor standpoint, and something that is immediately very popular, is the visually enhanced action boards — what we euphemistically call 'erase and replace' technology — which we haven't used in our game before," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told MarketingMag.ca. "We have virtual ads that we've used on the boards before, but we've never replaced dasher boards, and we found that by creating the digital dasher boards you can actually create a cleaner look, a more distinct and unique look for a single advertiser, which has been very attractive to our corporate sponsors."

As a bit of a traditionalist about hockey, I feel that throwing virtual ads over static ads really doesn't take anything away from the integrity of the game, and the fact that we're seeing this technology become cheaper and more prevalent in other sports only means that we're not far from seeing it full-time in the NHL. And according to Watchel, if the NHL "can figure out the right business model, it could be deployed in the '21-22 or '22-23 season".

new technology is always fun to see, and I'm interested in seeing how far the NHL is willing to go with their technological advances when it comes to driving revenue. We already know they make a ton of money, but maybe they can shave off a portion of this new revenue source to possibly start a women's professional league? They would surely use the same technology there, so this revenue stream as the seed money for an investment where they can generate more revenue through advertising is the old "gotta spend money to make money" adage.

This is precisely what I believe technology should be used for: making the world better. Some will argue that it only makes the hockey world - specifically, the NHL's world - better, but if the end result is increased revenue leading to a professional women's league that pays livable wages while taking nothing away from what the NHL currently does? I'd say we're all a little better off because of it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Outstanding Evening

Take a look at that gang to the left. That's not a group I'd mess with if I were out on the ice. You're likely to end up with broken ankles with all the dekes, jukes, and dangles that would hit you. In saying that, however, I was lucky enough to see these amazing women - Rachel Dyck, Alana Serhan, Venla Hovi, Amanda Schubert, and Maggie Litchfield-Medd, from left to right - at the 2020 Bisons Hockey Scholarship Fundraising Reception last night where I emceed the event. Now you might be asking why the hockey programs at the University of Manitoba need a fundraiser for scholarship monies, and it's because the men and women from the UofM do some amazing work in the classroom and community and should be rewarded for that work.

We have to remember that these athletes are student-athletes with the most important word coming first in that phrase: student-athlete. Watching these great players do their thing on the ice, we may forget the fact that these athletes are, indeed, students first and athletes second at the University of Manitoba, and this is why the Bisons Hockey Scholarship Fund is so important. Without the education component, the hockey wouldn't be an option at university.

In saying that, I want to point out the amazing work being done by all our athletes, both past and present, while in the classroom. We know what they're doing on the ice as we can check the stats and see the boxscores, but it's in the classroom where I believe that these men and women are truly excelling.

Last year, 129 students were awarded Academic All-Canadian status by U SPORTS for maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average – that's an 80% average to the layperson like me. That represents the most Academic All-Canadians at the University of Manitoba ever in one season of athletic competition. It's also the third-straight year where a new record has been set in terms of the number of Academic All-Canadians at the university, and it's the ninth-straight year of competition where the University of Manitoba has featured 85 or more Academic All-Canadians. Of those 129 athletes who achieved the Academic All-Canadian status, it should also be noted that 62 also had GPAs of 4.0 or higher, and 74 of the 129 Academic All-Canadians were women!

If we break this down a little more granular, 21 hockey players achieved Academic All-Canadian status last year, and three Bisons women's hockey players were recognized as an Academic All-Canadian in all five years of their university careers: Alexandra Anderson, Erin Kucheravy, and Alanna Sharman. That take some serious dedication to the work they're doing in the classroom when you consider that all three played five years of hockey that saw them win a U SPORTS National Championship and attend two separate National Championship tournaments. With all of the travel done in Canada West, a lot of the homework and studying these women did was on the road, and they still maintained a minimum 3.5 GPA for all five years! That is OUTSTANDING!

With the hard work being done in the classroom, on the road, in practice, and in games, the Bisons have little time for anything else, right? Well, that answer is "no" when one considers that they're heavily involved in community initiatives as well. In fact, the Bisons hockey programs requires players to be good leaders in the classroom, on the ice, and in the community! The Bisons are certainly doing some impressive stuff in the community as well, showing excellent leadership both for younger fans and their colleagues at the University of Manitoba. These initiatives include:
  • Bisons Book Buddies where Bisons go out to elementary schools and read with students.
  • Bisons Against Bullying where Bisons conduct anti-bullying workshops for students in Grades 4-6 around the city.
  • Siloam Mission days where Bisons volunteer at Siloam Mission to help the most vulnerable people in our communities.
  • One Minute Movement where the Bisons devote one minute to helping someone else for every hour they spend on themselves – whether it be studying, practicing, or hitting the gym – in order to change at least one life; and,
  • Bell Let's Talk where Bisons show their support for mental health initiatives across Canada while pledging support to specific causes on their own.
Now, you might be wondering how these men and women are able to participate in these amazing initiatives, maintain their GPAs in order to play hockey, and play said hockey while representing the university while trying to earn enough dollars and cents to pay for the ever-increasing costs of tuition. Personally, I know it's not easy for these students with all of these responsibilities placed upon them, and that’s where the Bisons Hockey Scholarship Fund comes in because the Bisons Hockey programs feel that our student-athletes, in showing their commitments to their teams, their academic careers, and their community, should be able to earn a bit of a tuition break after working hard in the classroom, making us proud on the ice, and making a difference in our community.

I can hear some of you saying that it's not your job to help put these kids through school. I get that - university tuition is expensive and we all have bills to pay and expenses to cover. Because the Scholarship Fund is a registered charity, though, you will get a credit for it that you can put towards your tax breaks for this year (or any future year)! Maybe you need a little help avoiding the taxman or want to top up your donation levels to keep CRA from grabbing any of those funds, you can get a tax receipt for your donation to the Bisons Hockey Scholarship Fund!

In the end, your money goes to a great cause if you happen to donate, you get a break on your taxes, and a hockey player at the University of Manitoba can continue to earn great grades, bring home big wins, and continue to make out communities better without having to worry about squeezing a few extra minutes out of a part-time job. If nothing else, just take the selfish reason and help yourself with the tax option alone!

To donate to the Bisons Women's Hockey Scholarship Fund, please click here. To donate to the Bisons Men's Hockey Scholarship Fund, please click here. If you have any questions about the Bisons Hockey Scholarship Fund, please email the University of Manitoba here.

To those who attended the 2020 Bisons Hockey Scholarship Fundraising Reception last night, the Bisons Hockey programs are eternally grateful for your support. To those who have given in the past, I can say, on behalf of Bisons Sports, that your support then and now is also greatly appreciated. And for those looking to give to beat the taxman and/or because of your belief in the Bisons Hockey programs, Bisons Hockey appreciates your generosity and your continued support.

A great night was had by all last night, and here's hoping the Bisons Hockey programs raised a ton of money to help their amazing student-athletes get ahead in the classroom, on the ice, and out in the community!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!