San Jose vs. Vegas is reason enough to be at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night. The two teams have combined to win 11 games in a row, chasing the similarly scorching Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division.
But something else is going on. As the game begins, a few of us are looking at an iPad. On-screen is a prototype created for the NHL by BetGenius, which supplies casinos, sportsbooks, and leagues with live data for gambling purposes.
Just 1:34 in, Sharks goalie Martin Jones kicks a Ryan Reaves shot right to Tomas Nosek. Suddenly, it’s 1-0 Golden Knights and the arena is a madhouse.
The odds on the iPad disappear for a moment. When they return, they have changed to reflect the score. Didn’t like what you saw 94 seconds ago? Check again, because it is a whole new world.
Chris Dougan, Genius Sports’ Group communications director, smiles at my reaction.
“The data is the oil,” he says. “The algorithm is the engine.”
I am Brett Howden.
Wearing a virtual reality headset, I am suddenly in the Ranger forward’s skates for one of his shifts from Tuesday’s loss in Vegas.
“Look down,” says Sander Schouten, chief operating officer & co-founder of a Dutch company called Beyondsports, owner of this equipment. When I do, I “see” the puck at my feet. As play continues, Howden is at the Golden Knights’ blue line with a decision to make. The puck is coming towards him.
Schouten tells me to look around, and suddenly I see everything Howden can see to make his choice. His virtual reality project can be exactly what I experienced, an opportunity for fans to pick a player and see the game through their eyes. (If you prefer, you can watch Lego People instead of “real” people.) It could be used a coaching tool. It could also be used as part of a broadcast.
Schouten’s biggest current client is FOX Sports. He plays a VR highlight from a Premier League game between Chelsea and West Ham. One of the players takes a bad shot, not realizing a teammate was open for a better chance. By changing the angle of the video, analysts can point out how the shooter should have been able to see his teammate.
So, does the NHL’s data have value for you, I ask?
“Absolutely,” Schouten answers…
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