There we were, sitting down with SPORTLOGiQ CEO Craig Buntin in his Mile-End office. Our eye balls followed a screen showing the players in this year’s Stanley Cup final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks.
Buntin had us focus on a dozen or so of 3,100 distinct events in a hockey game that his computer vision software at SPORTLOGiQ is tracking. Nearly half the teams in the National Hockey League (NHL) are paying customers for the data and the actionable analytics the company provides.
From a face-off loss to a loose puck recovery in the neutral zone, from an outlet pass to a pass reception to a “d-to-d pass,” we followed maybe 30 seconds of an NHL game in this step-by-step manner.
“If you watched hockey in Canada this year, you saw our stuff,” Buntin told MTLinTECH. “Whether it was the on-air talent talking about players, the pre-game show graphics or in-game stats, we were involved with almost every broadcast.”
SPORTLOGiQ’s technology generates advanced hockey analytics using standard, single-camera game footage. The computer vision system uses a combination of player tracking and activity recognition algorithms to flag specific game events such as shots or passes, it timestamps them and records their x-y coordinates on the ice. Once the raw data is collected, machine learning and pattern recognition techniques are utilized to extract meaningful insights, allowing broadcasters, teams, analysts and fans see and understand the game in a way previously not possible.
In other words, the forefront of advanced sports analytics in NHL hockey is (probably) happening right here in the Mile-End. Mark Cuban, the infamous owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has already invested in the startup (which began from a simple cold call made by Buntin one day. Perk up, startup founders).
For those not familiar with the NHL hockey world, front-office execs across the league have slowly warmed up to “advanced analytics” over the past three years. They want to know the statistical tendencies of their own team and opposing teams in order to adjust strategy and make decisions that can have a greater outcome on any given game.
It started as a fad when teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Kyle Dubas as an assistant GM because of his advanced stats knowledge, or when Edmonton hired Tyler Dellow. Then, it seemed, everyone was bringing on an advanced stats nerd.
The thing is, these teams are so hell-bent on winning that they don’t want anyone else knowing what they’re looking at. For a while before the Carolina Hurricanes made it official, SB Nation’s Eric Tulsky was working for a team that wouldn’t let him say who they were (probably the Hurricanes). And so with SPORTLOGiQ, Buntin refused tell us who his clients in the NHL were. Not only that, the majority of the company don’t know which teams are currently clients.
Thus, one can imagine how much money these NHL teams are willing to shell out for the best analytics. Buntin is convinced he’s the guy who is delivering the best product.