NHL scouts to face off online

Hockey fans often use the Internet to set up pools, pick players and speculate on trades, but soon the real deals may be organized online as well.

Through a agreement reached Wednesday with Sun Microsystems Inc., much of the communication

between the NHL and its 30 member teams will be conducted over the Internet.

“”In terms of our ability to exchange data more freely — for things like central scouting, for draft day, for (trading) — it will absolutely make it easier,”” said Keith Ritter, president of NHL Interactive CyberEnterprises (NHL ICE), the company responsible for the production of NHL.com.

Other information transmitted online could include scheduling, statistics and scouting reports. A lot of NHL business is conducted overseas (30 per cent of NHL players come from outside North America), so the Internet is useful tool to help speed up the flow of information, added Ritter.

“”Some guy who’s in the Czech Republic or Russia can just hook into his Web provider and file a lot of his reports just by firing up a browser,”” he explained. “”In some period of time, he’ll be able to do that and access a central database.””

Financial details of the Sun/NHL deal were not disclosed, but Sun will provide the league with Sun and iPlanet hardware and receive marketing rights for events like all-star games and the entry draft.

Fans will also see some improvements made to the NHL.com site as a result of the Sun deal, officials said. The site will be adding features like real-time game statistics downloadable to a PDA or cell phone, video highlights, and even player versus player predictions. Sun servers whirring away behind the site will attempt to predict the outcome of particular plays based on existing statistical information.

“”(Hockey fans) crave content like the fans in any other sport, and they do it to the nth degree in that regard,”” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during a conference call. “”They want more and more and more. That is in large measure a function of the fact that our exposure and our growth has been a function of what we were able to accomplish through traditional media outlets.””

The Internet is an ideal medium for fans who crave sports minutiae, said Mark Quigley, analyst for Ottawa-based Yankee Group in Canada. “”They’re interested in as much information as they can possibly get. These would be the same kind of folks that would be buying the Hockey News Yearbook and pouring over stats and playing in hockey pools where having access to that kind of information does become important,”” he said.

Hockey fans may have to wait a few months before they see all real changes, though. Right now, the only thing different is a Sun logo that has been added to NHL.com’s front page. The NHL doesn’t want to implement any major alterations to its site in the middle of the season, said Ritter, but some things will be ready for the 2002-2003 season.

NHL ICE began making its own improvements to the site last year “”to rework some of the navigation,”” said Ritter. NHL.com also signed a deal with Microsoft’s MSN network last October to broadcast audio coverage of every regular season game using the Windows Media Player.

Sun is no newcomer to sports affiliations either. The company provided servers for the 1994 World Cup and signed a hardware arrangement with Major League Baseball’s site MLB.com last July.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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