- NHL Blast is available immediately on Roblox
- Beyond Sports tech visualises puck and player tracking data
- NHL also looking at skeletal tracking technology
The National Hockey League (NHL) has become the latest major sports property to launch a virtual experience on the Roblox platform.
‘NHL Blast’ is available immediately, and allows fans to participate in five-on-five hockey games and socialise with other players using digital avatars.
The experience will eventually offer animated recreations of key moments from real life NHL matches using data captured by the league’s puck and player tracking (PPT) systems and visualised by Sony Sports’ immersive content specialist Beyond Sports.
Both technologies were recently used during the live ‘Big City Greens’ animated simulcast of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers last month.
Dave Lehanski, executive vice president for business development and innovation at the NHL, told SportsPro that both initiatives were evidence of how the league is looking to use PPT for fan engagement initiatives.
“We’ve been talking about Roblox, with consultants, developers, and Roblox itself, for a long period of time just to try and learn as much as we can,” Lehanski said. “About a year and a half ago, we really started working on how we could use this technology to validate the data were getting [from the PPT system]. It became [quickly apparent] that there was significant potential for visual experiences.”
Roblox is an increasingly attractive digital channel for sports rights holders given its youthful audience and highly engaged user base, with Fifa, Wimbledon and the National Football League (NFL) also offering interactive experiences. While the initial focus is on younger fans, the NHL also hopes to attract other non-traditional hockey audiences that might not tune into a conventional broadcast.
“We’re certainly going in thinking we can reach kids and young teens, but we [also] want people who haven’t really experienced the NHL to experience it in a completely different way and become comfortable and familiar with elements of our game,” he said. “Let’s see where it goes.”
The NHL is also working to augment the PPT data with skeletal tracking technology. While the main focus is on performance and player welfare, the data collected can also be harnessed by Beyond Sports to ensure visualisations accurately reflect the behaviour and movement of real life players.
While the launch of NHL Blast has been deliberately timed to coincide with the NHL play-offs, Lehanski says the league and its technology partners will work with teams and players throughout the off-season to identifgy ways Roblox can be used for activities such as jersey reveals, player announcements, and e-commerce. The latter will be of particular interest as the NHL gears up for the first year of its new jersey deal with Fanatics.
Roblox hopes the partnership will attract more users into its ecosystem.
“The NHL has been a fantastic partner to work with,” said Tian Pei, head of sports partnerships at Roblox. “They’ve been so innovative, right off the bat, and they are already aligned with our own objectives. This is only the beginning and we’re going to continue to iterate and build a long-term strategy to reach digitally-native users.”