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FoxTrax Puck Tracking Failure

April 24, 2011 1 comment

So far this blog has discussed how ICT related advances have changed the sports industry and have had positive effects. Well not all advancements are successful. Case in point, the FoxTrax puck tracking system (also known as the glow or glowing puck) developed for the NHL. The 1995 NHL season marked the first year Fox Sports began airing NHL games. The NHL at that time, and still to this day, lagged behind the other major American sports when it comes to television contracts and ratings. Hockey games on TV have always had trouble catching on with the casual fans and viewers. The single biggest complaint was that it was difficult to see and follow the puck during the live game action. To devoted hockey fans this complaint was a joke as the puck is black and it is on white ice. Think about it for a second, it does not seem like it should be that difficult to see and follow the puck during a game. However, Fox Sports felt the need to address this common complaint and in an effort to boost television ratings and thus, increase revenues from advertisers, Fox Sports brought about the FoxTrax puck tracking system. This technology made it so that TV viewers would

The red tail seen on a shot

see a blue glow around the puck making it easier for people to see and follow during a game. Moreover, when the puck was shot at a speed of over 70 mph, a red tail would appear showing the puck’s path.

In order to create this technology, a standard hockey puck was cut in half and infrared sensors were placed inside of it (see the end of this post for photos), which then sent signals to sensors placed around the arena. The data would then be transmitted to the FoxTrax truck outside where, using computers, the information was transformed into the blow glow and the red tail. Seeing as this was my feeble attempt at explaining how this works, here is a short video showing how this technology was created.

This technology was first implemented at the 1996 NHL All-Star game and proved to be popular amongst the casual fans, and there was even a slight boost in the TV ratings. However, devoted hockey fans and purists hated the invention. They saw it as making the game comical and thought it looked like a video game. These fans openly expressed their despise for the glowing puck, eventually causing the NHL to abandon the technology after game 1 of the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. (source) Fox Sports spent a tremendous amount of time and money developing this system, yet due to the backlash from hockey’s serious fans, had to abandon this innovation. People take their sports very seriously, and any new creations, adaptations, or changes can be met with great disdain and fail due to the backlash from the die-hard fans. Companies must be careful when developing new technologies that are supposed to improve the game for fans. The FoxTrax puck tracking system is a perfect example of how some ICT innovations, no matter how well-intentioned and thought out, can fail.

As a casual hockey fan whose viewing is predominantly done during the playoffs, I will admit that it can be difficult at times to follow the puck when it is along the boards or moving quickly between a sea of hockey players. Yet I still think that the FoxTrax system was unnecessary. Below are two videos, one showing highlights from a regular hockey game without the FoxTrax system, and one showing highlights with the FoxTrax system in place. I will let you decide how difficult it was to see the puck and if you think implementing the FoxTrax puck tracking system was worth it or not.

Here is the video with no FoxTrax system:

Here is the video showing the highlights from the 1996 NHL All-Star game where you can see the FoxTrax technology at work:

Here are a few photos of what the FoxTrax pucks look like when dissected:

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