Hockey’s ‘digital future’ – the league perspective

An open letter to all administrators of hockey leagues in the UK (whether using FixturesLive or not) (copied to national governing bodies, umpiring associations, Tex Solutions and made available at http://blog.fixtureslive.com) 

Dear League Administrator,

Hockey’s ‘digital future’ – the league perspective

As you are probably aware, the vast majority of hockey leagues in the UK, and all four governing bodies, use FixturesLive. We have achieved this position almost entirely by word of mouth over the last 14 years. We want to let you know of planned developments, and longer-term possibilities, because the ‘digital future’ of our sport is becoming clearer. We want to make sure everyone understands the direction of travel, and we want to invite your comments.

As ever, FixturesLive works in a benign and professional way for the sport, stitching together the complex, overlapping patchwork quilt of data that we all rely on. We are, of course, in close discussion with the national governing bodies, but can’t speak for them.

This letter covers the following topics:

1. Recent upgrade of Competition Admin area
2. Umpire appointments integration
3. Electronic match sheets
4. Player registration
5. Data rights and accuracy
6. Mobile app
7. Web sites
8. League-club communications

1             Recent upgrade of Competition Admin area

We have completely rewritten this area, to make it much easier to use. Feedback so far has been very good. It will remain in ‘beta’ until major leagues have created their 2014/15 competitions. You can see some screen grabs here: http://blog.fixtureslive.com/2014/02/24/weve-upgraded-our-engine-a-bit/

2           Umpire appointments integration

We’re aware that, in some leagues that don’t use FixturesLive, one major issue is the accuracy of fixture dates/times/venues for umpire appointments, and the desire to remain with existing umpire appointments systems, as provided by Tex Solutions.

We met with Tex Solutions last year, and agreed to work together. In fact, the integration problem was solved for England’s national leagues some years ago, with FixturesLive being the ‘master’ for fixture dates/venues/times, and Tex Solutions being the ‘master’ for umpire appointments. What we need to do is to display national league appointments in FixturesLive (we’re working on that), and to provide a way for all other leagues to work in the same way. England’s North region has recently decided to adopt the same solution.

This will take time to implement, as it’s fairly complex, but any league wanting to pursue this integration should contact either Tex Solutions or ourselves.

The main message we want to get across is that the integration of umpire appointment data into leagues, alongside fixtures, is no obstacle for the future.

You can read more about this here: http://blog.fixtureslive.com/2014/02/05/umpire-appointments-and-fixtureslive-integration-is-coming/

3             Electronic match sheets

In ice hockey in England, most matches are scored using an electronic match sheet (EMS) provided by FixturesLive. This system has been used for nearly two seasons, and all involved are very happy with it (more here: http://www.eiha.co.uk). The players are all recorded, the goals of course, as are ice hockey’s various stats, plus the team and match officials – all participants being registered in a single national database, which we also provide for the governing body.

Recording matches in this way provides a wealth of information about what happened and who participated – the penalties issued are used by their disciplinary people, for example. In domestic UK field hockey we only record, digitally, the score and, sometimes, the scorers. Only very occasionally are player appearances, cards and other match data entered into our system. So there is no way of knowing when a player passes a milestone of, say, 100 league appearances. Players with long careers, like Tina Cullen (http://w.fixtureslive.com/player/2782/overview/Tina-Cullen) will have, at best, an incomplete record to look back on when they retire – and Tina’s online record is only seemingly full because she scores a lot of goals.

The Netherlands (I’m referring to field hockey from now on) is rolling out a similar electronic match sheet system for their leagues (which use a central national system called the StandenMotor – more here), France are doing the same, and EHF use an EMS for European tournaments.

Most UK leagues require a paper match sheet to be completed for each match, and this is an administrative burden for all involved – especially the league, who have numerous checks to perform (including issuing related fines and points deductions from time to time, for late submission etc.). Electronic match sheets ensure that data is loaded correctly – only loading eligible players for example. Match data can also be uploaded automatically during a match, should there be someone to do this, and even tweeted automatically. The EMS is clearly the way forward for our sport – the technology has, mostly, already been built.

We expect electronic match sheets to be introduced in the UK within the next year or so, and hopefully made available to all leagues within a season or two. Where adopted it would supersede our existing SMS results system (used by nearly all UK hockey leagues, but which, obviously, only collects scores). There are some questions as to how this might be implemented in the detail, given that leagues collect slightly different data on their forms, but we’re hopeful this can be worked out as we go forward.

In short, we believe that the electronic match sheet is one of the keys to our sport’s digital future, and all leagues should be aware of this. It is a significant opportunity to reduce administration and, at the same time, increase everyone’s engagement.

If you have any questions on this, please contact us.

4            Player registration

Player registration, in the future, will sit hand in hand with the electronic match sheet. FixturesLive currently provides registration systems for the national leagues of England, two regional leagues, and a number of county leagues (as well as other sports including two governing bodies).

At present, each registration ‘regime’ is a ‘data silo’ within our system e.g. a regional league cannot look up to the national league, nor down to a county nor elsewhere. This means that players become duplicated over time, because, obviously, players change teams and clubs. We are currently considering whether we should create a national (or indeed sport-wide) player registration system, to help leagues to see who is registered where. This idea of a ‘player passport’ would assign a single, confirmed identity to a player, and help both leagues and clubs. Clubs currently add players into our system (English clubs store over 80,000 current members within FixturesLive) without knowing whether they are creating duplicates – often they are. We would be able to flag members as a ‘passport holder’, to improve clarity.

Once we have electronic game sheets in use, it will also be possible for leagues to easily see who actually played in a match – not just who is eligible to play.

Privacy is the obvious issue. At present, our system does not allow a league to see the contact details of players (with the exception of England’s national leagues, where players consent), but it can see players’ dates of birth and photos, as these are relevant to eligibility. Whatever we do for the future will, obviously, need to protect personal data. But, for example, if a player is registered to your league, we believe your administrators should be able to see (securely, not publicly) all of that player’s registration status and history, across all leagues.

In the very long term, we can envisage a pre-match ‘check-in’ process whereby players are identified by photo, before a match starts, from the team’s eligible players (as loaded into the electronic match sheet from the player registration system). This may sound fanciful, and may only apply to higher-quality leagues, but would help to eliminate the user of ‘ringers’, which continues to be a problem in some leagues, and can’t easily be detected at present. Such a check-in process would also deter anyone from playing if currently suspended for disciplinary reasons.

We would like to invite comments of the future of player registration; any league wanting to start using our current system should contact me – it is the basis of all future changes.

5             Data rights and accuracy

We want to cover this issue, as it is misunderstood by some, and abused by others.

The law around copyright/database rights only protects the creator of a database and its content where there is a very significant element of originality or effort.

On the basis of recent legal advice, this protection would not extend to a league, where its administrator is simply arranging known clubs/teams (who have their data rights too) within a standard structure: match dates and fixtures. There is some effort involved of course (though fixtures can be automatically generated), but no originality to speak of. The absence of legal protection for leagues is a pity in many respects.

Many clubs publish, on their web sites, their fixtures (from different leagues, cups and friendlies), along with scorers and other fixture-related data, naturally using league, county and governing body data as the source. On the basis of the advice we have received, clubs are not in breach of the law.

But it is always a shame to see inaccurate fixture data on the web, and worse to see incomplete league tables. One company, which provides clubs with free web sites, allows ‘unofficial’ league tables to be maintained by clubs, without any involvement from the league. These tables are often incomplete and inaccurate, and the company has declined to take content automatically from FixturesLive. This is unfortunate, and we’re aware of one league who have asked clubs to remove league data if using that company’s system.

Is it more important for the league to have firm control of the data, or for clubs to have freedom to do what they want? Our view is that if the data is correct, complete, and updated as soon as possible, then it shouldn’t matter who publishes it, nor where people view it.

We believe FixturesLive has the best system for holding fixture data and keeping everyone updated, including feeding ‘official’ league data into web sites, as it is under the control of the league administrator.

6             Mobile app

On a busy Saturday afternoon/early evening, up to 80% of traffic to fixtureslive.com is from mobile and tablet users.

We are currently building a hockey-only mobile app. It will, initially, be very similar to the current mobile version of our site (fixtureslive.com/mobile) – a simplified version of our desktop site – but will include some extra features such as automated result alerts. If successful, we will extend the app over time to include more content.

The point of mentioning this to you as a league administrator is that FixturesLive is keen to continue innovating and investing to meet what the sport wants.

7             Web sites

Around 60% of all FixturesLive content is viewed not on fixtureslive.com, but in league, club and governing body web sites. It is absolutely right that the hockey community can view its data where it wants to.

It’s fair to say that FixturesLive does not specialise in providing web sites, and we want to concentrate on what we do best. Those league web sites that we do host will be replaced with WordPress sites eventually, using new FixturesLive ‘plug-ins’ which will allow more control over the placement and design of content.

We will be offering this to all leagues once we’re ready.

8             League-club communications

The quality of communications between leagues and clubs often seems to be poor, where communications pass through a single club contact, the League Rep, who doesn’t always relay league messages as and when they should.

We have recently added the option for leagues to download captains’ current email addresses, and we plan to add a feature whereby leagues can define specific contacts they need in each club, which the clubs maintain online thereafter. This would be similar to the existing system whereby national governing bodies define the club contacts they needs in each club, for affiliation and communication purposes.

This approach would give leagues much more flexibility in communicating with relevant club members.

We also see a few leagues using Twitter to get messages out, and we will provide the means for leagues to embed their Twitter identity into FixturesLive (as we’ve recently done for clubs and players) should this become commonplace.

We would like to hear from leagues how we can assist in this whole area.

In summary

The digital future of our sport in the UK looks positive – we are ahead of most sports, but behind others who don’t have our fragmentation. FixturesLive wants to continue to play a key role in supporting everyone who runs and participates in the sport at every level. We want to continue stitching together overlapping data wherever possible, and we want to innovate where we can, for everyone’s benefit. If you have new ideas too, let us know.

For leagues currently using FixturesLive: thank you for your continuing support; please consider what else we can do for you.

For leagues not currently using FixturesLive: we hope this letter helps to show what we think, and what the future is likely to hold. We want you to join us, as we are convinced that we offer the best way forward for the sport, given the many complex issues. We are happy to meet you if it would help.

Further announcements will be made via Twitter (@FixLiveHockey), so please follow, and also on http://blog.fixtureslive.com, which you can also follow directly too.

Yours,

David Lloyd-Williams
FixturesLive

dlw@fixtureslive.com@FixLiveHockey