Fox Sports Shot Counter is Well-Meaning but Bad
We're less than one week into the NHL season following the "Summer of Stats" where it seemed half of hockey Twitter's big analytics players were hired away from their public labors-of-love and ushered behind the curtains of the teams they analyzed. Tyler Dellow, Cam Charron, and Vic Ferrari all have found work with NHL teams. Heck, even everybody's favorite advanced stats site fell victim to the hunger of NHL teams to gain a competitive advantage when Extraskater.com was taken down thanks to the Maple Leafs recognizing the amazing work of its creator.
Like it or not, stats are mainstream in hockey now.
So, when we opened up our Gamecenter Live or tuned into our Center Ice channels (or tuned in to the local station), we saw the result of this change pretty immediately on Fox Sports regional channels. In addition to the old scoreboard and game clock graphic, we had a new wrinkle, the shot counter. Here it is in action during a randomly chosen moment from the Red Wings' young season. Totally random, I promise.
You see all the info you need with just a glance at the upper left corner of the screen, but there's also that bit tacked-on for the stats heads. The score says that it's a 1-1 tie (for at least one more second), but how can you tell how the game has gone to this point just by looking at the goals? A 1-1 tie could mean just about anything.
From here, the shot counter does a fairly good job of showing the truth that was the Red Wings' domination to that point. We know the story isn't entirely told by the shots on goal, but it provides a fairly non-sloppy approximation for us.
My only problem with it is that die hard fans don't really need it. and having it there is a little bit of a mix between distracting, ugly, and annoying. The fans watching every second already pretty well know how the game is going and the SOG-as-momentum proxy isn't entirely obvious to casuals. I'm not sure how much is actually being served by a tool that die hard fans don't need and I'm not sure casual fans will really appreciate. A shot counter is interesting data, but it's taking up a not-insignificant chunk of real estate being constantly shown. In a time where we have real-time stats available to us just about everywhere else and we're already watching a screen full of numbers, graphics, and the dreaded crawl (which Fox Sports has a habit of making too big), the counter adds clutter.
Instead take a look at what NESN does. When looking for a way to present a part of the game not traditionally shown, they have a time-in-zone counter.
NESN getting all #fancy today #tracking zone time for the Avalanche on extended shifts pic.twitter.com/fjJZCqlhSC— Evan Sporer (@ev_sporer) October 13, 2014
I haven't seen enough of the timer to know when exactly it pops up on the screen, as it's not always there [update: 30 seconds]. However, I can say that every time I was watching the particular game featured in that tweet and found myself wondering how long the puck had been in the zone, it was there for me with interesting and non-obstructive information.
With the Summer of Advanced Stats having gone by and the media being aware of how much information hockey fans want, it feels like NESN has come up with a truly good idea while Fox Sports is like your well-meaning mother who heard you like sports and bought you Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge. It's a well-meaning try, but I'd rather do without it.