Apple has signed a deal to give iPads to NHL coaches and referees, the Associated Press reports, allowing them to monitor specific game footage and check officiating decisions. The deal sees the arenas of the 16 playoff teams outfitted with iPad Pro tablets — three to each bench — as well as Macs for video challenges. From next season, the initiative will be expanded further, giving every team access to the devices.
The NHL started using video monitors on its benches this season, making it easier for coaches to know when to challenge referee calls, but it only offered iPads as part of a limited trial late in the regular season. Having the devices on the sideline already bore fruit for some teams — the AP says that Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan was able to review footage of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray before a shootout, checking his tendencies and technique, while other coaches said they have been able to adjust tactics on the fly by checking film during a game.
David Lehanski, NHL senior VP of business development, told the AP that the league would have signed the deal in time for the next hockey season, but was pleased to have it in place in time for the playoffs. “It’s equal parts of us believing this truly will help the coaches and the officials and we’re going to make decisions faster and more accurately,” Lehanski said, emphasizing the importance of speed and accuracy in tense playoff situations. He also confirmed that the rollout comes ahead of a “full league-wide deployment” next season.
The deal appears to be similar to the one signed between Microsoft and the NFL that brought Surface tablets to pro football sidelines. The appearance of the Microsoft tablets caused some confusion for both coaches, some of whom complained that they didn’t work in the midst of a game, and commentators, who regularly referred to them as “iPads” until corrected by the company.
In other sports, such as soccer, some have been cautious to introduce too much technology to avoid slowing down the game, but the NHL’s decision looks set to speed hockey up instead. Lehanski said that the NHL has regular discussions with representatives of other leagues, including the NFL and MLB, on how and where to introduce technology.