In 1997, after hearing complaints from American viewers that hockey is not a good TV sport because the puck is too small to follow, Fox, who was still broadcasting the NHL at the time, experimented with what it called FoxTrax. This was Fox’s name for what is more generally known as a glowing puck. At all times during a game, the puck is highlighted no matter where it is on the ice making it extremely traceable. Not only was the puck highlighted, but whenever a shot was taken, there would be a streaking red tail and a pop-up at the bottom of the TV screen showing the speed of the shot. It sounds like a great idea, but this innovation failed because of protests from avid hockey fans. Before diving deeper into the two sides, take a look at this clip for the 1997 All-Star game:
First, to understand how the whole thing works, you need to know the technology behind it. Here is a cross-section of a FoxTrax puck:
To create the FoxTrax puck, a standard NHL puck was cut in half, and a tiny circuit board with a battery was placed inside. The circuit board contained motion detectors and infrared emitters. These additional enhancements added less than one-hundredth of a gram to the original puck’s mass. The two halves were sealed with epoxy and the puck could be used for game-play. However, the battery only had a 10 minute lifespan, so at least 50 FoxTrax pucks were produced before each game. The puck was activated when it was struck by a hockey stick.
During a Fox NHL broadcast, the puck emitted infrared pulses to motion sensors located along the boards of the rink. These sensors were synchronized to the pulses. Next, infrared cameras along the rafters detected these pulses and transmitted their coordinates to a television van outside the arena. The truck contained computers that superimposed computer graphics on the puck coordinates, which could be seen by viewers at home. The visual result was a bluish glow around the puck. Unfortunately, blue does not show up very well against the white of the rink. Passes were indicated with the bluish glow plus a comet tail indicating its path. When the puck moved faster than 70 mph, there would be a red tail following the path of the puck. And because this process could potentially be very costly, FOX employees would sometimes go into the stands to retrieve a puck that left the rink, rather than let the fans keep the puck as they normally would during the course of a game.
Now there are a couple arguments for and against the use of this puck. Newcomers to hockey who only occasionally watched a game really liked the idea of this glowing puck. It made the game more easy to follow and entertaining with its shot speed statistics. Viewers who had previously complained about not being able to follow the game were satisfied. However, FOX made a big mistake of focusing on this small market segment because the majority of the NHL’s rating were based on hockey enthusiasts who hated the glowing puck. Their argument was the video graphics were a distraction and turned hockey into a video game, particularly targeting the comet-like tail that would trail a hard shot. Others argued that it should not be difficult to spot a black puck on white ice and that a glowing puck was completely unnecessary. Most importantly, a lot of the players did not like the way the FoxTrax puck bounced around because of the enhancements. Not only was this a problem, but these pucks were not available to practice with because it was too expensive for FOX. Although ratings got a big boost, the combination of all this negative reaction to the FoxTrax puck was overwhelming and eventually led this innovation to become obsolete a year after its introduction.
Personally, I completely agree with most hockey enthusiasts that the glowing puck is unnecessary for hockey. It made the game feel artificial and more like a video game. However, I do feel that this technology could be put to better use for example in goal line controversies. It is very typical to have a goal disallowed because no cameras or referees saw the puck cross the goal line when there is a crowd around the goalie. Putting a similar sensor inside the puck and having it provide a notification when the puck crosses the goal line would provide a simple solution. In any and all instances where the referee and replay cameras cannot see the puck when it’s under the goalie’s pads, the goal sensor would provide irrefutable evidence as to whether or not the puck crossed the line. Much like the advanced technology used to show whether a tennis shot is in or out, this technology would actually make life easier for both the on-ice and video replay officials, likely decreasing the length of each review and providing all interested parties with definitive conclusions.
Of course, implementing this technology would be quite costly, but it would actually result in increased profits on a long-term basis. It would eliminate the need for goal judge, and for the fans, it would eliminate the lengthy delays during video reviews, many of which end inconclusively, instead providing clear and definitive evidence each time.