Monday, May 19, 2008

Is the "glow puck" making a comeback?

If you're a American hockey fan that had seen nationally televised National Hockey League games on FOX Sports between 1996 to 1998, you may remember that the network introduced at the time a new innovation. We'd hear complaints by those casual fans they couldn't see the puck and therefore some of them didn't bother watching hockey games after giving up trying.

So FOX Sports created FoxTrax, pucks with tiny circuit boards containing shock sensors and infrared emitters contained within them, designed to make it easier for television viewers to keep track of its movement when high-velocity shots are unleashed. Back then, it seemed to be an exciting and modern solution to the complaints made by those casual fans who couldn't see that puck. However, when ABC took over the national TV rights in August 1998, the FoxTrax concept didn't carry over with it and was scrapped.

Recent rumblings from the hockey world have suggested that Versus, the current American cable television home for the NHL three years running, has considered bringing back that FoxTrax concept in the form of a "glow puck" as early as next season.

Michael McCarthy of USA Today reported on May 11th that Versus hockey television executive producer Marty Ehrlich wants to add to his NHL telecasts a new version of "puck tracking".

"We're looking to track the evolution of a play," Ehrlich told McCarthy in an interview. "There's people who looked at it as a great success at FOX. A lot looked at it as a dismal failure."

Some critics feel that FoxTrax had been too gimmicky and took away the pureness of watching the game. It feels like that kind of negative feedback we heard from traditionalists back then had re-surfaced when the NHL decided at the end of the 2005 lockout to implement shootouts to determine a winner in regular season games. One of those critics is "100%InjuryRate" at with a blog entry on this subject.

"There have been some truly awful inventions in our time. Like the flatulence deodorizer, the jet-powered surfboard and the snooper camera. But perhaps the worst sports invention of late, or maybe of all time, was the NHL's glow puck. I'm not even a hockey fan and I thought it bastardized the game to an obscene level. And here's the bad news, a version of it could be coming back."

Certainly a very interesting, yet honest way of looking at the idea from those who don't support this possible resurrection of the FoxTrax concept for NHL pucks on Versus cablecasts.

Versus just recently had its largest audience ever for an NHL games shown on their network as 1.2 million viewers tuned in on May 1st for the New York Rangers' 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Obviously they want to build their audience base as the accessibility of Versus in 72 million cable homes to date continues to rise. But is bringing back that "glowing puck" really going to bring in more viewers? We will have to see in the event this concept makes a comeback for televised NHL games in the United States.

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