On Hockey Stats and Audience Accessibility

Fancystats versus old school isn’t worth the argument anymore. The NHL has advanced stats on their website. Teams are creating analytics departments. There are a lot of tiny battles left, but overall, the fight is over. As I write this, I’m seeing tweets cross my feed about how the Blackhawks and Stan Bowman are using analytics to build a perpetual contender.

This isn’t an argument about the validity of advanced statistics. This is a more of a plea.

Here’s what I see: graphs with unlabeled axes (my sixth grade math teacher is crying out in despair somewhere). Graphs with labeled axes that just list acronyms. Player matchup charts that are a blur of colors and boxes. Sites without legends pr glossaries. Articles that tell the reader we’re doing X now instead of Y and then don’t take the reader step by step through why. When they do, they’re not written for a mainstream audience. They’re written for other people who understand advanced hockey statistics, other people who have math backgrounds.

So you’ve been accused of only looking at the numbers. You’re being attacked because you allegedly don’t watch the game. You respond that maybe people should learn what things are called. Look at the data for themselves. Figure it out.

As of right now, I’m not so sure it’s that easy to figure out.

In my opinion, the audience needs to be evaluated. If you want advanced statistics to be mainstream, you need to make damn sure that they’re accessible to everyone. The NHL’s official statistics aren’t there yet either, but in renaming many of the statistics, they’ve got the right idea. Putting it on their site opens everything up. The way plus/minus is used – if incorrectly – by a much wider audience is proof that accessibility works.. Even things like being able to hover over stat names for a full definition on the NHL website makes a difference.

It’s not only the anti-stats crowd. There are plenty of people who seek out articles, explore reference sites, and try to figure out how stats are calculated and used. Without accessibility, they’re being just as left out.

You want to know why we still lament the loss of ExtraSkater? The user interface was easy to learn, if not downright intuitive for some. It took advanced stats and presented them neatly, with a glossary, in a way where anyone could click over to this site someone pointed them to and at least have a place to start. I recently tried to talk someone through finding a player usage chart on a newer site over the phone and it was a ten-minute ordeal involving multiple computers not counting explaining how the axes could be changed. New statistics and ways of visualizing data get created and get tossed onto the internet without explanation and that doesn’t help either.

Look. Not all hockey fans have a math background. Honestly, not all of them are going to want to learn. But if it’s made easier for everyone, maybe we’ll all stop getting told to watch the game.

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