Photographer: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Russian Startup Sells Moneyball System to New York Islanders

  • Iceberg uses computer vision to analyze ice hockey matches
  • Software recommends best player combination based on big data

A Russian startup selling an analytics platform for ice hockey has signed teams from the National Hockey League and Sweden’s top division, in a sign that big-data “Moneyball"-style management is advancing in one of its last unconquered major professional sports.

The New York Islanders, currently last in the NHL’s Eastern Metropolitan division, and the Swedish Hockey League’s Vaxjo Lakers, currently in seventh place, have both turned to Iceberg to improve performance, the Russian company said at a news conference in Moscow on Thursday. The startup is backed by Vlad Martynov, a former SAP SE country head for Russia. Iceberg already works with Sochi, from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg.

The prioritization of statistics and data to make decisions on what players to field or buy and sell is now a reality in a number of professional sports, and is gaining traction quickly in others, including ice hockey. Montreal-based Sportlogiq, which works with some NHL teams, raised $1.7 million last year from investors including Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

The use of analytics has been particularly challenging in hockey because of the small size and fast speed of the puck and the fluid nature of the game with collisions and player rotation.

“Sport analytics technologies are set to become a game changer in team management, games broadcasting as well as in betting and fantasy sports,” Martynov said in an interview in Moscow.

Iceberg’s platform includes several cameras that can be carried in a suitcase and installed at any stadium within minutes, and software that uses computer vision to identify and track players. Its algorithms then gauge about 500 metrics for players and their interaction -- including actual skating speed for the first time -- and recommends the optimal selection of players.

Measurable Data

At the Lakers in Vaxjo, in the south of Sweden, General Manager Henrik Evertsson wants to use Iceberg to replace the feelings or impressions about a match that already exist with measurable data to the extent it’s possible.

“We hadn’t jumped on this wagon if we didn’t believe in the system,” Evertsson said by phone. “It will be one tool of many in our toolbox.”

Evertsson hopes to start up Iceberg for the Lakers’ match next week against Farjestad, from west Sweden, which are in fifth place in the league.

The analytical, evidence-based, statistical approach to assembling a team was detailed by Michael Lewis in his 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” which followed the Oakland Athletics in their success against richer rivals in Major League Baseball. The book was made into a 2011 Sony Pictures film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

Iceberg uses Microsoft Inc.’s Azure cloud platform, the Russian company said. The market for sports analytics was worth $125 million in 2014 and is set to rise to $4.7 billion in 2021, Microsoft said, citing WinterGreen Research.

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