NHL gets in Web services rink

Although an unlikely candidate to be on the cutting edge of technology, the NHL (National Hockey League) said on Wednesday that it will begin offering Web services-style access to its hockey content.

The announcement came during a joint press conference with Sun Microsystems Inc., in which the two detailed how the NHL will use Sun ONE (Open Network Environment), in conjunction with other Sun products, to make its content more usable for hockey fans.

On NHL.com, the league will offer more wireless capabilities, such as making scores and statistics available on a variety of devices, including PCs, cell phones, and handhelds. The services on NHL.com take the idea of sports scores delivery, such as what Yahoo offers, one step further. Visitors to NHL.com will be able to run statistical query and analysis against the NHL’s data, and potentially generate projections for games, officials said.

The companies demonstrated a hockey game being streamed live to a wireless handheld device. Another option they showed was to watch a representation of a game in real-time, with the ability to track play and chat with fellow fans and experts.

Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, said that the technology allows the NHL to enter a new era in terms of using its content.

“It gives us the opportunity to move forward from a technology standpoint,” Bettman said.

Behind the scenes, Bettman said that the league plans to use Sun technology for scouting purposes, waivers, and contracts.

Pointing out how mainstream corporations could use some of the technology that the NHL was demonstrating, Sun CEO Scott McNealy said that what the NHL is doing can be applied to corporations for streaming, or distance learning, for health care, and sales presentations.

Sun’s chief also used the brief press conference to get in a little jab at rival Microsoft and crack a few jokes. When a microphone seemed either to be not working or simply not turned on, McNealy called it a “Microsoft microphone.”

Toward the end of the event, a Canadian reporter called in to ask Bettman about a report that he had extended his contract with the NHL. After Bettman told the reporter that he is under contract until 2008, McNealy said, “And I am on board until the next board meeting for sure.”