A young man sits in the arena stands with his parents, wearing a new suit, and hears a general manager call his name. Beaming, he hurries down from the stands to join the manager on the stage, and don the jersey of his new team.
This draft day scenario would be familiar to most sports fans, but the Ontario Hockey League does it a little differently. The OHL has replaced the arena with the Internet, making draft day a virtual affair.
It wasn’t always so. Aaron Bell, the OHL’s director of information and special events, said the league used to conduct its draft like the NHL’s, but it became convinced a live draft wasn’t the best way to go.
“A lot of 16-year-old kids got dressed up in their suit, came to the rink, brought Mom and Dad, and didn’t get the opportunity to be selected,” said Bell. “Our feeling was, as a league, was this the best environment to do that?” Deciding the Internet was the way to go, the OHL turned to Trinitas, a Toronto-based Web development firm, to design and build a Web-based system that went live with the 2001 draft.
At the heart of the system is the OHL’s database of draft-eligible players, containing the evaluations of the league’s scouting staff. At draft time, that database becomes the list of players eligible for the draft.
Bell said the league needed an application to let teams go through the list and make their selections, and let the league ensure it was an eligible player before approving the selection.
“Most importantly, we wanted to be able to get it on the Internet so that the fans at home, and the players and their families, could follow what was going on as its happening,” said Bell.
Through the Web interface, team managers can view eligible players and related statistics and evaluations, text chat with other teams, and make their selections. During the draft, through the OHL Web site, fans can watch as each player is selected, and listen along to a live Internet radio show.
“From a team and league standpoint we’re ecstatic with the way it has gone,” said Bell.
“It gives us a much better environment to do our business.” Scott Hicks, director of business development with Trinitas, said the draft system has been completely revamped for this summer’s draft.
The original system, which he said Trinitas designed from scratch for the OHL, was built using Tango to interface between the league’s Oracle database and the Web. The new system uses Cold Fusion and Ajax to streamline the user interface and make it more user-friendly.
“It’s much quicker, using Ajax — it’s basically a real-time application,” said Hicks. “We’re (now) able to provide the general manager and the commissioners with real-time updates, and they’re able to communicate with each other through a message centre.”
Hicks said the draft system has saved the OHL more than $100,000 over five years, and Trinitas is looking to bring the solution to other minor sports leagues, such as lacrosse and baseball. He said it could be tailored to online meeting areas where global employees could log in and interact, although that’s not a market they’re actively pursuing.
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