German National team uses sport science to win World Cup

New York – When Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 to capture its fourth FIFA World Cup championship last year in Brazil, it accomplished something most soccer aficionados believed to be impossible – a European nation winning the World Cup on South American soil.

The Germans did not just win the World Cup, they dominated the entire tournament. The team did not lose one game; it only allowed four goals against. They defeated the host nation and five-time champion Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final. And, in that final match, they beat an Argentina side featuring the world’s best player in Lionel Messi.

Besides fielding an all-star team led by Captain Philippe Lahm, the German Nationals came into the 32 team tournament with something no other squad thought to bring: sports science technology developed by SAP SE.

The German National team worked with SAP to see if the enterprise resource planning (ERP) giant could help them win more games, said Frank Wheeler, general manager of SAP’s sports and entertainment group. In turn, Wheeler wanted to know if the German team had a data strategy. Together, they developed a match insight solution that is now a commercial product called SAP Sports One.

“It’s a secure end-to-end platform for sports teams,” Wheeler said.

The Sports and Entertainment group at SAP has only been around for a short time, but Wheeler has already discovered that while teams do not deal with super-sized data, they do handle information in many different forms including game performance, injury, and the overall fan experience.

Wheeler added that 85 per cent of the money earned from sports teams are put back into improving the product on the floor, field, ice or court. More teams are hiring data scientists to properly analyze the information they have. The thinking among sports teams is that it can provide a level of competitive balance.

What the German team wanted was to be better prepared for the World Cup in Brazil and deliver on the result it wanted – a championship.

One of the reasons for Wheeler’s data strategy questions is that SAP has realized the $100 billion USD sports industry is no different than any other vertical going through a digital transformation; the four mega trends of cloud, mobile, big data, and social media have also hit the sports world in a big way.

Teams such as the New York Giants of the NFL and entire leagues like the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) have taken the approach of the German National team to see if big data can provide a competitive advantage. Sports apparel companies such as Under Armour Inc. are also investing heavily in data capture and analytics to bolster its line of products not just for the high-performance athlete, but to all middle-aged joggers who want to be healthy and fit.

SAP has gone so far as to create the Digital Athlete Framework, based on SAP HANA, to provide a platform for teams, players, and companies in the sports industry to access big data and sensor technology in a meaningful way.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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