Three years ago, Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe and SAP founder Hasso Plattner asked themselves a number of questions about the future of sports sponsoring at SAP: Could SAP technology somehow be combined with sports? Are there applications that solve problems in a targeted way and improve the performance of athletes and teams? Could it ultimately be possible to set up an independent business segment here? Today, we know the answers.
In short, SAP already connects sports and IT in various scenarios for sailing, soccer, horse-riding, basketball, and American football. For example, since it started partnering with SAP, the Audi Sailing Team Germany has jumped from a mediocre international rating to second in the world – within just two years. Many medals and awards in the Olympic disciplines, as well as bright young talents, mean there is hope that this fantastic performance will be continued. What’s more, SAP has added a 25th industry to its range – Sports & Entertainment.
Q: Traditional ERP users of SAP software don’t really associate SAP with sport. It’s hardly a new core business. So how did this topic get selected?
Stefan Lacher: We’re deliberately moving away from SAP’s B2B role here. Of course, SAP means something to the top decision makers in enterprises. But all of a company’s employees can and should use mobile and cloud solutions, and this is why SAP’s strengths need to be publicized even more. Sports applications lend themselves to this. What we particularly want to do is trigger a kind of wow factor among employees who previously had nothing to do with SAP.
Analyzing Sports Conditions with the Help of IT
Q: Three years have passed since you’ve had the topic on the agenda. Are you satisfied with what’s been achieved?
A: Absolutely. We’ve developed the first solutions for the German national sailing team. The objective was to create a competitive advantage for the team. So what did we have to do? To prepare for the Olympic Games in London, we launched a number of innovation projects. For example, we got together with scientists from the Technische Universität (TU) Berlin, a specialist on currents from the northern German coastal city of Kiel, and the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam to take a closer look at the sea near Weymouth in the county of Dorset, England. So if the wind is blowing in from the south and the boat is just passing the Isle of Portland, what effect does that have on the regatta course? In other words, where is the wind stronger or lighter? Knowledge about the area – for example, about currents in the English Channel – helps sailors greatly in their efforts to win regattas. The German competitors came in fourth and fifth. And the analysis of the sea by Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games will also be exciting. Because particularly around Sugarloaf Mountain, a peak situated on a peninsula in Rio, the currents and winds often change significantly. Knowing how to react can make the difference between winning medals or not.
This story is part of our special focus on Sports & IT. All the articles related to this topic can be found here.
Q: So that can help professional teams.
A: Here, it was initially all about finding out how IT can really benefit sports. Sailors and team managers used to gather valuable information about sailing areas for themselves on an individual basis, but this wealth of knowledge is now available in a special database. Wind or weather data that has already been analyzed can also be used by other sailors in the team when they return to the same area. In a trim database, the sailors find all the information about how to adjust the approximately 60 factors on the boat to the regional conditions as best as possible: For example, is it better to select a flexible or a more rigid mast, or is better to sail with a flat or a full sail?
Q: So teams from other nations are bound to want what the German team has?
A: It’s true that various other sailing nations – such as Australia, the United States, and Russia – have already suggested international training partnerships so that they can take advantage of our technology. The other teams do keep their wits about them, too. They all develop their own ideas. For instance, some gentlemen poured food coloring into the English Channel before the Olympic sailing regatta in 2012, so they could take aerial photographs and find out more about the currents near the coast. I believe our solution is a little more environmentally friendly.
- GPS and Wind Measurement: Sailing Teams Spend 600,000 Minutes on Analysis
Q: So you’re supporting teams on a highly professional level here, which can be quite interesting for prospective SAP customers. But this fact doesn’t shift customers any closer to SAP technology in sports.
A: These examples from high-performance sports are, of course, very interesting for amateur sportspeople, but we also want to give them direct contact to SAP solutions. That’s why our approach is different at the Kieler Woche, the world’s biggest sailing regatta off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. Here, we use GPS and wind measurements to give amateur sailors information about their course and the wind conditions. This means that sailors who felt that one of their runs was particularly fast can find out whether it actually was by comparing their speeds with our data. Instead of gut feelings, they now have hard facts and data. In the end, the sailors want to improve their strategies and tactics on this basis. During the Kieler Woche regatta in 2013, sailors used our post-race analyses for a total of 600,000 minutes. This showed us it was possible to get sailing “onto dry land.”
Q: Apart from sailing, which projects do you think are particularly interesting, especially when thinking about making SAP appeal to a broader audience?
A: As a global premier partner of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), we achieve three things: We help every single world-class female player to analyze and improve her game. We work with media partners who deploy our technology to translate huge amounts of data into useful facts. And we create mobile solutions such as apps, to get smartphone owners closer to the action and keep them better informed all the time. If you consider that, for example, the American television channel ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Entertainment Network) employs around 150 people alone to analyze data and turn it into helpful graphics, evaluations, and background stories, then we can see that viewers find the comparison of sporting achievements particularly interesting. Furthermore, this offers economic potential.
Q: Now it’s even possible to combine fictional and real performance data.
A: That’s right. In the Fantasy Football League, it’s all about being a manager of a virtual team. So you can buy up your own team and have it compete in the season on a fictional basis. Of course, players get injured in real life, and then they’re not available on the fictional field anymore, either. Or individuals start to perform poorly. In other words, the season develops on the basis of the genuine performance of the players and the team. And here, too, we provide solutions to help fantasy football players analyze the huge volumes of data in American football easily.
- SAP HANA in Sports: Data Analysis Provides a Legitimate Advantage
Q: At the end of the day, SAP wants to do more than “just” create smart solutions for sponsorships, but also to turn them into tangible financial gain. How long is this going to take?
A: We’re on the right track. Let’s take the projects with the TSG Hoffenheim soccer team and the German soccer association (DFB). Here, our colleagues from the sports and entertainment industry have progressed far enough to provide SAP solutions for the sporting environment. Our collaboration with TSG Hoffenheim paved the way for this. With the help of sensors attached to the players and in the ball, SAP HANA can be used to record an entire training session in detail and to analyze it to an amazing depth. But SAP also offers solutions in business situations. For example, the DFB is already using our SAP CRM powered by SAP HANA solution to provide better services to fans. The SAP Ticketing solution enables ticket sales to be connected to social media, so users can see where their friends are sitting via Facebook. In terms of market relevance, soccer is the most promising and most advanced sport in Germany. In the United States, it’s American football. In the NFL (National Football League), for instance, SAP solutions can help simplify the scouting of players. In addition to the personal, subjective impression, data analysis helps subject young talents to certain evaluations that are solely based on performance data. As a result, players may be selected who don’t get a chance with other clubs, for example, because they have an unorthodox throwing style. This means that, ultimately, less money is spent on selecting suitable players.
The age of the soccer managers who simply make their teams “fight their way into the match” is just as numbered as that of the sailors who rely purely on gut feeling. Clubs, managers, and players who want to win today are giving themselves a legitimate advantage by analyzing data. Combined with a passion for sport, this is the best recipe for long-term success.