Germany’s World Cup “Secret Weapon” Goes Mainstream

Stefan Wagner is on a mission to transform SAP’s sponsor-driven sports and entertainment business – including SAP Match Insights – into a major revenue generator. His new adventure began shortly after the 2014 FIFA Soccer World Cup final in São Paulo.

Brazil's former national soccer team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (center, grey shirt) at SAP Labs in São Leopoldo. Photo: SAP Labs
Brazil’s former national soccer team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (center, grey shirt) at SAP Labs in São Leopoldo.
Photo: SAP Labs

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s mid-November visit to São Leopoldo caused quite a stir among employees at the SAP Labs location near Porto Alegre. The former coach of Brazil’s national soccer team was on a quest to find out more about the “secret weapon” that helped Germany achieve victory in the 2014 World Cup.

Although now coaching top Brazilian team Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense, Scolari is still smarting from the crushing 7-1 defeat that Germany dealt out to Brazil’s national team – in front of its home crowd – in the semi-final of last summer’s competition.

His visit to SAP Labs was an opportunity for him to check out the technology that Mario Götze, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and the other members of Germany’s winning team used to analyze their off-the-ball runs, sprints, and positional shape, and thus gain that all-important edge over their opponents.

SAP Labs in São Leopoldo: Two-Year Graduate Training

One of the people who have made SAP Labs in São Leopoldo what it is today is Stefan Wagner. During his tenure as managing director of SAP Labs operations in Latin America, he expanded the São Leopoldo location, invested €40 million, and recruited 500 new employees last year alone. He also made a point of fostering young talents.

“In Brazil, it’s usually only the privileged few who gain access to quality education and training,” says Wagner, who, after completing a business administration degree at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, went on to study at one of the world’s best-known research universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, United States.

On his initiative, SAP Labs recruits between 20 and 30 graduates from Brazil’s public universities every year. They each receive two years of internal training at SAP in readiness to enter the company’s global working environment.

“The graduates work their way through six different teams, learning about each of the key areas of the company as they go,” explains Wagner.

Currently, the 800-strong workforce in São Leopoldo numbers more than 100 such trainees. This unique training program is undoubtedly one of the factors that prompted Você S/A, a leading Brazilian news magazine, to name SAP the most attractive employer in the region at the end of 2014. Its performance in criteria — including compensation and benefits, quality of training, and quality of workplace, as well as strategy and direction, which focuses on how management decisions are communicated to the workforce — helped SAP win first place in the IT and technology category.

“It’s fantastic that we came out ahead of Google,” says Wagner, who elected to extend his three-year stay in Brazil especially so that he could be there to enjoy the World Cup.

This decision meant a slight delay in taking up a new role as general manager of SAP Media, Sports and Entertainment. Currently generating revenues of €30 million, this solution portfolio is still in its infancy, created just two years ago and until now chiefly sponsor-driven. There are only 13 employees driving the business and 20 to 30 developers working on technical solutions.

But, says Wagner, “It’s not about having a huge team; it’s about being flexible and getting the right people in place fast – even if that means crossing reporting lines.” The former rugby player and ski instructor is in the process of recruiting 11 employees to help take the business to the next level. And there is no doubt about his ability to create an organization almost from scratch in this way: Long before his successful assignment in South America, he was responsible for setting up an international network through which some 300 consultants provide support for SAP partners.

SAP Match Insights: Setting the Standard for Success

Once back in Germany, Wagner’s new job would be to build a strong business with individual products like SAP Match Insights and bring solutions to the market. But there was no way he was going to leave Brazil without seeing the World Cup final in São Paulo.

“Having spent three whole years in Brazil, I couldn’t possibly return to Germany just as the World Cup was about to start,” he says. Consequently, it was July 2014 before Wagner and his chief developer, Fadi Naoum, got down to the task of raising awareness of the SAP brand through sport and bringing the potential of SAP technology to the attention of audiences who have not previously had contact with IT on a professional level. This means – and that is Wagner’s second mission – getting products for these potential new customers to the market in 2015.

Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense is a case in point. Scolari’s new club already deploys SAP CRM on SAP HANA and is in the process of implementing SAP ERP. And, if the discussions held at SAP Labs in November prove fruitful, there’s every chance that the team will soon be benefiting from the finished, commercialized SAP Match Insights product too.

As well as analysis options, SAP Match Insights offers performance management functions that give players day-by-day information about their fitness and performance, while comparable team management analyses enable managers and coaches to check individual player’s medical data, training schedules, and performance at a glance – as well as contractual details such as salary. Social media functions, which are likely to appeal to the players themselves, are also available via a smartphone app. Here, the players can view both analysis data and practical information – such as when the team bus is due to leave, what’s on the menu, and other team members’ movie tips.

The new standard solutions are aimed at sports clubs, multi-purpose arenas like Madison Square Garden, and sports associations such as the German Football Association (DFB) and the German Ice Hockey League (DEL).

Of course, the potential success of SAP Match Insights has one serious downside for Germany’s national soccer team: Their exclusive “secret weapon” will no longer be secret. In terms of technical support at least, it looks as if international teams will be playing on a level field again in 2015. That’s a little too late for Scolari, though.