Bringing Innovation to Every Game, Set, and Match

Recently on The Best Run podcast , I caught up with Ashley Keber, Vice President of Member Relations for Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and Milan Černý, Director of Strategic Partnerships for SAP Global Sponsorships. We discussed how technology is playing a critical role in helping professional women’s tennis players stay connected and safe during COVID-19 and beyond.

Ashley joined the WTA over 20 years ago when it was just starting its player development program. “Player development is anchored in the sport sciences and focuses on the holistic development of an athlete, on and off the court,” she explained. “I’ve loved being on the ground level of the development of a new field, which has been exciting and terrifying. And my role has evolved over the years with the WTA.”

Milan began as a consultant for business analytics before moving into SAP’s global sponsorship, including tennis, where he builds showcases and technologies for partners like the WTA. “For two years now I’ve been managing the entire partnership,” he said. “I feel extremely lucky as well to be working with partners like the WTA. It’s a very interesting program for us at SAP in order to showcase technology and to work with an innovative association like the WTA.

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Ashley and Milan agreed that the impact of COVID-19 has forced sports around the world adapt rapidly in order to minimise risks while keeping all athletes, staff, and fans safe. “The WTA had to take an honest look at what we could control and leaned into those opportunities,” Ashley said. “We immediately ramped up our communication with our partners, our players, and our tournaments to talk about what we knew and what we didn’t know. That led us to being, we think, resourceful and collaborative.

“We asked, how do you play without fans, how do you move players from one country to another during a pandemic?

We then used our resources to work with some of the best experts in the world to design our protocols for how we’re going to return to play. That brings us to communication and educating all our constituents in what will this new normal look like?

That’s where SAP’s resources and technology came into play and really helped us underpin through the SAP Litmos platform and the SAP Qualtrics tool. We got out to our members, communicated with them and educated them about this new normal.”

Milan noted that this new normal evolved through forced adaptation but has been simplified through digital technology and data analytics. “This year gave us a completely new challenge of facing a pandemic and the tour being on pause,” he added. “With us being a partner to the WTA, we’re able to provide them with solutions to challenges that came up, not only this year, but in general.

In talking about educating players, providing a training platform, SAP Litmos was really a great solution that we could offer to WTA and we think it was a very successful launch. Looking at SAP Qualtrics, that case has been great this year. WTA are starting to work with it as we speak since they’ve already put out some surveys.

“When we look back on the past few years, all the analytics that are relevant to the players and coaches and are obviously still available even when no matches are being played, no tournaments being played. That time is being used by players with their coaches to look into strategies and tactics, which is where our software solutions based on data that comes from off the court really comes into play. They provide them with the right tools to be efficient in their coaching and improve on things to come.”

According to Ashley, the changing circumstances and needs of WTA members worldwide also led to the development of WTA University. “Our philosophy is that if you want to encourage and set people up to be successful, they need to make good decisions, and good decision making requires information, knowledge, and experience,” Ashley said. “That’s really where the WTA University comes in. It runs on the Litmus platform and that’s helped us meet the needs of a modern learner.

“Because we’ve been at this game for a while, the WTA has conducted some longitudinal-based studies, the most recent we did with SAP and their data scientists. What we found through the research is that players that participated in the WTA player development programs actually enjoy longer careers and an increased frequency of professional behaviours in the environment.

When you have proven results and you know what you’re doing in making an impact, you obviously want to do more of that and reach more people, which bring us back to SAP Litmos – a platform that’s so robust it really gave us an opportunity to launch our WTA University in a new way.”

Ashley also noted that the ability to remotely support WTA members extended beyond their mental and physical wellbeing. “During the pandemic, where we used to do courses in person and workshops, we started offering them online. Examples such as financial planning, an international tax course, or media and brand building, mentoring and leadership, or those mental health and physical fitness classes that I mentioned earlier.

“Each time we would offer a class, the player would come back and take the next one, which I think is the best form of advertising because they found it valuable and they want to invest their time there as well. I think that’s a credit to how easy the resources and tools SAP made available to us for the end user to take advantage of.”

To hear more from my discussion with Ashley and Milan, check out our latest episode of The Best Run podcast.

If you’d like to learn more about innovations being utilised in this new normal, Effect 2020 will be exploring the technologies and practices that have helped people adapt and become more resilient to future change. Learn more about Effect’s dedicated episode to Innovation that will feature WTA World Number 1 player Ash Barty and register to get access to this exclusive content.