Dawn Of The Big Data Era In Sports

Mark Lehew

Once upon a time…

Let me tell you a story about a major sporting event.

It happened in Europe. Fans traveled hundreds of miles to be there.  There were no hotel rooms available, so they pitched tents and slept outside. Before the event, they prepared a feast, drank, and were filled with excitement.

Then the moment they were waiting for arrived. They stood all day in the hot sun, cheering on the athletes in contests of speed, power, and endurance.  The winners became hometown heroes and had statues built in their name.

The event I’m describing took place 2,000 years ago: the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece. But I could just as easily be describing the World Cup or Wimbledon today.

Naturally, there are some important differences between then and now, but the truth is, not so much has changed over the centuries.  Our passion for sports has always been part of our human DNA.  Although today’s race cars may go faster than chariots, the ancient Greeks would fit in perfectly at a Formula One track.

What has changed, however, is how we experience sports. Over the last century, advances in technology have revolutionized sports. In the 1920s, radio stations began airing boxing matches, bringing the sounds of live competition to millions of people for the first time. By the 1940s, television networks were broadcasting games, and fans could actually see their favorite athletes run, jump, and hit from the comfort of their homes. As the sports media grew, so did our ability to engage with the competition we crave.

Instead of being a hobby to enjoy at special times, sports became an obsession that we had to feed all the time. With the Internet and mobile devises, we can follow every game, anywhere, at any time. As a result of this technological transformation, the lines between sports, entertainment, and media are blurring, which has enabled sports to quickly grow into a $100 billion global industry.

The Big Data revolution has arrived in sports

We are still in the early stages of a new era in sports: the Era of Big Data. Most sports fans love statistics: goals, points, runs, and saves are the tools of the trade. But it’s only recently that we began paying attention to advance data, or analytics, which was strange and controversial just 15 years ago.

Today, our ability to process incredible amounts of raw data is transforming professional sports at every level — from the fans at home to the owner’s box and the playing field.

SAP is working with teams, leagues, and sporting event organizations to deliver entirely new digital experiences for fans. From player comparison and match-up analysis tools for fantasy leagues to team and tournament apps that put fans at the center of the action no matter what part of the world they’re in, there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan. They’re demanding more, and they’re getting it.

And players, coaches, and teams are stepping up their data A-game as well. After all, nobody wants to let down a sports fan!

The power of in-memory computing can process information up to 1,000 times faster than traditional platforms so we can find patterns in data in the blink of an eye.  Consider that a standard 90-minute tennis match between 2 players creates an average of 60-70,000 records. And in one hour of soccer training, 77.7 million data points are captured and processed.These are insights that no coach, player, or club with all of their experience could possibly see.

SAP’s Sports One solution, launched last summer, is the first sports-specific cloud solution that includes team management, player training and fitness, scouting, and performance insights on a single unified platform. It includes prototypes that will help teams and players predict and prevent injury as well as tennis analytics for coaches (available exclusively to the Women’s Tennis Association) to give players and coaches a competitive edge during a match.

This week, SAP is sponsoring an event on Capitol Hill, hosted by Bloomberg Government, titled Building the Big Data Economy: The Winning Formula in Sports, featuring experts and speakers on the topic of how the world of sports is undergoing a favorable digital transformation, with Big Data as the underlying root of its success.

We’ll explore what basketball, baseball and soccer teams are doing in training and during games to ensure their players are healthy and performing at their optimum level. We’ll also discuss how the fans at home and in the stadium are at the center of the action with analytics at the tip of their finger, and we’ll have education and sports executives talking about how sports analytics creates opportunities for youth in technology-related careers.

No matter what team or player you root for, the winning formula in sports is technology that turns Big Data into smart data, making sports more competitive for players, more fun for fans, and more successful for clubs.

Mark Lehew

About Mark Lehew

Mark Lehew is Vice President and General Manager of Sports and Entertainment (North America) for SAP SE. Since the business unit’s inception in 2013, he has helped customers gain a competitive advantage in the areas of fan engagement, marketing and sales, team performance, and venue and business operations through the innovative use of SAP solutions. Mark holds a B.S. in Management Information Systems with a minor in Computer Science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.