Using Big Data to Produce Better Results in Sports: Does it Really Work?

Big data and analytics solutions have helped sports teams and athletes to improve their performance as well as the relationship with their fans. The big data customized solution …

Big data and analytics solutions have helped sports teams and athletes to improve their performance as well as the relationship with their fans. The big data customized solution developed by SAP, for example, helped the German national soccer team win the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The match analysis tool, called Match Insights, collects and analyzes massive amounts of player performance data captured during trainings through the cameras installed on the field and sensors placed in players’ clothes and cleats, which is then run in the SAP Hana cloud platform.

The SAP tool allows the analysis of a range of factors concerning players’ performance, such as: speed, kick power or the number of successful passes, as well as checking the tactics, offering information in real-time to coaches on how to improve team performance.

The Match Insights solution was developed by SAP in partnership with the DeutscherFussball-Bund (DFB), the German football federation. SAP has also collaborated with Hoffenheim, a German soccer team that has risen meteorically to the top flight of the German soccer league.

At a time when the need to renew Brazilian soccer is seriously under discussion, a number of teams in Brazil have shown interest in adopting this type of technology to improve their own performances. “We have some Brazilian soccer teams as clients, and which have already used SAP enterprise management software, and we are now discussing how to implement the technology on the field,” said Gustavo Amorim, vice president of marketing strategy at SAP Latin America.

Nowadays, a sophisticated system of data gathering, metrics and analytics lies behind some of the world’s biggest soccer teams.

As one of the pioneer data-providers for soccer teams, Prozone offers its performance analysis service to more than 300 soccer clubs around the world, including the English Premier League and teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as the U.S. Soccer Federation. Prozone provides a complex range of details, from the monitoring of a player’s movement on the field, right down to physical data.

A Sporting Revolution

Soccer is part of the growing list of sports which have been transformed by big data technology. The use of data and statistics to gain a competitive advantage is growing across a wide range of sports including basketball, tennis, Formula 1 and baseball.

SAP, itself, is not limited to offering solutions just for the soccer segment. Its tools are further employed in tennis, Formula 1 and even sailing.

The Woman Tennis Association (WTA) uses the SAP big data solution to provide players with the tools to analyze their performance and optimize the strategy. Using this tool, it is possible to track player movements during the game or map where the ball lands on court. Moreover, tennis fans can now download an app to track such data during matches.

In Formula 1, the McLaren team uses SAP’s big data solution to analyze parts of the race car and the way that drivers pilot their vehicles. Sensors are put in the cars and the collected data is processed at McLaren’s headquarters in England. “If they identify a piece with wear, for example, it is possible to make changes during the race,” Amorim said.

In the same way, Formula 1’s Lotus team sought help from the American multinational company, EMC, to optimize its resources to comply with complex new Formula 1 regulations that came into force this year. “With help from EMC, the Lotus F1 Team will adopt a range of private cloud technologies for more agile and cost-efficient storage and information management,” EMC told Nearshore Americas.

Fans’ Experience

Big data solutions have also been applied to analyzing fan sentiment on social media and improve interaction with the public.

SAP, in partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA), developed a cloud solution that allows fans to access the NBA statistics in an interactive way, making it possible, for example, to compare performance between players.

This SAP technology is also applied to other sports, such as baseball, football and ice hockey and golf.

The National Football League (NFL), in partnership with SAP, has launched an online analytics dashboard. The tool makes it possible to analyze player strengths and compare each one to the NFL Fantasy LIVE player rankings. In addition, SAP has developed a social media analytics tool that helps monitor the movement and the reaction of the fans on the network.

SAP’s executive identifies certain differences in characteristics between the way Brazilian and American consumers use technology. “Americans fans love to access statistics related to sports, while Brazilians and Latin American consumers make intensive use of social media,” Amorim explained.

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Sport is just one of the 25 segments upon which SAP has a strategic focus. “The technological advance in sports is an irreversible path, with a higher level of professionalism from the teams, confederations and leagues,” Amorim said.

IBM and TCS Analysis

On the other hand, IBM has used its expertise in cognitive intelligence to analyze the feelings of fans through public posts on social media during the 2014 World Cup. The technology developed by IBM Research Laboratory in Brazil in 2013, had already been applied in the Confederations Cup, an international soccer tournament that was held last year in Brazil.

In the case of the World Cup, all posts in Portuguese on social media were analyzed, determining the sentiment associated to each of the players, coaches and matches, both during and after the matches. “The world record of tweets (35.6 million) was recorded during Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil,” said Carlos Tunes, big data analytics executive at IBM Brazil.

IBM was not the only company to launch an application for the World Cup. India’s Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) launched the TCS SocialSoccer app, which allowed fans to track the comments on the social media about teams and players, as well as communicate with other fans around the world. Besides SocialSoccer, TCS has also created apps for the global marathons in Amsterdam and New York, which are used by runners, providing race-related information.

In the case of IBM, the American company has already had a partnership with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), in the United States, to provide fans with real-time insights during the games, through the IBM TryTracker tool. “With this analysis, companies can understand customer sentiment about their brand, product or service and thus create more assertive marketing campaigns,” Tunes said.

Aside from the big data analytics solutions applied to the sentiment analysis on social media, IBM has also developed software for monitoring and improving the performance of athletes. IBM, for example, has a certain presence in major tennis tournaments such as Wimbledon and other Grand Slams, with its tool called Slam Tracker, which collects data and generates statistics for players and spectators. “The IBM big data and analytics solutions comprise the following trends: availability of data in cloud platforms, access through mobile devices, and the involvement of sentiment analysis on social media, allowing the sharing of data,” Tunes said.

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