We were recently invited to attend an event at SAP's headquarters in Feltham to hear how technological innovations can facilitate and improve performance in the world of football.
Throughout the day there were a whole host of different presentations regarding technological developments in football that SAP has been involved in. This article aims to provide a brief summary of the day by outlining four key things that the event taught me.
1. Phil Neville knows what he's talking about.
For those of you who don't know, Phil Neville is a former Manchester United, Everton and England footballer who recently made the jump into coaching after retiring from playing in 2012. Football fans will know that his brother, Gary (also a former Manchester United player) has somewhat taken the spotlight from Phil in recent years by becoming a well-respected pundit for Sky Sports.
That's why, when I heard that Phil Neville was speaking at this event, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I had never really heard him speak about the coaching side of the game before but, to my pleasant surprise, he came across as extremely knowledgeable and offered some valuable insights into how technology, and more specifically big data, is used by professional football teams.
Among other things, he spoke about how the use of data has evolved throughout his career, how it is used by the coaches and how important it has become in modern day football.
2. The Germans are way ahead on and off the pitch
As a passionate England fan, this is the last thing I want to be saying, but I'm afraid it's true. We all know that Germany are miles ahead of us in terms of match performance, made clear by our respective showings at this year's World Cup in Brazil, but what's even more depressing is realising how on-the-ball (pardon the pun) they are off the pitch as well.
An SAP system was used by the German national team leading up to, and during, this World Cup which, in a nutshell, provided a platform for team engagement and communication between the players and coaches, fostering a community environment.
It also, and perhaps most importantly, provided a platform where performances and tactics for individual players, groups of players and the team as a whole could be analysed and discussed in private
3. Data is the way forward
Big data has been one of the IT buzzwords this year and it seems that this is transferring into the sport arena as well. This was one of the key themes that kept popping up throughout the day in a variety of different contexts.
For example, a representative from Hoffenheim Football Club explained how the team uses a system developed by the Fraunhofer Institute to track and monitor player performance during training sessions. This data is collated and analysed to provide insights into the players' fitness levels, physiological conditions and technical performance.
SAP also offer spectator-orientated solutions that collect data to provide information for the commercial side of football clubs and the system used by the German national team at the world cup relied on big data to provide insights into player performance.
4. It's all about a personalised fan experience
Anyone who has played professionally will know about the importance of fans. They can play a vital role in motivating players on match days and, of course, provide substantial revenue streams through ticket and merchandise sales
Spectators have not been ignored by SAP. Multiple presentations at the recent event focussed on fans and, more specifically, how to create a personalised fan experience. Fan features included targeted communication, the use of social media and building customer profiles to predict future behaviours.