From the field to the cloud, SAP champions big data as new MVP in sports

In the sports world, the same kinds of things you do for customer engagement, you do for fan engagement, according to SAP's chief marketing officer.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — The San Francisco 49ers move into a new $1.2 billion home this weekend. Levi's Stadium might be the first to be built with a foundation in technology rather than concrete, quipped SAP chief marketing officer Jonathan Becher.

During a media tour at the South Bay arena along with the SAP-sponsored Performance Facility and training center next door on Friday, Becher reflected that when the software giant first started talking with the Niners, SAP wasn't looking to just pay to slap its name on a building or gate.

"We're not a beer company. We're not a car company," Becher asserted. He clarified that if the team wanted to change how its organization runs and how the team plays on the field, then SAP was game.

SAP has been ramping up its cloud software products geared towards sports for the last five years, starting with another type of football closer to SAP's home base in Germany along with recent endeavors for baseball, basketball, and hockey.

About a year ago during a media luncheon, Becher outlined SAP's work on the stats page for the NBA. That particular digital scoreboard is teeming with results, news headlines, social media tie-ins and charts analyzing players' shots over recent games and even the last several seasons. Within six months, the SAP-powered site registered more than 13 million users.

"In the sports world, the same kinds of things you do for customer engagement, you do for fan engagement," Becher posited.

One of the most recent developments, SAP Scouting, is kicking off with the 49ers as one of the first public subscribers. Development on the number-crunching app has been in play for roughly 18 months now, and the 49ers jumped onboard six months ago.

"Just because you're using the same technology doesn't mean you're necessarily competing," Becher asserted about the app.

The cloud-based app, powered by SAP's flagship HANA in-memory database, was designed for scouts, executives, coaches, and trainers. These professionals are directed to use the app for filing player evaluations and lining these up with real-time quantitative data to streamline comparing prospective players.

Ethan Waugh, head of scouting for the 49ers, admitted data has been a problem spot for the 49ers in the past, with unorganized information streaming in from within the organization as well as the NFL and third-party collectors.

The draft for the upcoming 2015-16 season marks the first time the 49ers have put SAP Scouting to use, and suffice to say, player data is already much more organized, Waugh boasted.

"We feel really good about that draft, and we'll know more in about four to five years," Waugh predicted.

Image: Rachel King, ZDNet

Becher stressed that when it comes to picking a player, the important data points and criteria is never the same for each team, let alone position on the field.

For example, Becher suggested the 49ers are typically scouting with a defensive first, offensive second priority set, while the Oakland Raiders, by comparison, might be going offensive first and defensive second.

Furthermore, if a team looks like it has the potential to win the Super Bowl in a given year, coaches and scouts might use the app to find the best players for that year rather than longer-term bets.

"Just because you're using the same technology doesn't mean you're necessarily competing," Becher asserted about the app.

"We've really streamlined about the player. Our business comes down to choosing between the players," added Waugh. "It comes down to being on the playground. Do you want that guy on your team or not?"

Along with the 49ers, SAP is shopping Scouting around to other NFL teams, and the Washington Redskins have already started using the app.

For a closer look at Levi's Stadium, touted by many as the sporting arena Silicon Valley built, check out the clip from our sister site CNET below:

Screenshot via SAP

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