SAP Arms Reigning World Cup Champion Germany With Tools to Defend Title

German National Team players train ahead of their first World Cup match in Moscow. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

The German National Team is hoping to defend its World Cup title using SAP-powered data analytics to help coaches and players scout opponents and review performance.

SAP first partnered with Germany ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, building a centralized big data war room that assisted the team as it worked toward its fourth World Cup win. Germany’s coaching staff was the first to use SAP Match Insights, which pulls in data from third-party resources to help the team find and assess key situations in a match, build tactics, monitor player fitness, and prep for games.

In the four years since then, SAP has significantly built out its SAP Sports One platform, expanded to other European soccer teams, and moved its system onto the cloud so that insights can be accessed by players and coaches from anywhere via their mobile devices. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, an even more powerful version of SAP Sports One will be on hand for the German Football Association (DFB).

SAP worked with DFB ahead of the tournament to build out two new features—a video cockpit and a player dashboard—that will be used exclusively by Germany as it attempts to become the first repeat World Cup champion since Brazil in 1962.

The video cockpit is a data-fueled content hub that merges the team’s live-play videos with match and training information from a variety of third-party sources, enabling DFB’s match analysts and coaching staff to identify patterns and craft strategies that will target opponents’ potential weaknesses. The player dashboard is a hub that enables match analysts and coaches to share individualized data and video with players in an easy-to-digest format they can access in real time on their smartphones.

SAP Video Cockpit

“Now they can all work together and collaborate with the data to identify patterns, tendencies, judge performance, and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent,” said Sven Schwerin-Wenzel, development senior manager of SAP Sports & Entertainment, who works directly with the German National Team.

Pulling in tracking data and statistics from resources such as Opta Sports and STATS, Schwerin-Wenzel says as many as 2,000 to 4,000 events are be processed through the video cockpit per match. Each event is tagged so that the team can efficiently search, analyze, and share events with relevant parties. It can then immediately send out insights and recommendations to the entire team, just one player, or subgroups filtered in a variety ways, such as by position. Analyses on opponents can be filtered in a similar manner (such as by position groups).

“The players are eager to get this information. They ask the analysts for further information to get better prepared for the next opponent,” said Schwerin-Wenzel. “They want to get prepared to withstand the pressure they have to win again and defend the cup.”

The new features, which will introduce components of artificial intelligence and machine learning, will run alongside Match Insights, the original big data platform Germany used in 2014. The team is also using SAP Sports One, a cloud-based solution that digitizes team and performance management by coordinating administrative, training, scouting, and medical processes, as well SAP Penalty Insights and Challenger Insights, which analyze opponent tendencies and formations.

While Germany isn’t even set to face its first opponent, Mexico, until Sunday, DFB officials are already working with SAP to plan for the next World Cup. The two plan to incorporate further levels of AI and machine learning as the technology continues to evolve. In the near future, for example, the system might be able to more easily identify complex match scenes, predict opponent tendencies, and suggest plays based on smart technologies that detect patterns leveraging positioning data.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning play a significant role in football and are an essential part of data analytics,” said Oliver Bierhoff, the general manager of the German national soccer team. “We have an incredible amount of data at the German national team that we need to process and share in real time with the trainer, the players and the analysts. We aim to gain a competitive advantage by using the latest technology innovations and we’re glad to work with SAP as the best partner for that.”

SportTechie Takeaway

Analytics have become an important component of the way athletes train and the way teams prepare for matches. The 2014 World Cup represented a showcase of early iterations of these technologies, used by just a few teams. Analytics will be much more heavily used during this year’s tournament. Every team will have access at the 2018 FIFA World Cup to granular training and match analyses in real time. In addition to each team’s own analytics capabilities, FIFA approved of the use of tablets for coaches on the bench for the first time. Each of the 32 competing teams will have the option to use tablets fed real-time information about player metrics, positional data, and video footage. Technologies such as these will shape soccer (and every sport for that matter) long into the future.