Athletic Algorithms

Bayern Munich, SAP Bring Big Data Scrutiny to Soccer Pitch

Can SAP bring high-tech to the beautiful game?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    SAP’s partnership with FC Bayern Munich and its engagement with Formula One racing are the kinds of high-profile projects that could open a multi-million-euro sports analysis business for the German software maker.

  • Facts


    • SAP helped the German national football team analyze data from 7,000 matches of opposing teams at the 2014 World Cup.
    • SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp is the patron of Bayern rival TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, which uses sensors under players’ jerseys at practices to transmit data to the coaches.
    • The German Football Association is building a new training center in Frankfurt that is expected to become a Silicon Valley for international soccer.
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In the 2011 film “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt played a baseball team manager who used a computer to help save his team from financial ruin. With the help of elaborate player analysis he put together a team that was almost perfect and affordable, bringing them tantalizingly close to winning the title.

Such measures are not necessary for the German soccer team FC Bayern Munich. The past three years have been the most successful in the Bundesliga club’s history.

“We want to make use of the technology of the 21st century,”said the Bayern chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, on Tuesday. Together with SAP, the world’s largest producer of business enterprise software, the Bavarian soccer club wants to develop tools that can help lead the team to even greater sporting and business success.

“We are switching from lederhosen to laptops,” joked Mr. Rummenigge at a presentation of the partnership at Munich’s Allianz Arena, where the soccer team plays. In addition to computer programs that will help with fan support and merchandizing, the collaboration will focus primarily on FC Bayern’s greatest assets: its players.

Gradually, SAP will digitize Bayern’s entire match and training operations, with the help of video monitoring and sophisticated software analysis of player movements.

Data about players’ capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, as well as their overall health, will be recorded and used to support the squad, is the thinking. With an extremely fast SAP database technology called Hana, Bayern Munich will analyze data in real time.

“That will be a great help for the coach,” Mr. Rummenigge said. “For example, he can see when a player gets in a red zone.”

Bayern Munich can look to its Bundesliga league rival TSG 1899 Hoffenheim to see how big data works on the football pitch. The small-town team let its deep-pocketed patron, the SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp, fully digitize its operations.

At practices, Hoffenheim players wear sensors under their jerseys, which send data to Google data glasses worn by the coach.

The data collectors from SAP also had their hand in Germany’s victory at the 2014 World Cup this summer. The software giant, which is based in the southwestern German city of Walldorf, analyzed 7,000 matches of opposing teams for the German Football Association.

Both the enthusiasm and expectations for bringing big data to the beautiful game, as soccer is called in Europe, are high.

“The computer and the software don’t score any goals and do not make the decisions. But they provide the support to make the right decisions,” said Oliver Bierhoff, manager of the German national team.


Did big data help Germany win the World Cup? Source: AFP
Did big data help Germany win the World Cup? Source: AFP
Did SAP’s big data help Germany win the World Cup? Source: AFP


A new training center being built in Frankfurt for the German Football Association is expected to become a Silicon Valley-like hub for international soccer. The center will have completely networked practice spaces, which, for example, send the goalkeeper signals to help better position himself against onrushing opponents.

The team is collecting the data, even though there is disagreement over whether the practice is legal. “It is an open question as to whom the data belongs,” said Helmut Krcmar, professor of information systems at Technical University in Munich.

What happens to the medical records when a player switches teams? What should be property of the team and what should be protected personal data?

Mr. Krcmar, who wrote a study on big data for the German economics ministry, sees crucial unanswered questions for football clubs.

“What happens to medical records when a player switches teams?” he asked. “What, in the end, should be property of the team, and what should be protected personal data?”

But at Bayern Munich, they do not want to dwell on these questions.

“During the contract period, the data belongs to FC Bayern,” Mr. Rummenigge said.

The club is building a “new media” division to work closely with SAP.

Data analysts will become talent scouts, scanning information about the potential of players in the club’s youth program. For the junior Bayern Munich players, data will be systematically collected on their physical movements and progress recovering from injuries. Coaches would have elaborate profiles on those making the first team.

But that is likely only the beginning. For SAP, the collection and analysis of data is a business with a future. “We are aiming for sales in the hundreds of millions,” said the SAP chief financial officer, Luka Mucic.

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