Making the right decisions: What business leaders can learn from the sports industry’s use of data

Data in sport and business


However, during the summer City Football Group (CFG), the global holding company which owns the club as well as others around the world, announced a signing which indicated they were also exploring an altogether more innovative way to drive success both on and off the field: technology.

The deal between SAP and CFG will see the introduction of technology capable of harnessing huge amounts of data and delivering insights to improve not only team performance, but also player acquisition, fan engagement and business operations. This, CFG stated, will transform the way the group operates and performs “from the boardroom to the pitch”.

CFG are not alone in their adoption of such technology in the football world, and the value of data is becoming ever more recognised across different sports too. So as sports teams imbed technology both during games and behind the scenes in their businesses operations, what should the business world be learning from the way they’re using data to make the right decision more often than ever before?

Data and digitisation

It is clear that the data revolution in sports is part of a bigger trend of digitisation and hyperconnectivity that continues to profoundly change the world we live in. By 2020, there will be 2.5 billion connections between people on social networks, and 75 billion connections between smartphones, appliances, manufacturing equipment and wearable devices.

The huge volumes of data now available to us as a result are immense, and many associate this with complexity – but in fact the opposite is true. The vast amounts of data on people, devices, and processes available to companies give them greater visibility both within the boundaries of their organisation and across their network of customers and suppliers.

In other words, we now (almost always) have the data available from which we can draw real-time insights, and the technology capability to move from awareness to knowledge to action in minutes. Yet, according to recent research from McKinsey, “big impact through big data” has been achieved by only a few.

Data analytics in the sporting arena

In sports, however, things are quite different and data analytics has become instrumental in enhancing performance off the pitch and on it. Recently, for instance, it has become impossible to watch any sport without seeing hundreds of statistics appear on screen, being quoted by commentators and rapidly analysed. And that’s just for entertainment.

Behind the scenes, as made famous by films like Moneyball, data is a core component of the team’s dynamic. Collecting and analysing data in the right way can help a team achieve a competitive advantage which is, unsurprisingly, essential in the sporting world. In professional sport, rather like business, winning is everything.

As in business, sports organisations are awash with data. In just ten minutes of a training session, for example, ten players using three footballs can generate more than seven million data points. A number of clubs have recognised the potential value of such information and are deploying technology that is able to harness it and deliver insights which can be used to enhance key processes.

Now, data collected in training and games is helping teams gain a competitive advantage. Player’s positioning in a game, total metres run, number of tackles made, average time spent on the ball, pass direction and completion are just a few examples of the type of data being leveraged to enable managers to make better decisions ahead of and during games.

Data and the business of sport

The value of data goes far beyond performance on the field. Sports organisations like CFG are also collaborating across their networks to realise the benefits of the digital economy for their businesses. In England, the Football Association (F.A.) this year announced plans to encourage clubs to share data on growth and maturation to further understand how players develop, and ensure that young, would-be stars are not discarded before they have the opportunity to realise their full potential.

The logic behind this is simple. All clubs may at one time be suppliers to or customers of other clubs as they buy and sell players. Working together to connect data and processes in this way across the network ensures that the best talent is available, which raises performance across the league and brings in fans. This can only be good for the market.

With PwC estimating that the global sports market will reach US$145 billion this year, competition is not limited to the field of play. Making the right decisions off the pitch is equally important in sports and industry leaders are also pioneering solutions to deepen fan engagement and find new opportunities to drive growth and profitability.

Through data analytics, sports marketers are better able to understand fan behaviour and offer personalised interactions across channels and devices. The outcome is more precise fan segmentation and targeted marketing, better interaction and a consistent, innovative experience that can transform fans into loyal brand advocates.

Making the right call

As emerging technologies, evolving consumer demands and innovative new entrants are reshaping the business landscape, industries worldwide are going through significant transformation. Riding the wave of change, the sports industry is among those leading the way in taking advantage of the unprecedented ability to make the right decisions in real time, based on colossal amounts of data available across their networks.

Ultimately, the access to real-time data that is transforming the way teams compete and the way we experience and enjoy sports will also enable businesses to make the right decisions like never before. As technology continues to change the way businesses and sports teams compete, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a player, a fan or a business leader.

Darren Roos, SAP’s General Manager EMEA North