Data giant eyes sporting 'soul'

Providing WTA coaches with real-time stats a further benefit of company's diversification

German software company SAP has been in the data business since 1972 but it was only five years ago that it took its first step into the sports industry.

It already has a footprint in 12 sports, including tennis, golf and Formula One. It has fed fans with over 4.5 quadrillion National Basketball Association (NBA) statistics. And its real-time analytics helped power Germany to World Cup glory last year.

Sports might not be its primary focus but SAP has set its sights on a slice of the industry's pie.

It is estimated to be worth about US$20 billion (S$27.7 billion).

"We serve 25 industries and sports is one of them. But sports is the front porch to someone's soul," Chris Burton, head of SAP global marketing partnerships, noted.

He was speaking at the sidelines of the Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament at Stanford University this week.

"If you love tennis and I can talk to you about something in your passion point, it becomes really amazing," he said.

It is a win-win situation for SAP as it taps into a lucrative niche market lacking in big players that can provide solutions in sports.

Premier sporting events are perfect for SAP, the market leader in applications and analytics.

SAP flexed its muscles again on Wednesday in Stanford during the launch of the WTA and SAP tennis analytics, providing tennis coaches with real-time statistics to analyse players' performances.

Just 20km away from the tennis courts is another reminder of SAP's presence in the sporting arena. 

The company's logo adorns a sign at the Levi's Stadium, home of the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers. SAP, a founding partner of the Santa Clara stadium, provides the 49ers with on-field analytics, particularly in scouting.

Closer to home, SAP has played its part in shaping fans' experiences. It was behind a mobile app for the WTA Finals in Singapore last year, offering virtual replays and player comparison tools.

And as the official technical sponsor of the Extreme Sailing Series, which counts Marina Bay as one of its stops, SAP provided spectators with real-time visuals of each race, with information on wind speed and direction.       

Despite its involvement in just about every major sport, SAP is still looking to up its game.

"The place where I think the biggest strides are being made is health and safety," said Burton.

"One of the key elements in American football is head injuries. So how do you take the head out of the game? Technology has the ability to do that through sensor-based (data). I think that's going to be fascinating in the next frontier."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'DATA GIANT EYES SPORTING 'SOUL''. Print Edition | Subscribe