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SAP: Sport Isn’t Just About Marketing, It’s Business Too

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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SAP’s head of sport says it got involved for the marketing potential, but now it sees a sustainable business as it helps Germany at Euro 2016

Like many other technology companies, SAP was attracted to the sports industry because of the branding opportunities created by associations with sports organisations and high profile athletes.

For example, its involvement in the 2015 Cricket World Cup was seen as an ideal platform to showcase SAP HANA working with significant amounts of historic data.

But now it says its principal motive is business as more teams, events and associations recognise the need to run more efficiently, often with budgets in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

Sports operations

SAP Cricket analytics (2)It is confident its ability to offer ‘end to end’ packages of software that allow back offices to run more smoothly, help organisations connect and attract fans, and improve athletic performance set it apart from other vendors in what is a growing market.

SAP has worked with the German football association (DFB) in areas such as CRM and ticketing for some time, but an expanded partnership that saw big data analytics applied on the pitch for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil has resulted in the creation of the SAP Sports One suite of software.

“We started in sports to raise our profile for marketing,” Stefan Wagner, global general manager for sports and entertainment told TechWeekEurope at the German team base for Euro 2016 in Evian-les-Bains, France.

“But with the World Cup and the need for technology in sport we saw this as an industry – not just for marketing and branding, which is still significant – but a business.

“We see it as a very sustainable industry. These are big clients big with huge budgets.”

At Euro 2016, SAP Sports One has been updated to help the German team get better at penalties, not only in normal play but also in penalty shoot-outs – a significant possibility in tournament football.

Off and on the pitch

SAP Cricket World Cup match centreSAP, Wagner says, can not only improve fortunes on the pitch, but boost performance off it. CRM and social analytics capabilities can help organisations understand customers better, boost ticket and merchandising sales, and make backroom operations more efficient.

A recent deal with City Football Group, parent of Manchester City, Wagner said, showed that sports companies were no different from those on other sectors. Data will be used by Manchester City to try and identify talented players earlier in their careers – saving money on transfer fees.

The German firm’s technology will be used in every day management of the clubs, such as finance, HR and marketing, using analytics to improve processes and communication tools to convey concepts and data across all four territories.

Wagner claimed SAP’s sports division is growing by 13 percent a year and also counts the NBA, NHL and the International Cricket Council (ICC) as customers. Indeed, one of the main things that SAP has learned in its endeavours thus far is that it is impossible to make an impact in sport without the assistance of partners, like the DFB, that help influence the direction of its product.

But he was keen to emphasise that it’s not just world famous sports leagues and teams that can benefit. Of SAPs 310,000 clients, he estimated 80 percent are SMBs, meaning it was used to catering for smaller organisations. A second tier football club for example could still get the benefits of SAP software with just 2 users.

“These days, clubs and professional associations need to know they have to run efficiently,” said Wagner. “Winning alone will not make your rich. Without a successful back office, you will not be successful.

“We do not see the same amount of revenue as the oil and gas industry, but we see fantastic potential to demonstrate our technology.”

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