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Dawn of the big data era in sports

Mark Lehew, Global Vice President Sports & Entertainment, SAP SE | Dec. 14, 2015
With technology, our ability to process incredible amounts of raw data is transforming professional sports at every level.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Let me tell you a story about a major sporting event.

It happened in Europe. And fans traveled hundreds of miles to be there. There were no hotel rooms available, so they pitched tents and slept outside. Before the event, they prepared a feast, drank, and were filled with excitement.

Then, the moment they were waiting for arrived. They stood all day in the hot sun, cheering on the athletes in contests of speed, power, and endurance. The winners became hometown heroes and had statues built in their names.

The event I'm describing took place 2,000 years ago — the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, but I could just as easily be describing the World Cup or Wimbledon today.

Naturally, there are some important differences between then and now, but the truth is, not so much has changed over the centuries. Our passion for sports has always been part of our human DNA. Although today's race cars may go faster than chariots, the ancient Greeks would fit in perfectly at a Formula One track.

What has changed, however, is how we experience sports. Over the last century, advances in technology have revolutionised sports. In the 1920s, radio stations began airing boxing matches, bringing the sounds of live competition to millions of people for the first time. By the 1940s, television networks were broadcasting games, and fans could actually see their favourite athletes run, jump, and hit from the comfort of their homes. As the sports media grew, so did our ability to engage with the competition we crave.

Instead of being a hobby to enjoy at special times, sports became an obsession that we had to feed all the time. With the Internet and mobile devices, we can follow every game anywhere at any time. As a result of this technological transformation, the lines between sports, entertainment, and media are blurring, which has enabled sports to quickly grow into a US$100 billion global industry.

The big data revolution in sports
We are still in the early stages of a new era in sports: the era of big data. Most sports fans love statistics. Goals, points, runs, saves. They are the tools of the trade. But it's only recently that we began paying attention to advance data, or analytics, which was strange and controversial just 15 years ago.

Passionate fans have evolved in this short time and completely embraced this new era. They're taking that data themselves and creating new and innovative metrics to measure player performance and value. They've opened up a whole new world for this and rather than fighting it, cutting edge teams have hired these fans to run their analytical departments and find new ways to create a competitive edge.


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