DFB & Die Nationalmannschaft: A Product of Data & German Engineering


Six hundred seconds, ten players, and three balls are all that’s needed, according to Germany’s Football Association (DFB) manager Oliver Bierhoff, for seven million data points to be created.  Seven million data points in ten minutes makes big data look small and potential data somewhat daunting. Data analytics infiltrates sport and its business practices every single day to the point now that there’s become a paradigm shift with the way analytics is handled.

The question being asked of of big data is no longer “How can we use this data?”, instead it has become “How best can we use this data?”  The subtle difference in emphasis exemplifies the nuance shift that many times can only be addressed through data analytics and it highlights the move beyond figuring out the applicability of big data in sports, and toward what the most effective application of it is.

This brings us back to why Oliver Bierhoff, a former Nationalmanjshaft captain, was even discussing data points.  Being German is something three major organizations who work together in this area, one of whom Bierhoff represents, have in common. Adidas AG, SAP AG, & the DFB all collaborate on some level in this big data paradigm shift in sports, and following Germany’s record shattering 7-1 performance against Brazil, in Brazil, in the World Cup Semi-Finals, it seems safe to say they’re doing something right.

In addition to his work as national team manager alongside head coach Joachim Löw, Bierhoff also acts as a Brand ambassador for SAP in sports strategy and together they look to “develop and implement a range of technology solutions to assist the German National Team off the pitch in order to enhance their on-field success.”

These solutions represent the paradigm shift in more efficient and effective applicability of performance data analysis and dissemination.  Dissemination represents this next step in data driven analysis as coaches, scouts, and team doctors, now working with this wealth of incredibly detailed information look to leverage it in such a way that it effects major positive changes.

SAP’s Match Insights solution runs on their SAP Hana platform which uses in-memory computing to enable real-time applicability and analysis of incredibly diverse data points for coaches.  In-memory computing in effect reduces the number of processes needed to access memory required of their applications and creates a dramatically quicker and more effective platform on which SAP’s solutions operate.

The fact is that being more efficient with time and processes is exactly what SAP is trying to do with its data solutions and real-time analysis.  Not only are coaches and trainers able to process the massive amount of information in a way that makes its applicability clearer, it does so in a way that also makes it easier for players to access and understand.

The ability to “contextualize information and draw conclusions to optimize training and tactics” is all well and good but there are only so many training hours and the ability for players to access personalized data on their own, at their own speed is something that previously was unavailable. It usually required multiple people drawing up and editing game footage to highlight improvements assessed by coaches who had passed them on to the coach who synthesized them into one single message who coordinated a time and place to deliver it where footage could be viewed.

These new data-intelligence solutions aren’t a replacement for intuitive coaching or decision making but with the ability to use these applications on mobile devices, players are now able to do their own personalized prepartion and analysis on their own time, in their own way.

As an example, in an interview with ESPN FC’s Raphael Honigstein, Bierhoff explains how in preparation for their game against Portugal in the group stages, Jerome Boateng wanted to see footage of Cristiano’s movement inside the 18 yard box.  This footage was sent directly, in addition to personalized examples from previous games of what players have done correctly and incorrectly.  All of this, without ever stepping into a projector room.  Mobile may be where the fans are, but it’s also where the players are.

Technology innovates at such a pace that it requires those who use it to adapt at an equal pace. SAP helps facilitate this adaptation and they’re not alone.  Adidas is another organization with a strong partnership with the DFB who utilizes this advent of newly quantifiable information.

Adidas, who also utilizes SAP Hana on their corporate business side, through their MiCoach Elite Team System are full cycle into wearable technology as a form of more personalized data collection geared toward in training and on field physical performance including heart rate, speed, distance, acceleration power and positioning.  This system is based on mobile-sensor technology integrated into Adidas’ Tech-fit training apparel line and designed to be non-intrusive to a player physically.

The system integrates with its own web-based interface as well as a mobile application and also has a foundation in athletic training with EXOS (formerly core performance), an athletic training company that works together with Adidas and MiCoach to develop training, content and coaching plans based on the data provided and collected by the “Player Cells.”

SAP utilizes its proprietary solutions with other physical technology as seen with TSG Hoffenheim and their use of google glass and apple products, but the extent to which Adidas and SAP integrate in the German National Team training program is unknown. With interaction on multiple levels from all three organizations though, it’s hard to believe that their isn’t come sort of coordination between them in the implementation of their programs.

Regardless of the level of that coordination, Germany now find themselves in the World Cup Final, set to face the winner of Argentina against the Netherlands. At this stage no data point is useless but no matter how much data there is, it can all be rendered useless if it isn’t evaluated and disseminated properly.  SAP and Adidas are attempting to do so and if Germany’s performances are anything to go by, they may be doing something right.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.