"Only the German team was using big data for sports analytics… and only that team won the 2014 World Cup"
"The World Cup set new Twitter and Facebook records with more than 32 million tweets and 3 billion Facebook interactions"
"Sports is a proving ground for predictive analytics: as it is a closed system, with well-defined rules, and the outcomes we are looking for are already known, it could be feasible"
In our digital world, technology is changing the game and consumers are making—and breaking—the rules. That makes every business a digital business, no matter what it sells. Every business requires a digital focus in all its business processes and functions. Such digital orientation is expected to enable the complete transformation of the operating and business model of the firm. More than half (52%) of C-suite executives - recently surveyed by Accenture and The Economist Intelligence Unit, expect digital to cause significant change or complete transformation in their industries (Shah, Hartman and Whipple, 2014). Digital channels are proving pivotal to how an entire organization competes, innovates and enhances the customer experience and high-growth companies have grasped a key insight: today’s digital customer expects a relevant and delightful customer experience at all times and across all channels.
An outstanding peculiarity of service businesses is that they do produce innovation originally, and do not depend only on industrial innovation, i.e., services tend to innovate differently from manufacturers, or at least innovation in services brings to the fore ‘softer’ aspects of innovation based in skills and inter‐organizational cooperation practices. Accordingly, service theory is evolving to a service-dominant logic, where customers co-create value through service.
Today service business´ success requires a customer-focused digital orientation. It starts with prioritizing a superior and relevant customer experience and aligning the organization, processes and technology to power it. High-growth companies are rapidly creating a digital ecosystem that marries analytic insights and actions across customers’ preferred channels. They are attracting talent who create experiences that allow their companies to leapfrog the competition.
This article aims to invite the readers of this magazine to look at the ways and means to co-create and capture business value from big data and smart computing in terms of new business opportunities, improved performance, and competitive advantage in the service business. For that purpose, two different examples are brought into the fore. Both of them have to do with Big Data analytics, Sports, and the 2014 World Cup. In the first example we consider the relationship between SAP and the German Football Team, while in the second, the company OPTA and the information it provides in the debate to find the greatest footballer of all time (GOAT) are introduced.
Big Data and Sport Analytics
As it is well known, Big data analytics is “a collection of data and technology that accesses, integrates, and reports all available data by filtering, correlating, and reporting insights not attainable with past data technologies” (APICS 2012). This emerging phenomenon reflects the ever increasing significance of data in terms of its growing volumes, variety and velocity (the speed with which it is being created and processed) (Department for Business- Innovation and Skills 2013). Anyway, the key to being able to generate insight from all the data being collected is having people with domain expertise who can provide the context for that data and very few empirical studies have been conducted on the real value from big data. (Goodwin 2013). From the point of view of service business managers, big data has the potential to enable more sophisticated data-driven decision making and new ways to organize, learn and innovate, and its impact may be manifest in whatever the key business drivers may be (Yiu 2012; Kiron 2013). Service firms are experiencing much more voluminous and unstructured data environments because of real-time information from sensors and RFID, among other devices; this evidence suggests the usefulness that adopting Big Data and predictive analysis may bring to the service business domain.
Sports is a proving ground for predictive analytics: as it is a closed system, with well-defined rules, and the outcomes we are looking for are already known, it could be feasible - provided enough data points, that we can reduce sports to a classic computer science problem of analyzing data for trends. The new domain of sports analysis has been built on technological advances such as multicore processors and commodity network-attached storage devices that have made it feasible to contemplate such data-intensive pastimes; this is the case with software innovations like the Hadoop distributed computing framework, the MapReduce programming model and high-performance databases such as NoSQL products (McKenna, 2014).
One high-profile sport to catch the data analysis bug is football. Leading European clubs such as Real Madrid and Arsenal have pioneered the use of player-tracking systems, like the IP camera network and analytics software developed by Prozone, to understand how individual players move through every passage of play, looking to find ways to improve their performance. Another anecdote comes from the German soccer club TSG Hoffenheim, paired up with SAP last year to track data with HANA from wearable sensors that seek to analyze every bit of a player’s movement. Those sensors are embedded in clothing and used to gather ‘actionable’ data from training. Nowadays wearables are incredibly limited in diverse functionalities, but they have strengths, too, including motion sensing. And a trend is emerging in which wearables access paired larger devices for downloads, larger screen space, and Wi-Fi or equivalent broadband computing. It is even conceivable that the handheld, rather than being replaced by wearables, could become the hub or traffic cop for all of the devices you wear, possibly even integrating their functions. Also, in the Internet of Things, the handheld will likely even integrate things like your home monitoring system and all of the other sensor-driven things you have (Pombriant, 2014).
Did Big Data analytics help football team to win the 2014 World Cup?
It could be discussed who played the larger part in Germany´s victory over Argentina in the World Cup final in Brazil: the design of Germany’s football team, - Götze was described as a product of the kind of hard-won technical skill that looks less and less like luck and more and more like a heavily resourced (Ronay, 2014)-, or the Germany-headquartered software company SAP.
In October 2013, the German Football Association (DFB) and SAP began collaborating to develop a ‘Match Insights’ software system for the German national team to use in preparation for and during the event. SAP delivered a prototype in March 2014 and Joachim Low’s management team has been using the software ever since: SAP analytics ‘helped’ the team in the days leading up the games - as well as during the tournament itself (Tebor, 2014). The help took the appearance of software records from all of the players' movements and passes, so that by using analytics, coaches and trainers could assess how well the players were performing and what adjustments needed to be made at the training level to correct inefficiencies or errors. Apparently, the data provided to Joachim´s Low helped him to realize certain developments during the game … and see correlations, leading him to make better decisions. But also the players could learn along the World Cup, as the German team analyzed the data captured by video cameras around the pitch. Such information could be viewed on a big screen in the players’ lounge, as well as in mobile devices like individual players’ mobile phones and tablets.
Have there been some ‘real’ improvements? According to SAP, the biggest one was the team’s speed of passing: after using SAP Match Insights, based on the supplier’s Hana technology, Germany football team has been able to reduce that time to 1.1 seconds, when the team had in 2010 an average ball possession time of 3.4 seconds. Other data captured included players' speed and distance travelled, positioning and number of touches. This information was provided by eight cameras that were covering each pitch in Brazil and data was available to all the teams. Only the German team was using big data for sports analytics, and only that team won the 2014 World Cup.
OPTA and the greatest footballer of all time
Sports pages are now chock-full of statistics and graphical analysis generated by data services provider Opta, detailing players’ every move, pass or misplaced tackle. OptaPro’s suite of analytical products and services can help coaches, analysts and scouts fine tune their performances, proficiently scout their opponents and effectively recruit new talent, creating data-led, more efficient teams within professional sports. Such information is being used to feed the greatest of all time (GOAT) debate, i.e., which footballer is the greatest of all time? More often than not the vote conforms to the ‘reminiscence bump’ – people recall most personal events from when they were between 10 and 30 years old. It’s incredibly unscientific and as a result it fails to provide a conclusive answer to the GOAT question. This was one of the reasons that spurred sports data company Opta to trawl through footage of every single World Cup finals match from 1966 to the present day to see what trends they could derive. Opta has been doing the same forensic research on Premier League football matches, as well as matches from other major global football divisions and international games, since 1996. (McKenna, 2014) (Wheeler et el., 2014).
The Brazilian national team, the most successful side in FIFA World Cup history, named OptaPro as their Official Data Partner. This partnership included the Brazilian coaching and analysis staff using OptaPro’s suite of products and services to aid them with squad selection, opposition scouting and team analysis during the team’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil, as well as for the duration of the tournament itself. Thanks to Opta’s recent expansion into South America, OptaPro could offer fully detailed data on leagues and competitions including the Copa Libertadores, the Brazilian Campeonato Serie A, the Primera División in Chile, the Argentine Primera División and the Categoría Primera A in Colombia, as well as over 30 other leagues across the world. The scope of Opta’s data coverage was invaluable for a coaching team tasked with monitoring players in many different leagues and countries across the world.
The 2014 World Cup, which Opta has already analyzed, has already pointed up some interesting historical trends, particularly in goal scoring. There have already been more goals scored by substitutes in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil than any tournament in history, reflecting the primacy of the squad in the modern game. The average number of goals per game in the knock-out stages (three) is also as high as it has ever been since 1958 – from 1966 to 1990, Opta data shows a significant decline in the number of goals scored in World Cup finals; the introduction of the back-pass laws in 1994 temporarily halted this decline but the goals tally started to shrink again from 1998 on.
In addition to general tournament trends that reflect the different ways that the game has evolved over the last five or so decades, Opta picked up on some interesting individual statistics. So far, we know now that Gary Lineker is the most clinical striker from open play of any player in World Cup history stretching back to 1966. Portugal great Eusebio, on the other hand, had 66 shots on goal in the 1966 finals – twice as many as any other player – but netted just nine of those in six matches (including four in one game). And Maradona has been penalised for more handballs than any other player in World Cup history since 1966, although he is also the most fouled player in World Cup history. The Italian defender Claudio Gentile, who was part of the 1982 World Cup winning team committed six fouls in a match against Argentina, all on Diego Maradona, and then he played against Brazil and did exactly the same on Zico. Unfortunately, it is not possible even with the incredible advances made in technology and sports analytics over the last decade or so that the data can offer you a definitive answer to who is the best: it is not possible to reduce football to a classic computer science problem, as there are so many differences between the styles of play and what players were able to do in the various World Cups that they participated in.
Smart Cities and Sports
In 2014, an estimated 500,000 soccer fans from all over the globe descended on Brazil to attend the world’s largest soccer event. Over the four weeks of the soccer tournament, fans stood in hotels, ate in restaurants, shopped and visited Brazil’s many attractions. They attended soccer matches and moved between the 12 Brazilian host cities. Hosting such a major international sporting event was an opportunity for infrastructure transformation that could change the face of multiple host cities, which were expected to benefit from the nationwide surge of investments in urban mobility, facilities and more. The latest advancements in technology together with the World Cup and its Mobile, Global Stadium the World Cup 2014 connected the world’s soccer fans before our very eyes: they were indeed glued to the games from their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. While Germany’s team celebrates its 2014 FIFA World Cup in the Stadium, we did not need to be physically there: our devices were streaming the matches in places like airplanes, trains, buses, cars, boats, cruisers, and so on. ESPN stated that on Sunday, June 22nd, 490,000 people streamed coverage of the U.S. versus Portugal match on their mobile devices through the company’s app. And the final game between Germany and Argentina smashed world Twitter and Facebook records. Specifically, the World Cup set new Twitter and Facebook records with more than 32 million tweets and 3 billion Facebook interactions (Munford, 2014).
One has to appreciate all these technological advancements not only because they have brought amusement closer to us and on real time. As Smart Sports relate to Smart Cities, we should remember that Smart Cities represents the modern approach to provide traders with a complete infrastructure base to stimulate and sustain competitive trade. In the 2014 World Cup context, traders were of many different types: football teams, social media companies, hotels, municipalities, tourists, football players, advertisers… The urban performance has depended on the Brazilian cities´ endowment of hard infrastructure and on the availability and quality of knowledge communication and social infrastructure. Here, the term infrastructure indicates business services, housing, leisure and lifestyle services, transport, and information technology with an emphasis on a wired city as the main development model and on connectivity as the source of growth. All those activities and trades have been tracked by computers based in a central command post and the cities’ computers have made intelligent, immediate adjustments to the flow of utilities, traffic, public safety systems and much more.
Brazil has spent on the World Cup about a staggering $13 billion, a vast expenditure compared to the $1 billion South Africa spent on World Cup 2010. Has it been an investment or, on the contrary, plain expense? According to Sergio Borger from IBM Research Brazil, “Rio has become one of the world's smartest cities by infusing intelligence into its city systems and urban infrastructures, that uses analytics to draw insight from a vast urban network of sensors, digital devices and cameras to provide real-time and predictive data about weather, traffic, transportation, power failures and other challenges”. He maintains that “the advance of a new generation of technologies based on the cloud, analytics, social media and mobile, mixed with Rio's leadership in the area of smarter cities, is creating a new innovation ecosystem and a raft of opportunities for entrepreneurs,”.
As the Olympic caravan approaches, a sound asset management system such as described in ISO 55000 will be required to ensure that Smart Cities maintain reliable infrastructure to fulfill the needs of the country. Last May 28, 2014, the World Union of Olympic Cities announced its new initiative - the “Smart Cities & Sport Summit” with the first edition of the summit to be hold on 5-7 November this year in Lausanne, Switzerland. The conference is organized for representatives of cities, regions and countries around the world interested in learning more about effective and Smart Olympic Games, other sporting events or just to create new ways to develop a city with an active and healthy life-style. The organizers take for sure that smart ideas will emerge on how to combine sport events and sustainable urban development. We can also agree on their working hypothesis that sport and cites can interact in a smarter and sustainable way.