High-tech Bundesliga: Welcome to the future | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.08.2019
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High-tech Bundesliga: Welcome to the future

Drones in training, video analysis at the click of a button and virtual security checks at the turnstiles. This season, the Bundesliga is going high tech in more ways than one.

There's a constant buzz in the air. Down on the training pitch in the Austrian town of Bad Häring, the Augsburg players are sweating in the heat.

Ahead of the start of the new Bundesliga season, coach Martin Schmidt is practicing tactical formations, analyzed from above by a camera drone. After the session, the Swiss coach will use the images to show his players any positional errors.

And he's not the only one, with Bundesliga coaching teams increasingly turning to aerial drone analysis. Last season, Werder Bremen even found themselves in hot water after using a drone to spy on opponents Hoffenheim …

Big data - flexible data

The drones themselves, however, only provide the camera angle. The actual data processing is much more detailed.

"It's possible to determine each player's spatial control values in less than seven seconds," explains Professor Daniel Memmert from the German Sports University in Cologne. "A traditional, manual analysis, on the other hand, can take up to six hours."

In this way, games, opponents and tactics can be analyzed in the blink of an eye, and a team's own match plan developed accordingly. Consequently, unpredictability is more important than ever, and it's no coincidence that almost all Bundesliga sides have been working hard on tactical variability this summer.

There is data for everything; all Bundesliga games are analyzed down to the last detail and the numbers are available to all. Individual clubs also record information on the training performances, fitness and health of their players.

Hoffenheim go even further, testing the concentration levels of their academy players and asking them to rate their own mental fatigue.

"There's no such thing as 'too much data' when it comes to digital analysis," says Raffael Hoffner, head of digitalization at the club. "But of course there are also bound to be some values included upon which we'll look back in 10 years' time and laugh because we didn't need them after all."

SAP Interactive Data Space - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Simon Hofmann/SAP)

SAP's "Interactive Data Space" at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Quantity does not equal quality

For footall analysts like Daniel Memmert, deriving relevant figures from the mass of data is an art form in itself.

"Everyone knows now that distance covered doesn't tell us much," says the Cologne-based sports scientist. "That's why we now have other parameters, which enable us to measure the qualities of a team more accurately: spatial control, pressing values and pass efficiency."

In the hunt for ever more informative algorithms, the nerds are leading the way.

"Barcelona have recently employed five data analysts," explains Memmert, while Hoffner reveals that Hoffenheim are relying increasingly on IT experts and statisticians.

"People who actually have very little to do with football," he says.

But it's not one-size-fits-all. Technology must always be tailored to a particular club and specific situations.

"What good to me is an algorithm used by Bayern Munich?" asks Hoffner. "We have a different philosophy, a different squad and we're not in Europe this season."

With the support of main sponsor SAP, Europe's largest software producer whose co-founder Dietmar Hopp owns a 96 percent stake in the club, Hoffenheim develop their own programs and are positioning themselves as digital trailblazers in the Bundesliga.

"Target-oriented visualization is key in the end," says Hoffner. "We need to be able to visibly show the players things in order to improve their performance." To that end, the club have built a so-called "Interactive Data Space" – a gadget-filled conference room with interactive displays and other equipment that visualize everything from key passages of play to bratwurst sales on the terraces.

Grafiken der US-Firma Liberty Defense | Hexwave (Hexwave)

Airport-style body scanners at football matches?

Virtual security checks

And so to the fans – how will the new high-tech Bundesliga affect them? This season, Bayern Munich are set to become the first club in Europe to test out "Hexwave," a American-developed radar scanner which carries out body searches. And so, instead of manual patting down and emptying of pockets, artificial intelligence will be used to detect dangerous items such as weapons and other banned objects.

"It is a very limited test over the course of a few weeks," reassures Brittany Whitmore, a spokesperson for Hexwave. For the time being then, the majority of checks will remain manual.