Big Data helped Germany lift the World Cup in 2014. The relentless pursuit of the trophy started several months leading up to the summer tournament, when Deutschland’s tech savvy coaching staff decided to welcome Big Data technology into their coaching strategy. Bits of information were teased out of Die Mannschafts’ biometric data and movement during the tournament, along with comprehensive analysis of its opponents’ play history and tactics.

That said, Big Data technology was one of the unsung heroes that helped Germany win the final against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro.

‘Data, the 21st Century Protein Supplement’

Data is no newcomer in the world of professional sports. Score recording and analysis was common in early history too. Bets were made on gladiators in Rome based on their historical performance.

The inclusion of data analysis goes way back in 2003 when Michael Lewis wrote a chronicle based on the data-driven resurgence of the Oakland A’s devised by Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta, who trusted computer-generated algorithms to identify undervalued players. In fact, the 2011 blockbuster Moneyball is loosely based on the story of baseball manager Beane (played by Brad Pitt) & Mets executive Paul DePodesta who introduced professional sports to the ‘Era of Big Data’. Billy’s perseverance and data-driven approach taught the world that sporting success does not entirely depend on traditional methods of scouting players and strategies.

These days, everybody is trying to jump on the “Big Data” bandwagon. It’s neither cool nor sexy, but it is helping businesses, agencies and now professional sports team save a lot of money and make traditional practices more efficient. But what does that mean? Should we hire a geek rather than an experienced scout, by trusting data analysis?

‘Negotiating Contracts to Fan Engagement’

In last few years, a good deal of speculation has spurred around the idea that Big Data technology may eventually replace sports managers. The core logic behind this idea is simple. Computers can accumulate and process large data sets much faster and efficiently, which enables them to predict future performance better we do. Second, unlike us humans, computers are not bigoted by emotions or personal opinions; hence their decisions are bound to be much more rational than ours.

Big Data technology will help professional coaches in several ways, from determining patterns about rivals to tweaking training plans. For example, in certain circumstances, if the coach on the rival team tends to make a particular decision, then the team on the other side can be ready for it.

In the sporting arena, especially during high injury sports, players’ health and safety is something that needs a lot of focus. Such injuries can sometimes cost a lot of money. Take a look at this. In 2013, teams across Major League Baseball put up $665 million on the salaries of injured players and their replacements. NBA teams lost as much as $358 million, with Los Angeles Lakers spending $44 million on injured players alone.

Big Data and performance analytics can help minimize such massive losses. Smart clothing like XefleX and Adidas miCoach can be used to monitor the wearer’s health and emotional state. In fact, data can be used to predict how an athlete will get hurt even before it actually happens. It can monitor and train players to make a perfect football kick, or golf swing, since it knows exactly where they’re going wrong.

Predictive analytics technology has been saving players from long-lasting physical injuries resulting from rough and high impact games such as rugby. Professional players are generally fitted with sensors, which help in measuring and monitoring their intensity levels, fatigue and collisions and further lower injury risk. Using predictive analysis, coaches can also determine how to change players’ training schedules. Similarly, players’ psychological data can be accumulated in order to explore how individual psyches can affect the performance during the game.

American sports continue to benefit heavily from Big Data technology in innumerable ways. A few months ago several American pro sports teams and even NBA leagues shelled out heavily in essential data analysis technologies and expertise in order to gain an advantage over rivals. Some of the best-known NBA teams, including the Seattle Sounders, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Antonio Spurs are employing data analysts en masse for analysis of myriad patterns.

Performance analytics can also boost a players’ career, or in some cases even reveal hidden physical issues and shorten their careers. For example, if the team has a heavy risk for injury kind of player, the owner of the team is certainly going to think twice before paying a million bucks to that player. Owners, of course are going to love this kind of data. It will not just help them maximize the potential of every worthy player on the team, but also save a great deal of money from being lost on injured or heavy risk potential players.

Exploiting data isn’t just limited to improving team performance. Modern businesses seek data analysis to alter their business operation for good repute and customer satisfaction. By looking at the business side of sports, one can easily identify the affliction between two seemingly separate universes.

NASCAR collaborated with HP to improve its brand. Collectively, they built the Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC), which accumulates all of information that fans post online. By understanding how fans engage with the sports team, marketing strategies for broadcast content and advertising can be tailored. This data can be gathered, analyzed and passed on to fitting people, whether it is the PR reps of drivers or drivers themselves.

Big Data technology has moved out of the lab and onto the playing field. It’s going to be the cold-hearted center of bargaining talks between major leagues, their players and the unions. But the question remains: will it dehumanize or take the thrill out of the games? Will the statistical likelihood of a goal being scored take away the curiosity and enthusiasm out of the sport? Or will it help us explore the depths of an entirely new experience of the game being played and newer skills on the display?