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Software Giant SAP Getting Giant Boost in NFL

Alex Smith
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Alex Smith

When Michael Lewis wrote "Moneyball" more than a decade ago, it sparked a revolution in baseball. Instead of just a lot of aesthetic judgments about body type and how a swing looked, many in pro baseball began to rely solely on statistical analysis when choosing players to draft.

However, picking players in football has ALWAYS been more stat-focused. Now software giant SAP is hoping to take it to the next level: A complete one-stop shop scouting database

Think about it. Scouts watch players. Coaches watch players. General Managers watch players. They ALL have opinions.

Then, there are the interviews scouts have with coaches and players. After that, there is the scouting combine. Players are tested in an entire range of physical areas—and even some mental ones, too.

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The collegiate players may then repeat many of those tests at what are called "pro days" at their respective colleges and universities.

There are numbers, observations and even video.

SAP said they have the software that can aggregate all this information and sort it faster than anyone on earth—all on one single screen.

"Scouts would come in (to meetings) with binders and pens. The walls were full of white boards and magnets," said Mike Morini, general manager for the cloud at SAP. "Think about scouts going out with an iPad, and it's instantly available to everyone."

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Morini means that a scout could be entering information on that iPad, and it could be instantly available to everyone in the organization.

That sounds like something we should be able to do in this technological age, but the added value is that it all can be sorted and searched in a matter of seconds with the ability to incorporate stats, video and other elements.

The San Francisco 49ers are using the software already, even though it's still a work in progress.

"We had a bottleneck in our scouting," admitted the team's Chief Technology Officer, Kunal Malik. "We had problems that we were dealing with.

"SAP and I were talking about partnerships already, and since this was high priority for us, I brought it up."

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SAP listened and ran with it.

"We probably spent 100 hours with our guys and their people—front office, coaches, scouts," SAP's Morini said.

For this particular software, San Francisco became the first client. In terms of a business model, the team paid a fee up front, and moving forward, it's on a subscription basis.

"The results so far have given us enough confidence to use it," the 49ers' Malik said. "We don't try to recreate what exists. We try to re-define it."

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For SAP this is great news.

The $100 billion dollar German software company sees sports as a new—and potentially huge— revenue stream.

"It's a big drive for us," Morini said. "We spent forty years going business to business. Now, we want to go to customers and customers' customers."

To that end, SAP has made inroads not just with NFL teams but also with the NFL itself. The company is the technological backbone behind the league's re-launch of its fantasy football platform.

The hope is that products like the fantasy technology and scouting system will easily translate to other major professional sports.

"We are going after the entire NFL right away and then push to other major sports," Morini said.

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman

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