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Equestrian Sports – Where Trots Get Digital and Technology Meets Tradition

Equestrian sports is one of the oldest forms of sports entertainment. Its history can be dated back to the ancient Greek civilization. Since then, the trots have transcended the periodical barriers from time to time, walking stride to stride with the age-specific customs, and entertaining the crowds in the process. And, in this present age, where everything is digitized, the trots have now become digital too.

I recently attended the annual World Equestrian Festival, CHIO Aachen—the Wimbledon of Equestrian Sports—and interviewed Ingrid Klimke, the two times Equestrian Olympic champion; (Mr.) Michael Mronz, the Organizer of the CHIO Aachen, and Mr. Björn Ganzhorn, the Head of SAP Global Sponsorships.

We have heard about the deployment of SAP powered solutions for enterprise management. Now, SAP is also making strides in the world of sports, integrating data and analytics with the traditional thrill and passion to dramatically transform the sports experience for fans, media, athletes, and organizers. Leading this race in the adoption of data and analytics driven solution is the equestrian sports.

CHIO Aachen and Data & Analytics

In 1924 the first horse show took place in the Aachen Soers, which is the venue of the CHIO Aachen until today. Since then, the organizers of the CHIO Aachen has been attracting the fans of Equestrian sports by staging athletic performances involving nowadays more than 500 competitors that take part in the event each year. With a spectating audience of over 360,000 visitors, the event organizers are always on the lookout to offer a better and more engaging experience for the fans every year. 

SAP, as a brand, has always aimed at making people’s live easier and better, through data and analytics driven solutions. As such, the focus of the two converge on us—the people. 

It was this overlapping intrinsic area of interest that prompted CHIO Aachen and SAP to enter into a partnership, and show how data and analytics can be leveraged to make the operations better in any industry—be it manufacturing, retailing, or SPORTS. 

When interviewed, Michael Mronz described the partnership as:

“We are moving into a digital world. Be it social media, online shopping, streaming, searching for information, everything has become digital around us. This digitalization has weaved a sense of ownership, engagement, and personalization in our existence that was not known before. Our followers, the fans of Equestrian sports, are part of this digital community. The tendency for digital transformation of the sport, is a natural expectation, that they harbor. With SAP, being a pioneer brand of making digital transformation possible of our physical world, we saw this as a perfect opportunity to pair with them, and deliver what our fans expect from us.”

All of this means increased engagement. Not just passive following; rather, an active and immersive sports following experience.  

Björn Ganzhorn extended the conversation by expressing his views about the partnership:

“Our goal as an organization has always been to bring our brand to life and enable digital transformation for our partners. Google and Facebook have taken customer expectations to a next level. At SAP, we develop engaging solutions to help our partners meet the ever-increasing expectations of their customers. Our partnership with CHIO Aachen and Equestrian sports in general reflects this endeavor that we have embarked upon.”

Exploring into the details further, he said:

“We work with the team at CHIO Aachen to establish what kind of more involvement we can bring to the spectators; how can we make the sports experience more interesting and engaging for them and what can we do to simplify the operations of Equestrian sports. This way, we can help broaden the reach of the sport to a more global audience. SAP helps CHIO Aachen to deliver an authentic experience at the Aachen festival, which allows us the opportunity to show our brand diversification and tell people, if data and analytics can help them, it can help you, no matter whichever vertical you belong to—arts, education or anything else.”

The Manifestation of Efforts

As CHIO Aachen and SAP sat together and worked towards the goal of delivering a better experience for customers—the fans, their efforts manifested into a technological offering that is reshaping the meaning of fan engagement.

Spectator Judging app and Equestrian Fan Quiz.

Through the Spectator Judging app, fans can rank and score the riders in real time, during the dressage and vaulting events at the CHIO Aachen. Spectators are now the judge. The scores are then displayed on the board, alongside the scores of the panel judges, which the players can see. 

The Equestrian Fan Quiz leverages gamification to engage fans, big and small, by asking questions about the sports in general and the event in specific. It tests their knowledge, while providing an opportunity to learn more about the sports. App users are scored for every answer that they give, and in return they get badges. Fans see it as a “fun” and a great way to spend time during breaks. 

And, that’s not all. The partnership has further evolved, and with it, so have the solutions on offer, with the team bringing the Internet of Things to the world of equestrian sports for the first time. 

“When we talk about transforming the sports experience, it’s not just the fans that we have to cater to. We also have to look at the riders and their horses, and think about improving their experience as well.”

Said, Michael Mronz. 

“Through data & analytics, we can provide information to our spectators to enlarge the live experience during the event and to the teams to improve their performance on course.”

Added, Björn Ganzhorn.

This is where Equestrian Analytics app comes in. 

Equestrian Analytics is a platform, which, through the sensor-captured-data provide insight on the performance of an athlete. It helps fans follow and understand all of the action as it unfolds and allows the riders to optimize their weak points to improve performance. So the next time, they can perform even better. These sensors are lightweight, and are mounted onto the rider. There is also a camera, mounted on the helmet, that gives a close-up of the visual action to the spectators as they track the rider in real-time through a cross-country course. 

To explain the technology and its benefits, there could have been no one better than Ingrid Klimke, the two times Equestrian Olympic champion, and the ambassador of SAP-Equestrian partnership. Her continuous and countless success in the sports for over 20 years, has earned her the honor of being the first female rider to receive the German honorary title of “Riding Master”. 

“When the first prototype was made, it was not as refined as the technology that power my performances at present. I looked like a space woman, wearing all those bulky devices.”

 “I have always been open to try and test different things. It allowed me to explore how I could use technology, to better analyze my rides, and also to bring my own experience closer to the fans, while I am on the course. This way, they can know what we are doing there or how the sports look like from a rider’s perspective.”

As for the question how the app helps in performance analysis and assist her in improving her strategy, Ingrid Klimke said:

“The success in any format of Equestrian sports, more so in cross country, is half dependent on the horse and half dependent on the rider. When I sit on the horse, my responsibility revolves around two things. First, I should know my speed, and the distance between the fences. When, I don’t know my speed or the distance, I don’t give my horse the chance to react. The second thing is, I have to choose the right way. You have to consider the angle, the line, because sometimes on a course, there can be a complex of fences. So, you have to approach it on the right angle, on the right way, if you want to make through, without over stressing your horse. When, I have access to this type of information, I can then shape up my strategy and leave its execution on my horse. Previously, when I do not had the technology at my disposal, I did not have the insight. So, even when I thought I was doing fine, in reality, there might have still things to improve. Through this app, I can now analyze my ride and sit with chief trainers before the next performance to optimize my strategy. This way, I can do much better as a rider and perform much better, while also supporting my horse to give him a good ride.”  

The Formula for Success

The success of any partnership depends on some core elements. 

Ingrid Klimke says:

“SAP Sports is a wonderful team. We work, collaborate and communicate like friends. I tell the team, what I want. I give them the idea. Based on my needs, they then execute the idea, and work towards making it happen. When they come up with a prototype, I test it and suggest where improvements can be made. 

For instance, to round up my analysis, it is not only key to know the speed, line and nature of the terrain but also how I meet my strategic waypoints – the so called minute-markers - which are critical to reach the optimum time. So I asked the team to integrate the minute marker feature along with the existing analysis which they did instantaneously. This now gives me a more comprehensive view of the accrued time deltas and helps to improve my decision making. It’s also a very nice feature for the fans that follow my course on the app as it shows them whether I will make it within the optimum time.”

Björn Ganzhorn shared the success formula by emphasizing the importance of trust. 

“It’s the trust that I believe is the formula for the success of this partnership. If Ingrid doesn’t trust us with the solutions that we come with, we won’t be able to do anything. Same goes for the team at CHIO Aachen. If they do not trust us with what we have to offer, this partnership would never sustain.”

Michael Mronz, added: 

“If we are discussing the main elements that have contributed to the success of our partnership with SAP, the design thinking approach from the team is what I would like to add. As a team, we do focus on what we can do to make things better. We talk about the perfect scenarios and then look how technology can help us to achieve that perfect scenario.”

In Conclusion

When you add everything up and consider the details that form part of this partnership, you start realizing that data and analytics, just like in business, has many benefits to offer to the world of sports. Here, the focus is on delivering an improved experience to the fans and athletes. In a business, the focus is on delivering improved customer experience. Here, you can use data and analytics to gain insight on a performance. In an enterprise setting, you can use data and analytics to study shop floor execution. 

This is what my enticement for the SAP-Equestrian strategic partnership, allowed me to explore. I hope the information in this article was equally beneficial for you. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Michael Mronz, Björn Ganzhorn and Ingrid Klimke, for taking out the time, and sharing their knowledge on this great transformation that Equestrian sports is witnessing. 

About the Author

Ronald van Loon is an Advisory Board Member and Big Data & Analytics course advisor for Simplilearn. His company, provides Big Data & Analytics certification courses, along with other leading certification programs. 

If you would like to read more from Ronald van Loon on the possibilities of Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT), please click “Follow” and connect on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Comment by Vincent Granville on September 18, 2017 at 7:34am

I remember working with a client in Australia (consulting project) interested in developing machine learning algorithms to improve sport bets in general, and in particular bets on horse races.

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