Rugby in New Zealand is synonymous with the world-renowned All Blacks, the dominant rugby union club of the past two decades. But New Zealand Rugby—the sport’s governing body in the country—is a sprawling enterprise extending far beyond the successes of the men’s national team.
NZ Rugby also oversees the women’s teams, youth programs and everything in between. Chief information and technology officer Angela Nash describes four distinct technology platforms at work to monitor and organize business operations, community rugby, high performance rugby and the digital platforms for fan engagement.
“We needed help,” Nash says. “We know what we can do, or what we should be doing, the way we want to be doing things. But we’re a tiny little company in a tiny little country at the bottom of the world, and we need to go and align ourselves with partners who have got that much bigger, broader global view and expertise and experience.”
SAP seeks out sports partners with similar values through whom it can showcase its technology. More recently, it was looking for an organization in Asia-Pacific.
Carla Hohepa of the New Zealand women’s national team warming up prior to a match against France.
“When you look around, there’s a lot of great opportunity in the Pan Asian region, but right at the top of the list is the New Zealand Rugby organization and the All Blacks,” says SAP global VP for sponsorships Dan Fleetwood. He adds, “One of the reasons why we saw this as such a great opportunity is because it’s not just a great brand, and it’s not just big in New Zealand or in rugby-playing markets. We see rugby as a sport that’s really gaining in popularity across the board, across many new markets.”
New Zealand is hosting the women’s Rugby World Cup later this year and the men’s next World Cup is in 2023 in Paris. Last week, the U.S. was granted hosting rights for the 2031 men’s tournament and 2033 women’s bracket, in recognition of the sport’s growth potential in North America.
We’re a tiny little company in a tiny little country at the bottom of the world, and we need to go and align ourselves with partners who have got that much bigger, broader global view and expertise and experience.
–Angela Nash, NZ Rugby chief information and technology officer
Because of New Zealand’s size (about five million) and location (5,000 miles from mainland Asia), there are some unique challenges in growing an international fan base, the vast majority of whom will never attend a home match.
“We probably haven’t reached our full potential with fan engagement globally,’’ Nash says. “We’ve put a lot of focus in some really good areas, but, technologically speaking and from a digital products perspective, fans’ wants and needs have changed drastically over the last five to 10 years—and even in the last 24 months.
The All Blacks perform the Haka prior to a match against Ireland.
“It’s just such a diverse portfolio that I have and diverse fans that I’m trying to engage with. What grassroots people based in New Zealand might want to say is incredibly different from what someone in North America or Japan might want to say.”
SAP’s work with NZ Rugby will be multi-faceted. Nash says the biggest challenge is not determining what works needs to be done but prioritizing the order. For now, the first project will be implementing SAP SuccessFactors, a human capital management software, to streamline and enhance the human resources department and empowering the staff of 160 employees to have more administrative and logistical back–end processing power.
Other areas of software development include integrating player performance and tactical insights, bolstering fan engagement tools and adding sustainability performance tools.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and that’s not dissimilar to many of our other customers that have systems that have been around for a while and, to nobody’s fault, there’s misalignment between systems and multiple data sources,” Fleetwood says. “All these kinds of things are typical business challenges, and that’s what we solve every day.”
SAP has completed some notable athlete performance or coaching products, both for the NHL’s on-bench iPads and Manchester City’s Challenger Insights tool. Nash says NZ Rugby ingests a giant volume of data from the All Blacks’ GPS trackers to other wearable technologies and the data shared over broadcast feeds.
GPS data from All Blacks players such as Sevu Reece, here scoring against Wales, is available to NZ Rugby and utilized on broadcasts.
“One of the things that is really good about New Zealand Rugby but also makes my job complicated,” Nash says, “is that we have players through Rippa—five year olds, noncontact—playing right through to professional rugby players. And so that player pathway from five-year-olds right through is long and varied.”
NZ Rugby is on the verge of receiving a capital infusion from Silver Lake, a private equity form that will acquire a minority stake in NZR’s commercial business for about $133 million. As part of the agreement, which is awaiting final ratification, NZR, its players association and Silver Lake will create a new group called Global Rugby Opportunities that will invest in global rugby and rugby-related technology businesses outside of the country.
“Potentially, the pace at which I’m going to have to move might change,” Nash says, “but the work that I need to do won’t change.”