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How Big Data Is Coming Into Play At The World Cup

26 June, 2014

How Big Data Is Coming Into Play At The World Cup

Now in its second week, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is officially one of the most-watched television events of all time. According to reports, the first U.S. match in Brazil garnered over 16 million American TV viewers, making it the highest-rated men’s soccer match ever.

While all eyes are glued to the soccer field where teams are competing, big data will be just as much in play as any of the teams at the World Cup.

Here are just a few of the ways big data is scoring big behind the scenes at the 2014 World Cup.

Mobile explosion

With over 600,000 foreign tourists predicted to arrive in Brazil for the games, officials in Brazil are taking their cues from Sochi’s Winter Olympics to manage the massive numbers of mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets that fans have brought to the city.

Officials in Brazil have ensured that networks are running smoothly during the games by increasing the city’s access points, boosting bandwidth and creating private networks. With so many fans generating data, Brazil is preparing itself for a mobile explosion.

Monitoring the city

In preparation for the World Cup, the host city of Rio de Janeiro has developed a coordinated approach to data sharing and crisis management.

Access to real time data is critical to the day-to-day management of the city, according to an interview with the CEO of Rio’s Operations Centre. The amount of background work that goes on, he says, requires a complex data collection and analysis system.

“Together with business intelligence, big data, computers and sensors, we [are] focusing our success with the work of the people together with technology. I don’t see an intelligent city working without conversation, without those connections. They are both technological and human connections,” said Pedro Junqueira.

The Operations Centre pulls together 30 agencies into one central command location where data from sensors, video feeds and social media is collected and analyzed. The centre uses all this information to create a smart map of the city, which has over 120 layers of data.

In addition, the centre utilizes the people of Rio to send alerts and notify other citizens when incidents happen in the city. For instance, a radio station might get information about a car crash in the city and relay that information to the centre.

Goal-line technology

Big data isn’t just working behind the scenes – it’s extending its influence to the soccer field as well.

One of the major frustrations with soccer is that it is the responsibility of the referee to judge whether or not an entire ball has crossed the goal line. Often these decisions are made instantaneously and from far distances, resulting in some unfair calls.

This is the first year that FIFA is using goal-line technology to determine whether a ball has actually passed the goal plane. This technology could help settle disputed goals more fairly by computing big data collected in real time.

This is also the first year World Cup games will be captured in 4K Ultra HD, which requires a huge amount of data in order to run correctly. The camera is considered a major step forward for video recording technology.

Training the teams

The Economist reported last year that using a ‘Moneyball’ approach to soccer is incredibly difficult. Whereas baseball is a game comprised of distinct events that are easy to measure, soccer involves 22 people who are continuously in play.

Even so, many soccer teams are using big data insights to help players reach their potential. Real-time data based on video analysis help team managers wrap their heads around which plays are working and which aren’t. Many World Cup teams are also using heat maps to analyze the movement of players around the field.

As the technology advances, big data will likely have a broader impact on how team managers pick strategies for their teams.

Predictions

Some companies are using big data to make predictions about which team will emerge as champion by examining factors like ball movement and player activity. Although it is challenging to predict who will win the World Cup, it’s not impossible.

Goldman Sachs, for instance, has taken a more general approach to its predictive model. By using information about each team’s World Cup track record and current FIFA rankings, the company has created a data-driven bracket that has Brazil slated to win the World Cup.

From making predictions to settling game disputes to managing city incidents, big data is proving to be the biggest player on the field at this year’s World Cup.

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