Billions of people all over the world have turn with rapt attention to Brazil, where the world’s finest soccer players are gathered for the extravaganza known as the World Cup. While everyone will have their eyes on the soccer pitch as teams compete for the title of champion, there’s much more going on behind the scenes.
Indeed, big data will be just as much at play as any of the teams at the World Cup-- if not more so.
You may be wondering what big data has to do with soccer’s biggest event, but the more appropriate question might be: what doesn’t it have to do with the World Cup?
Away from the enormous stadiums and beautifully manicured fields, big data will be a major part of the 2014 World Cup in multiple ways. The first has to do with just how many fans are descending in Brazil for the once-every-four-years event. Estimates put the number of foreign tourists at roughly 600,000, not counting all the traveling done by Brazilian citizens.
Those fans are expected to bring lots of mobile devices with them, like smartphones, laptops, and tablets; and all those devices will be generating data. To handle this mobile explosion, officials in Brazil are turning to the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia for solutions. In what is sometimes known as the Bring Your Own Device problem, officials needed a way to improve network communications and transfer data wirelessly. The solution learned from Sochi includes more access points, greatly increased bandwidth, and numerous virtual private networks.
Big data platforms will also be at work running operations in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is in a unique position where it will be hosting not only the World Cup this year, but the Summer Olympics in 2016. That meant a total revamping of how city agencies worked together to handle problems. In what is known as the Operations Centre, 30 agencies coordinate and communicate with each other to tackle obstacles that develop across the city. The centre collects and analyzes data from video feeds, sensors, and social media, all in real-time, to monitor the city and collaborate to address problems as they develop.
This integrated data-sharing approach works with utility companies, transportation services, cleaning industries, and many others to ensure all is running smoothly, from responding to major car accidents to fixing potholes. Of particular importance is ensuring all of the city’s buses and trains run on time, since so many people are expected to be using public transportation.
Big data’s influence is extending to the soccer pitch as well. FIFA is using goal-line technology at a World Cup for the very first time. The idea is that the new technology can help determine if the ball actually passes the goal plane, which could settle disputed goals fairly. All of that computation comes from big data collected in real-time. 2014 will also be the first year that World Cup games will be captured in 4K Ultra HD.
It’s a major step forward for video recording technology; and it requires a massive amount of big data in order to be done right. While the Ultra HD option will only be used for FIFA’s official World Cup film and not a live broadcast, one can only think that the live broadcast option will be available in the near future.
Some companies are even utilizing big data to make predictions for which team will emerge as the champion. Goldman Sachs is using data driven models to make predictions for each game, right up until the finals. While some companies are using big data to measure ball movement, player activity, and other very intricate, minutely detailed factors, Goldman Sachs is taking a more general approach.
By taking factors like each national team’s past World Cup performances and current FIFA rankings, the company created a predictive model they think will prove pretty accurate. As it turns out, the model has predicted the home team, Brazil, is the favorite to win this year’s World Cup. In fact, they’re the overwhelming favorite, with their chances of victory at 48.5 percent. Argentina came in second at 14.1 percent. If you’re curious where the United States ended up, they only have a 0.5 percent chance of winning.
Whether using it to manage traffic jams or picking an overall winner, big data is set to play a big role at the World Cup.
Even though you may not see it working, you’ll definitely see the results, particularly if you happen to be in Brazil at the time.
Even if big data is only at the back of your mind, the excitement from the games should be enough to keep you engaged.
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