Better Living Through Big Data

What the World Cup Tells Us About Our Digital World

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel
heading a soccer ball in front of Intel sign

Soccer’s biggest tournament has sparked an explosion of data revealing just how digitally engaged people have become around the world.

During any given soccer match, action on the field can account for thousands of so-called events, but increasingly every header, kick pass, toss in, penalty, goal and just about any other play during a game is causing shockwaves off the field as fans take to the Internet to share emotions and insights.

This real-time phenomenon has never been more profound in sports as it has been so far for 2014 World Cup game.

Each World Cup match has created a data frenzy that is revealing a lot about our ever more connected world.

Game play data collected from the field using sensors, magnetic fields, video cameras and other technologies are not only helping eliminate ref errors, it’s helping coaches craft and adjust strategies. It’s also pulling fans deeper into each match.

All of this data has seemed to supercharge fans, whose reactions can be seen instantaneously and in hindsight via the Internet. Even TV broadcasters like ESPN have made Twitter, Facebook and other social media part of the live game coverage.  Twitter itself turned into its own kind of data story teller, sharing interesting facts and visuals through @TwitterData, which is quickly approaching 1 million followers.

The number of people using the Internet is estimated to reach 2.9 billion this year, up 44% from 2 billion in 2010 when the last World Cup was played in South Africa, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Brazil, with a population of 200 million and growing, is the world’s fifth-largest Internet market, reports comScore. It is also a top-five market for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

As the country hosts and estimate 600,000 foreign tourists, many are already saying that Brazil is the epicenter for biggest global event in the history of social media.

Just look at the fans Team U.S.A. amassed on Twitter and Facebook, both reaching around 1.8 million since being knocked out of the tournament.  But keep in mind that about 65% of Facebook users and 77% of Twitter accounts today are from outside the U.S. Fan engagement in so many other nations are also seeing an enormous spike of Internet activity.

“The world is watching [the World Cup] on more and more platforms and sharing more content, which is driving more interest in each country that’s participating,” said Alex Banks, the Latin America head of market research firm comScore Inc, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Video streaming and Internet broadcast of the World Cup alone is anticipated to generate 4.3 exabytes of traffic, which is three times the amount of monthly Internet traffic currently generated in Brazil, according to Cisco.

The Internet traffic generated by the 60,000 people in a stadium and traveling to games will likely surpass the busy-hour traffic from all 94 million smartphone subscribers in Brazil.

Overall global Internet traffic is expected to increase nearly three-fold over the next five years due to more Internet users and devices, faster broadband speeds and more video viewing.

Even with eight more round still to play in the tournament., the 2014 World Cup is inspiring amazing big data points on and off the field.

On the Field

The 1998 World Cup tournament in France holds the record for 171 goals, but with eight games to play in the 2014 tournament there are already 154 goals. With an average of 2.75 goals per game, this year will likely set a new record.

Based on round one, Team Germany is scoring a goal on average every 39 minutes, requiring only 5.3 attempts to score. Team Brazil, on the other hand, has only managed to score a goal every 49 minutes, and needs 8.8 attempts to score.

Photonfocus cameras are installed at each of the 12 World Cup stadiums in Brazil, including seven cameras focusing on each goal. According to Bloomberg News, the cameras can record up to 500 images per second which, together with Goal Control’s ball tracking algorithm, measure whether the ball crossed the goal line to an accuracy within 5 millimeters (0.2 inch). The result is transmitted within a second to the referee.

Off the Field

Increasingly people follow along, augmenting and interacting socially during the games using mobile devices and apps whether they’re inside stadiums or at home watching matches on TV.

While the Global TV audience of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa reached 3.2 billion, FIFA expects to set new TV audience numbers in many regions of the world.

“We believe the overall audience figures from the 2014 FIFA World Cup will show again that the World Cup is the most popular single-sporting event on the planet and that football is the world’s number one sport,” said Niclas Ericson, director of FIFA TV, in a statement on the FIFA news site.

The opening game of the tournament between Brazil and Croatia on June 12 had 42.9 million people watching on Brazilian network TV Globo, FIFA said, making it the most watched sporting event of the year, according to CNN.

The first Team U.S. match in Brazil garnered over 16 million TV viewers, making it the highest-rated men’s soccer match ever in the U.S. That was surpassed when the 2-2 draw between the U.S. and Portugal became the most-watched match in U.S. history, drawing nearly 25 million viewers. That’s 10 million more viewers than this year’s NBA Finals and 2013 MLB World Series.

Facebook said a total of 141 million users posted 459 million interactions to their site during the first week of the World Cup. That’s more people than posted on Facebook during the 2014 Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Sochi winter Olympics combined.

Between June 12-30, there were already 1 billion World Cup-related posts, comments, and likes from 220 million people on Facebook.

“Facebook’s data editors have never measured an event — sports or otherwise — that has topped a billion interactions,” wrote Facebook on the company newsroom site.

Twitter recorded 12.2 million tweets during Brazil’s opening win against Croatia on June 12. There were a million tweets during the U.S. game against Portugal and 6.1 million during the Brazil vs. Cameroon match. By June 27, Twitter tallied more than 300 million Tweets related to the #WorldCup since group play began.

Twitter reported there were 9.1 million Tweets about the Belgium vs. USA game, and over 1.8 million mentions of Tim Howard (@TimHowardGK), with giant spikes whenever the goalkeeper made a big save.

The match’s peak moments, Twitter’s data team estimates, came when Romelu Lukaku scored Belgium’s first goal (178,608 tweets per minute), USA’s Julian Green’s goal (187,413 tweets per minute) and the moment Belgium defeated the U.S. (216,659 tweets per minute).

What’s Next?

Data analysis tools can also help paint a picture around the numbers and uncover hidden trends in data to provide coaches and managers with actionable information. Better player and team performance can lead to greater fan engagement.

“Through big data technologies it’s possible to understand relationships and patterns in data, which might help coaches explore the impact of weather, time of day, travel schedules, and other team performance records to adjust strategies – ahead of and during games,” wrote Ron Kasabian is general manager of Big Data Solutions for Intel’s Data Center and Connected Systems Group in an article for InformationWeek.

He describes how wearable technologies like heart rate monitors and GPRS tracking systems can monitor how performance changes over any set period of time, including comparing performance data from various matches, such as the power in each stride and how heart rate and breathing affects different parts of the body, so that teams can easily identify players who are in need of a rest to prevent injury or who need additional training sessions to increase their match fitness.

German club TSG Hoffenheim, is placing sensors in shin guards, clothing, and even the ball itself to collect more than 60 million positional records per match, including speed averages, ball possession, player tendencies and more. Those records are then streamed, analyzed and stored using SAP HANA, the in-memory data platform for real-time analytics, and used to build customized training applications that strategically target the strengths and weaknesses of each player and create the most efficient training plan possible, reduce the risk of injury and ultimately boost performance.

SAP has provided Germany’s national team with its Match Insight software which makes training, preparation, and tournament analysis easier. With Match Insight, Germany’s coaches will be able to process huge amounts of data that helps them effectively assess key situations in each match – knowledge which can be used to improve player and team performance.

“Big Data is an incredible resource for coaches and players to contextualize information and draw well-informed conclusions to optimize training and tactics,” said Fadi Naoum, senior vice president, Application and Innovation Head of Sports and Entertainment, SAP AG.

“It’s high time to make this type of information accessible to sports journalism and the fans as well,” he said.

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