February 5, 2016

How Super Bowl 50 Will Feed Our Super Appetite…for Data

Alex Woodie

The Super Bowl is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s the championship game for the National Football League, a showcase for clever ads from Madison Avenue, and for the rest of us, an excuse to splurge on food and drink. But the game is also a big test for the IT professionals tasked with keeping up with ever-increasing demands for data.

On Sunday, more than 72,000 people are expected to cram into Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, which opened just two years ago and is considered to be among the most technologically advanced stadiums ever built.

At any given time, tens of thousands of smart-phone toting fans are expected to be plugged into Levi’s huge Wi-Fi network, which consists of more than 1,200 access points and 70 miles of cabling connected to a Distributed Antenna System (DAS), which replaces cell towers in congested locations, such as stadiums. If past games at Levi’s are any indication, several petabyte of attendee-generated data should traverse through these links, capable of moving data at 40Gbps.

VenueNext is the company responsible for keeping this huge network up and running at the $1.3-billion stadium. The company, which is affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers and local media, technology, and venture capital firms, connects location services, ticketing, points of sale, and concessionaire services to help the venue operator ensure everything is running as it should be. With the official app installed, fans will be able to use their phones to order food and drinks, having them delivered to their seat or made available for pickup at a nearby concession.

(Mrs_Ya/Shutterstock.com)

Security is tight at Levi’s Stadium (Mrs_Ya/Shutterstock.com)

The company is using analytic software from Splunk (NASDAQ: SPLK) to monitor and manage the hardware and software connecting the stadium with fans. According to Ronak Bhatt, VenueNext’s vice president of data products and customer enablement, software from San Francisco-based Splunk helps the operations team make decision on game-day. “Using Splunk software, data from the Levi’s Stadium app usage gives the business operations team nearly 100 percent operational visibility,” Bhatt says.

Security is elevated at every championship game. But like everything else about Super Bowl 50, security will be super-sized come Sunday. One of the vendor’s providing security solutions include Haystax Technology, which helped develop a data sharing platform called California Common Operating Picture for Threat Awareness (CalCOP). The Virginia company says CalCOP can gather hundreds of thousands of data points—including video, text and photos sent from field offices equipped with smartphones—and turn them into actionable intelligence viewable as layers on a map on a laptop computer.

The fact that Super Bowl 50 is being held in Silicon Valley (not San Francisco, which is 35 miles to the north), just minutes away from some of the biggest technology firms in the world would seem to bode well for the monumental task at hand. One would think the proximity to that much technical talent would lower the odds of a major glitch impacting the show, such as what happened at the Super Bowl XLVII (47 for those who don’t read Latin) in New Orleans three years ago, when the power went out in the third quarter.

“The sheer technical complexity of planning and hosting a major national event like the Super Bowl can be mind boggling,” says Steve Wilkes, Co-Founder and CTO of Striim, a provider of real-time analytics software. “It is no wonder issues like the power outage at 2013’s game can occur. However, today’s real-time technologies are advancing so rapidly that some of the more egregious fiascos of past NFL games can be avoided.”

The amount of video data collected will far exceed any other Super Bowl, and probably any live event, period. CBS, which owns the broadcast rights to the game, is reported to be using 70 cameras to shoot the game, a 75 percent increase from last year. It will also be using new technology like the “Eye Vision 360 camera,” which clusters 36 ultra-high resolution cameras around the 25-yard line.

Image courtesy Video Network Group

The Switch Group has two high-end network trailers at Levi’s (Image courtesy Video Network Group)

To keep all this video moving reliably, the NFL is parking two high-end network service trailers from The Switch Network at Levi’s Stadium. According to a story in Sports Video Group, the trailers can support dozens of high-definition TV feeds and data connections ranging upwards of 10 Gbps. All told, they’re expected to ensure that more than 7,500 hours of video and data transport is executed without a hitch (except for the ones on the trailers, of course).

Here in the United States, viewership for Super Bowl 50 is expected to surpass last year’s record of 114.5 million viewers. But the super data deluge extends well beyond Santa Clara, and in fact will be felt across much of the world, owing to the international allure of the NFL and the hoopla that accompanies this game.

For the first time, the Super Bowl will be available for viewing on the Internet (at least without breaking the law with a bootleg feed). The NFL has decided to open up the game online, but only to Verizon Wireless customers–and only those who download the official NFL app. CBS will offer a streaming feed of Super Bowl 50, but only to PCs equipped with browsers and to set-top boxes, such as Roku, Chromecast, Xbox One, and Apple TV.

Of course, people will be using their phones to do other things during the game, such as checking stats on sports websites, posting on social media, and ordering food for delivery. Companies that don’t have their digital ducks in a row for the big game risk losing face, as well as market share, according to Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, the chief marketing officer of SOASTA, a provider of Web analytics.

Geckoboard

Geckoboard is tracking social sentiment in real time

“For many brands, the Super Bowl is the ultimate test for digital supremacy,” Sung says. “With billions of dollars of online economy at stake and competition just a click away, brands no longer have the luxury of minutes, much less hours or days, to detect, analyze and correct performance-related problems such as a slow or unresponsive website.”

As Sunday arrives, social media will be buzzing. Who will win? Who will have the best ads? Who made the best guacamole? What about that halftime show? There were more than 20 million tweets sent during the big game last year, and the odds are good that number will increase come Sunday.

If you want to crunch social in real time, you might check out Geckoboard, which is providing a live dashboard to track social media sentiment. But interestingly, the peak social chatter around the Super Bowl doesn’t happen until Monday, according to Meltwater, a provider of social media analysis tools. This little nugget of data could prove valuable for budget-crunched advertisers who can’t afford $5 million for a 30-second commercial, but who want to capitalize on the game anyway.

Football has become America’s pastime, but data our national obsession. With Super Bowl 50, we get a chance to celebrate both.

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