Samba Time: How Tech Takes Us All to Brazil

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Some things haven’t changed in the past four years. Soccer, or football as it’s known outside of the United States, is still the world’s most popular sport. And its popularity stateside continues to grow, as was the trend in 2010, according to Forbes, when the last World Cup tournament took place. More than 700 million people watched the final match that was broadcast in 204 countries across 245 different channels.

But with the 2014 FIFA tournament upon us, one major change does stand to reshape our football-watching experience: technology.


Four years ago, social networking of course existed and we had mobile phones and tablets, most of them “smart.” Today, however, Facebook has a user base the population of which could make it the world’s second largest country, and Instagram, just getting off the ground in 2010, enables the photo and video sharing of 200 million active users per month. We live-tweet events at the speed of 4G LTE, and we don’t think twice about streaming high-definition video, graphics and real-time data to mobile devices anywhere at anytime. It’s less likely now to find someone who doesn’t have a smartphone and tablet, or two or three of either: Cisco predicts that by the end of 2014, the number of mobile devices connected to the Internet will exceed the number of people on Earth.


This increased connectivity has changed the face of sports since the last World Cup. In just four years, we’ve seen the adoption of innovative sports-oriented GPS technology, data visualization tools and live “game casts” that provide incredibly detailed statistics and views of athletic events. Access to this comprehensive viewing experience lives within the “second screen” interaction fans have with their favorite sports — the connections to data sources made available through mobile apps and powered through application programming interfaces (APIs).


Baseball has perhaps led the charge in delivering real-time sports data through APIs on a massive scale. For several years, Major League Baseball (MLB) has offered up-to-the minute details on games and players through its MLB mobile app. ESPN and other outlets have also maintained apps that keep fantasy baseball players on top of their teams with the most important statistics. Baseball fans can watch the game on TV or even in the stands and at the same time argue with their friends over Twitter about player quality, play calls and pitching changes using data they retrieve through mobile apps.


In October 2013, the National Basketball Association (NBA) upped the technology ante with the league-wide introduction of its SportVU network. The platform incorporates six cameras into each court that connect through software and track 11 data points: the 10 players and one ball that are active at any given time. STATS, the company behind SportVU, delivers the data the cameras collect to fans’ mobile devices through API-driven apps and interfaces. Fans can see things like which players do best in various spatial configurations on the court, how many rebounds players could have had and missed, and how many times players dribble the ball after they touch it.


The NBA’s tech upgrade followed shortly on the heels of the 2013 America’s Cup, sailing’s main event, which had a reputation for being fairly exclusive in the years gone by. Last year the race was accessible to all, as iPhone/iPad and Android developers took advantage of the streams of free data opened to the public, creating apps that let spectators mark boats’ positions in real-time and track boundaries and penalties. APIs also powered the data that supplemented the general broadcasts of the Cup, superimposing wind speed, ahead-behind lines and other graphic elements on the footage of the race.


If API technology has already found its way from baseball and basketball — arguably sports of the masses — to sailing, a sport of the few, then there’s no question it’s going to influence how we view the upcoming World Cup, the tournament that defines the international landscape of the most popular sport of all. This year FIFA will have at its disposal the technological capability to provide more data than ever before on teams, players, goals, assists, tackles, breaking news and all aspects of the event. Fans will be able to track statistics in a way they could not have fathomed four years ago, and the prospect of being able to delve so much more deeply into the sport is exciting. For many fans the 2014 World Cup results, standings and news will be followed on the device in their pocket, and API-enabled data delivery means fans don’t have to miss a single kick.


The World Cup is a big deal no matter what technology is available to power it. At its heart it’s a show on the world stage that people in all corners of the globe can relate to, revel in and enjoy. But this year’s tournament can be so much more because of technology. Imagine the closeness to the action people everywhere can feel and how these connections can unite us around a common interest. And imagine the football knowledge you can accumulate.


On how many screens will you be watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup?



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