Digital Solutions Keep Sports Alive for Fans

Image credit: iStockphoto/Razvan

The COVID-19 pandemic has worked as a catalyst to accelerate the adoption and implementation of innovative technologies that have transformed the global sports industry.

Thanks to the industry’s rapid digital transformation, significant international sports events, including the Tour de France and Tokyo Olympics, were successfully implemented this year. Event organizers are taking a data-driven approach to connect with fans on multiple platforms and providing new levels of insight into sports events.

New technologies and applications digitally transform race operations, enabling event organizers to make faster decisions informed by real-time data delivered to them wherever they are. This is precisely what NTT has managed to achieve in partnership with Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) for the 2021 edition of the Tour de France. 

Creating a digital twin of the Tour de France

Aiming to revolutionize experiences while building connections with data at the core, NTT, a leading global technology services company and the Official Technology Partner of the Tour de France and race owners A.S.O., have created the world’s largest connected stadium for the Tour de France. At the 2021 Tour de France, NTT developed a “digital twin” of the entire event for the first time, enabled through IoT, Edge Compute, Managed Network and Cloud Services, and the NTT Smart Platform.

Spanning a highly dynamic environment, NTT and A.S.O. brought together people, processes, and technology through a diverse network fabric and set of technologies covering more than 3,000km of highly competitive racing.

Having a holistic view of each race in real-time is instrumental to the race organizer and participants. In creating the event’s digital twin, a broad range of IoT sensors were used, integrating into a common analytics platform where they could be mapped against a geo-location model of each stage.

Live data was collected from the bicycles from the start to the end of the race and a range of other sensors deployed in race vehicles and at critical locations such as the start village, technical zone, and race finish area. This provides real-time visibility of key locations and assets, monitoring crowd density or congestion, COVID-19 contact tracing, and instant updates of the publicity caravan and race arrival times at any point along the course.

The millions of data points collected have enabled event organizers to bring the race to life through stunning, insightful visualizations and digital experiences for fans, as well as new services to support the event operations for this three-week race.

Providing visibility in the race vehicles with edge computing

While live data and real-time insights are bringing fans closer than ever to the action, those closest to the race in the race convoy have often ironically had patchy race information due to limited connectivity. This year, NTT worked with A.S.O. and the broadcast RF provider to beam live data and pictures into the official race vehicles, providing the race director and commissaires a critical overview of the race situation.

Containerized analytical processing at the edge delivered a live overview of the race situation, even where mobile connectivity was unavailable, in remote areas or the high mountains. This is an invaluable tool for race officials.

Powering real-time decision-making with hybrid cloud environments

Creating a digital twin of the race means more ‘things’ become connected, and a broader range of technology platforms are utilized. Running on the cloud satisfies the need to be better connected, no matter where the race is staged and where computing, applications, and users reside.

NTT enabled a truly hybrid environment of physical servers at the edge and virtual servers, containers, and serverless functions for different workloads in the cloud. This is all deployed through automated Infrastructure as Code and monitored by the NTT Services Portal. Through the implementation of an AIOps (Artificial Intelligence for IT operations) platform, NTT further ensured deeper insight into the health of the infrastructure and platform – all in real-time.

Using Cloud technology has also been critical in enabling our people. Due to the pandemic, the team supporting the Tour de France was distributed globally, with many required to work from home. Using NTT’s Managed Collaboration Services, a virtual operation center was created to connect the team across the globe. This ‘Virtual Zone Technique’ allowed the team to monitor and manage the race information and platforms remotely and securely and make real-time decisions in case of any contingency.

A data-driven approach is no longer optional in the sports industry

The digital twin is delivering the best ‘connected fan’ experiences and helping Tour de France reach audiences and open up new revenue streams. The host of digital enhancements to the event brought new insights, new ways of visualizing data, and new predictions, delivering a data-driven experience across any device to fans worldwide, wherever they were.

The same old way of organizing a sports event will no longer be enough to respond to the needs of the athletes, the officials, and the audience, who require real-time information, seamless operations, and accurate results. As with other types of events, a recurring theme for many organizations as they navigate the pandemic is identifying and meeting their customers’ changing needs and requirements.

A world-class sports event now requires greater connectivity of devices, vehicles, and participants, and more applications and platforms accessing services hosted in the cloud. In short, data will be at the core to enhance the experience for participants, fans, media, and event organizers.

Peter Gray, NTT Ltd’s senior vice president at advanced technology group for Sport, wrote this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/Razvan