Booming: How networks are changing sports consumption


By Alastair Kane, European vice president of Zayo Group

We live in a multi-screen world, which is driving ever-increasing video consumption globally and sport is at the forefront of this trend. This year’s FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro broke online streaming records according to Akamai to become the biggest event ever, in terms of video content streaming; 24 million unique users watched 15 million hours of content through FIFA’s multimedia services alone. The event marked a breakthrough in the US, with millions tuning in to watch Team USA’s matches.

Though this figure is a staggering one, it was added to by spectators at the matches themselves, who were posting video clips in their thousands to their personal social channels, plus hundreds of broadcasters’ live streaming video and presenting clips.

Video traffic booming

This growth in sports video consumption is part of a much bigger trend. Cisco, in its most recent Visual Networking Index, states that it would take over five million years for someone to watch the amount of video that is currently crossing global IP networks each year.

From World Cup semi-finals to more obscure sporting events, live sports is driving online consumption through video, with multiple viewpoints, multiple formats, HD and 3D services. The availability of low cost smartphones is driving fans to upload from stadiums, and with the recent addition of small cells improving 3G and 4G capacity in stadia, there is an increased ability to share content worldwide.

Now, companies need to prepare for an increase in bandwidth demand around sporting events. But why is it that sport is driving so much bandwidth demand? Should this increased demand have a knock-on effect on the stadia themselves in which the events take place? And how do network providers adapt to this huge demand for bandwidth, manage it for their customers, and ultimately take advantage of it to increase their own share of the network?

Increasing bandwidth demand

People have revelled in watching their sporting heroes live for the better part of a century since the first broadcasts of sporting events took place, in North America in 1921 a boxing match between Johnny Dundee and Johnny Ray at the Motor Square Garden in Pittsburgh, and in Europe in 1937 the first Wimbledon tennis championship broadcast.

These first live televised events sparked a passion amongst sports fans for actually seeing games first hand, as they happened. This was followed 40 years later by the debut of ESPN, which revolutionised the live broadcasting of sporting events; ESPN is now a multiplexed global network.

Fast forward another 35 years and we now have international, national and regional channels thanks to the emergence of cable, and later digital cable and satellite. The UK has several dedicated sport channels including Sky Sports, BT Sport and British Eurosport, whilst North America has close to 50 dedicated sporting channels.

With all these options to watch live sports, there is something to suit every taste. The addition of HD services, 3D services and ‘red button’ facilities allow for extra content, such as drivers’-eye views of motor racing championships and access to niche sporting events, which have added another dimension to the way people consume sport.

Data capture and share

Live sporting events are still attended by millions globally each year and developments in portable broadcasting technology mean that more live events can be communicated globally. This has led to enormous amounts of data being captured and shared from sporting events, including photographs, videos, Tweets and other social posts.

In fact, social sharing is now the biggest thing in sports marketing, and is equally beneficial to the teams and their sponsors. The 2014 World Cup is again a great example of how social media and online sharing are driving bandwidth demand; according to Twitter, during the now-infamous Germany/Brazil match, 35.6 million Tweets went out during the match, and approximately 618,725 Tweets were generated per minute during the Germany/Argentina final. These posts came from both spectators at the stadium and viewers streaming the games online around the world.

Keeping up with demand

Bandwidth demand is growing exponentially; online video viewers watched an average of 12.7 hours per month worth of video via their mobile devices in 2013, which is expected to grow to around 21 hours per month by 2019 according to ABI Research. This has a direct effect on those providing the bandwidth and backhaul; namely it puts a strain on the network as providers struggle to keep up with bandwidth demands.

Not only this, but as wealth grows in emerging economies, people are adopting global sport viewing, as recent Olympics and World Cup events have shown. The next World Cup takes place in Russia; what should stadium designers have in mind when considering viewing habits?

Recent years have seen the birth of the ‘Connected Stadium’, something Liverpool Football Club adopted last year, sparking excitement from its fans when Anfield stadium became the first UK football stadium to roll out free Wi-Fi connectivity for fans.

A truly Connected Stadium should be able to offer three things: the ability to ‘gather’ (good networking inside to ‘gather’ data from live games); the ability to ‘distribute’ (excellent networking to enable distribution of live broadcasts); and the ability to ‘share’ (namely the bandwidth for spectators to share their experiences online).

The Connected Stadium may, in fact, provide the answer to increased sharing online, producing a kind of evolved sports fan, who is able to enjoy a live sporting experience whilst simultaneously having access to content available via online streaming.

Boosting the network for sport

The addition of small cells to the network has enabled increased capacity for sports fans at events sharing their experiences via social channels, and not only this, has made it easier to watch replays whilst still in the stands and see every second of their favourite sport from multiple angles. This has eased some of the demand for bandwidth and allowed for greater consumption, although with demand growing all the time, there are concerns around how effective implementation of small cells will continue to be.

The 2012 London Olympics saw more Tweets over the course of a single day than during the entire Beijing Olympics, plus the official website saw over 431 million individual visits, resulting in a total of 1.3PB of data served. This is set to be beaten in 2016, when Rio de Janeiro plays host to the Games.

With much of the developing world coming online, the costs associated with travel and tickets, plus time for travel make time spent in the stadium less frequent for a large number of sports fans. With increased broadband speeds and the ability to watch from any angle, at any time, current viewing habits could spawn a generation of sports fans who don’t experience live games, purely because they don’t need to. Will there come a time when only extremely dedicated fans turn up to sporting events?

To conclude, companies need to prepare for an increase in bandwidth demand around sporting events. There is a risk of bandwidth demand becoming too great, and a consequent potential risk to the future delivery of commercial value from live sporting events. However, it seems that rather than divert fans away from live sport, this increased network demand for streamed content and an ability to access all areas of sporting events worldwide is giving way to a generation of connected sporting fans, supporting their teams in connected stadiums, which will ultimately create an entirely new dimension to the way sport is watched and enjoyed.

Zayo Group is a global provider of IP services, Ethernet services, dark and lit fibre and carrier neutral colocation.


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