The World Cup: The Past, Present and Future Data Behind the Most Viewed Sporting Event in the World

Fans of the World Cup know the sound, the vuvuzela. The (tolerated) sound accompanies most soccer (football) matches, but there is another kind of “noise” out there — it's the explosive growth of data.

While the game itself has evolved slowly, the World Cup has seen rapid data infrastructure changes. Alongside substantial growth in broadcast coverage, advances in mobile technology have given fans greater and greater data-sharing capabilities (from broadcasting their own live video to location-based check-ins to tweeting to...) — a measure we're dubbing "spectator bandwidth."

Here’s our look back, present and forward, at the increasingly complex data output of the most viewed sporting event in the world.



Let’s consider France, 1998. One of the most popular mobile phones available at the time is the iconic Nokia 5110.





Featuring a massive 47x84 black and white pixel screen, the 5110 was clearly a text-messaging powerhouse. So powerful, in fact, that during the World Cup in France 80,000 spectators would have consumed 2MB of bandwidth via text messages. To put that into perspective, you might have exceeded that amount of data just by loading this page and the pictures.



It is 2006, we can add MMS, email, and some web traffic to our tally. With this level of technology, those 69,000 World Cup spectators would have consumed 30GB of bandwidth. Worldwide television coverage produced 73,000 hours of video, setting a new record. Also a first, portions of the games (highlights) were streamed online 125 million times.

And Now!


How much storage do you have access to right now, between your laptop, your phone, and a stack of random thumb drives you may have collected over the years? Have you hit a terabyte of storage yet? If so, how many terabytes? Spectators during the upcoming World Cup may generate 12.6TB of data — that’s if 73,531 people share one minute of HD video from any number of smart phones or other devices.


New to these games is the incredible amount of streaming video expected, At home, on mobile devices, and more importantly at work, 79% of viewers in the U.S. will be watching the games live online. The 125,000,000 video streams from the 2006 games may pale in comparison to the amount of bandwidth those streamers will consume…and that’s not even taking into account the people watching in 4K, a video technology that most people won’t have in their homes yet and will have to go to a movie theater to enjoy.

But the march of progress doesn’t stop there. With the availability of wireless high-speed Internet access and incredibly powerful data centers, facial recognition headsets are going to be kept quite busy looking for criminals during the games. The amount of data these people will generate should dwarf anything from previous games, and is critical in light of the terrorist attacks the world has been witness to in the past decade.

أثقل من جبل ("Heavier than a mountain”)

This next, and final section, of our infographic looks to the future:


86,250 spectators for the final match may consumer 1.3PB (petabytes) of bandwidth with wearable devices. Note that we didn’t say smartphones or other “mobile devices” — we’re talking about the future. From smart watches to eyeglass- or hat-mounted computers to biometric monitoring devices, we’re looking at a tsunami of data.

The 2022 World Cup will likely reach most people on the planet. The tsunami of bandwidth generated boggles the mind and it’s only eight years away.

Data: Creating Global Moments Today

The World Cup offers opportunities to connect around the globe through data. It also offers an amazing opportunity to watch how data is becoming the lifeblood of human interaction today. So when the collective soccer-fan world turns its attention to Brazil this summer, all of us data users have a chance to pick up a few lessons about data output from the World Cup. Ask yourself, how much data do you think you’ll generate during the World Cup?

Here’s the infographic in its entirety.