The digital era and high performance sport
French media group Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) runs a variety of sporting events around the globe, including a number of professional cycling races such as the enduringly iconic Tour de France. This race was first organised in 1903 to boost sales for the newspaper L’Auto, which published regular updates on the different stages of the race. Since then, the popularity of the Tour de France has grown for over a century. It continues to attract significant media attention. Today it’s the world’s largest cycling race, and third largest sports event after the Fifa World Cup and the Olympics. It’s followed by billions of cycling fans across the world.
The adoption of digital technologies by other high performance sports and the innovative ways in which they engage audiences is setting a new benchmark for what those audiences can see during a sporting event. In motor racing, for example, technology helps analyse data at tremendous speed and thus creates significant performance advantages for race teams. Fans access digital platforms from multiple devices and can view live leader boards, in-car cameras, interactive forums, and circuit guides. There’s no doubt digital is informing, shaping and redefining the expectations of the viewing experience of sport today.
With this in mind, the A.S.O. recognised that it would need to embrace digital technology to satisfy the heightened expectations of fans, sports commentators, and media following the Tour. It was looking for ways to make the event even more attractive, immersive, and exciting for cycling fans lining the route as well as those following the race on television.
Working with broadcast partners, the A.S.O. delivers exceptional television coverage of the race, with a live race broadcasts and telecasts in 190 countries and on 120 television stations. But fans and commentators had limited access to real-time information about the riders’ performance. In fact, they were only able to track the peloton — the main pack of riders — and breakaway groups. Individual rider tracking wasn’t possible.
A new digital ‘lens’ into the race
To deliver a richer experience to the billions of fans following the Tour around the world, A.S.O. wanted to give greater access and accuracy on existing data, as well as share riders’ individual location and speed with television audiences and those following the race from social media and other digital platforms.
Forging a lasting partnership
The A.S.O. stands out as an organisation that uses partnerships for strategic success. It maintains a lean in-house IT team and focuses on establishing long-term and trusted relationships with partners that have the capabilities it requires. Over the years, the A.S.O. has invested in establishing an ecosystem of partners and also encouraged those partners to collaborate, innovate, and create new opportunities for fans of the event.
In 2015, we embarked on a five-year journey to accelerate the A.S.O.’s ambition as its official technology partner. The first innovation as a result of the partnership was delivered during the 2015 Tour de France, where we defined the technical scope of the project and built a world class analytics platform in the space of just four short months.
Real-time data analytics — a solution in action
The real-time data analytics solution called for our skills in transformational technologies, such as digital, cloud, mobility, and security. Moreover, we adopted agile development practices and used technologies that would enable speed and flexibility — specifically our global cloud platform.
Firstly, we mapped the journey of the data during each stage of the Tour de France:
A.S.O. and key technology partners and suppliers fit the bikes of the 198 riders with GPS trackers.
Trackers communicate with each other in a mesh network and to gateways in television motorbikes and official cars.
From gateways, data is streamed to a plane and then relayed to a technical zone assembled near the finish line of each stage.
In the technical zone, data is transferred from the broadcaster’s truck to our Big Data truck.
Data cleansing and analysis undertaken on an advanced digital analytics platform powered by a mobile data centre within the Big Data truck and our cloud. During the live race, we provided access to this data as a real-time data stream to the television broadcasters for use in live TV graphics. We also built a beta live-tracking website that allowed commentators, media, and fans to track individual riders. We published insights on the data to social media platforms.
The ability to understand where any of the riders are at any point in time, obtain live information about their speed and location, and compare the speeds of different riders and the distance between them, was the first step in providing a new viewing experience for cycling fans. It would bring them closer to the energy and excitement of the race and give insight into the strategies of the riders and teams.
Speed of adaptation is the new competitive equation
To transform the Tour de France in a short space of time, our teams worked together from 11 cities and five continents to build the solution. After signing the agreement with the A.S.O. in March, we developed the technology solution and deployed it in time for the Grand Depart in July.
From on-the-ground teams in France, to support teams in Australia and India, and our cloud team in the US, each individual worked tirelessly to put together this complex project in just under four months.
Tracking a dynamic race in a volatile environment
With our cloud infrastructure we achieved unmatched flexibility and speed to keep pace with the race as it unfolded. Furthermore, our advanced networking skills created a responsive hybrid environment that enabled the secure replication of data from various cloud-based data centres.
While our technical team had identified all potential risks and developed detailed technology and people-related backup and redundancy plans, that didn’t mean things wouldn’t change once we went live.
By their very nature, cycling races are dynamic: one day cyclists are travelling through cities and the next they’re taking on a mountainous terrain, facing unpredictable weather conditions, and adapting to team strategies. It’s an event where anything can happen — and does. During a massive high-speed stage three crash that involved most riders, the solution proved sufficiently robust to handle a spike in data feeds.
We could ramp up new environments rapidly, scale technology platforms up or down on demand, and respond to changes or new requirements almost immediately.
When the world is watching, failure isn’t an option…
The solution was evolved and refined many times during the Tour. To ensure optimal performance, our team on the ground collaborated with support teams using live video chat feed and other collaborative tools. This enabled us take a 24-hour development and testing approach to adapt the solution during and after each stage throughout the month-long Tour. With the eyes of the world on the race, we had to ensure the solution was both secure and fail-proof. To this end, we achieved 100 percent uptime for the solution.
Security elements included best practise cloud and web security as part of an IT-as-a-Service (IaaS) offering, regular security assessments, and on-premise network security in the Big Data truck. In fact, our Big Data truck was the ‘nerve centre’ of our solution. Driven to technical zone at the finish of each stage of the race on a daily basis during the three weeks of the Tour, this mobile data centre travelled 5,151 kilometres and spent 320 hours on the road, showing the resilience of its infrastructure in a volatile environment.
Through the solution, the A.S.O. was able to not only embrace the digital ecosystem available to fans but also enhance it. The data fed to the A.S.O.’s broadcast partner allowed never- before-seen live-speed data for 3.5 billion cumulative television viewers. And the beta live-tracking site – coupled with live data reporting on social media – permeated almost every aspect of the fans’ experience, from online platforms, to social media, and television broadcasts. In fact, there were 1.3 million engagements with fans on social media alone during the Tour.
A scalable investment — for now and the future
Furthermore, there was no need for the A.S.O. to make large capex investments in technology. As our solution was cloud-based, the A.S.O. wasn’t left with assets that would depreciate once the event was over. The solution has simply been ‘put into hibernation’ until the next cycling race.
Overall, it was the collective passion and dedication of both Dimension Data and the A.S.O. teams, all working to achieve a shared vision, that made this technical ‘tour de force’ possible.Click below to share this article