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For decades, the world has gathered every four years to celebrate an extravaganza that tops even the Olympics for global viewing audiences. This year the action has moved to Brazil, and the FIFA World Cup is in full swing.
On the day before the USA opens their first 2014 match against Ghana, the signs of World Cup mania are all around us. From McDonalds to Subway and from ABC to ESPN television, all eyes have turned to South America.
I love the way that one sportswriter describes why the World Cup matters so much:
Football. Futbol. Voetbal. Futebol. Fußball. Fotboll. Calcio.
No matter what you call it, no other sport comes close to matching the worldwide passion for the beautiful game.
And unlike the Olympics, which lasts just over two weeks, the 2014 FIFA World Cup lasts more than a month. With the final match scheduled for July 13 this year.
But make no mistake, this series of matches is more than just a few games being played by adults. Soccer is big business – with billions of dollars invested by host countries to prepare.
Which leads to the question: What has Brazil done over the past few years to improve technology and other infrastructure to prepare to host the world?
The business challenge of preparing for the World Cup
Four years ago I described how South Africa prepared for the 2010 World Cup with new infrastructure.
In 2014, there has been plenty of controversy regarding Brazilian infrastructure actions to get ready. An Australian business journal reported this week:
Ahead of yesterday's opening ceremony, protesters clashed with police in Brazil’s two largest cities, Rio De Janerio and Sao Paulo. Demonstrators were rallying against corruption and inequality in the country after the government spent an estimated $US11 billion to renovate existing stadiums, build new sporting grounds and reinforce core infrastructure ahead of the event.
Indeed, some commentators believe that this could be the “last true sports mega-event,” because of the many protests and public backlash regarding costs.
Ever since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, which set the gold standard, large sporting events have been increasingly used to drive infrastructure projects and try to regenerate cities.
Sports economists and sources inside FIFA say Brazil, the most expensive World Cup ever at an estimated cost of $11.3 billion, has shown both the limits and the risks of this model….
For sponsors the equation may be changing too, as negative headlines have swelled from the usual trickle to a flood.
What new technology infrastructure?
Looking at the positives, what new infrastructure has been put in place in Brazil? The answer is a lot.
For one thing, this will be the most high-tech football (soccer) event ever, according to the BBC:
…Technology company Sony, which is supporting official Fifa broadcaster HBS, has installed more than 224 high-definition (HD) cameras which will capture more than 2,500 hours of sport during the tournament - more than ever before.
And this will also be the first time some World Cup matches are captured in the ultra-high-definition (UHD) 4K format, which is roughly four times the resolution of current HD TV.
This requires a satellite network capable of handling 100 megabits per second….
Fans - about three million attending the games and possibly four billion watching on TV - will be viewing, chatting, voting and betting simultaneously on a variety of digital devices, making it a truly multi-screen World Cup….
Meanwhile the Brazilian Telecom company Oi has added massive new Wifi capacity:
Oi, the telecoms company doing the upgrades, said it has gone from 78,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in April to a massive 700,000 now, making it Brazil's largest network.
2G, 3G and 4G connectivity have also had boosts with better coverage at key points in the tournament cities across Brazil.
Lessons learned from last year’s Confederations Cup have also helped to improve telecom and other essential infrastructure for the influx of visitors.
On the day of the Confederations Cup final last year, for example, data traffic from users in the host city of Rio surged to one third of the daily average for all of Brazil, according to Claro, the Brazilian mobile unit of America Movil.
The network at the Maracanã was so crowded that phone batteries quickly drained from the struggle to hold a signal, leaving some fans with dead phones by the end of the match.
Anxious to avoid a repeat, an industry consortium is investing 200 million reais ($90 million) to reinforce coverage at World Cup stadiums.
Carriers are also beefing up their fiber optic networks connecting host cities and adding antennas at major hotels, training centers and public venues. Telefonica Brasil alone is preparing 65 new cell towers at key World Cup sites....
Nevertheless, Reuters reports that public expectations for transportation improvements and other infrastructure projects have been disappointing.
Long overdue airport upgrades investments in rapid transit systems in Brazil's main cities have been delayed or scrapped….
The signature project in public transportation was to be Latin America's first bullet train, a $16 billion high-speed rail service linking Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It never made it off the drawing board.
In conclusion, an excellent report was released by Ernst & Young called: “Sustainable Brazil: Social and Economic Impacts of the 2014 World Cup.” The white paper describes the goal of the investments for the 2014 World Cup as:
The idea is that Brazil gets organized in such a way that the event lasts not only a few days, but for many years, leaving a positive legacy for society as a whole.
More important than just responding to outside expectations for the World Cup is the creation of an internal environment that allows the infrastructure works and the impacts on the macro and microeconomy to improve the life of Brazilian people....
The infrastructure results seem mixed at this time, but another look is needed before and after the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics which are also coming to Brazil.
Meanwhile, whether you like soccer or not, take out the flag of your favorite country and cheer. It will be a fun-filled journey - with high-tech capabilities.