Big Data on an Olympic Scale

The 2012 Olympic Games in London are Big Data's big break.

The 30th Olympic Summer Games officially kicked-off last Friday, July 27, 2012. With nearly 15,000 athletes scheduled to compete in the Games and millions of people from around the world planning to attend, Big Data will play an essential role. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the world of data has expanded dramatically. Today, there are 100 million Twitter users compared to 1 million users in 2008, and the technology to capture a wealth of information at the Games is more capable than ever before. For instance, a Technology Operations Centre (TOC), with 450 employees working around the clock on 10,000 computers, servers, and network and security devices, will  provide statistics and standings on the many event taking place at the Games. It will also collect mobile spectator information in venues. This specific center will create about 30% more data than the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, making it the most technologically advanced Games of all time (More information on the TOC: (

The spectator experience will never be the same, thanks to big data technology, but how?


With the astounding amount of information available at the Olympic Games, marketers will be able to understand and connect with consumers more efficiently and effectively. For one, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, will track user experiences and preferences. This will be useful for future Games, especially those in the summer or with similar athletic events. The IOC may even be able to react to spectator reactions or actions in nearly real time to ensure a Games that is as successful as possible. For instance, products, including souvenirs and food, can be shifted between arenas to where demand for them is greatest. In addition, IOC organizers can evaluate pedestrian traffic between and inside arenas to determine how best to direct them. This may not immediately seem like marketing, but the Games are an enormous and multi-faceted product that requires spectators who are satisfied with their experiences. In order to keep the Games alive, the IOC must keep the interest of spectators and address their wants, needs and concerns.

Both international and local companies with customers at the Games in London will collect large amounts of customer-specific data from visitors from around the world. Part of it will derive from purchases and in-store interactions, but much of it will be user-generated. Social media provides real-time data to companies wishing to make the most of their marketing efforts to the millions of Games visitors who want to share their opinions. While there may be limits on what marketers can change in the two weeks of the event, they will most definitely learn more about their customers. They can discover whether their product has international appeal and, if so, with which particular demographics? They can learn something new from their customers on social media outlets, where information can provide more depth, insight, and interaction between marketers and consumers. Security

When we think of security at the Olympics, we often think of police and event organizers working together to protect athletes and spectators and monitor events. Cybersecurity, however, is equally important, as the Games depend heavily on Big Data technology. Security Operation Center (SOC) employees must determine which cyberthreats can be dealt with by automated system counter-attacks and which threats are more serious. A successful attack on a grand scale could threaten the integrity and execution of the Games. Not only will Big Data help make the Olympic Games as we know them today possible, but it will protect them from cyber-attacks at the same time. ( Transportation

London Olympic officials have made it clear that the main methods of transportation will be public, including the underground, trains, buses, and taxis, a plan which allows them to collect more data and, therefore, understand what works and what can be improved upon. The collected data will anonymized for privacy reasons, because the most important factors to account for will be the volume and direction of pedestrian traffic. Authorities will be able to better coordinate public transport and walkways in real time to keep traffic moving along smoothly and fully utilize all means of transportation. Chances are, however, that it will be difficult to apply all the transportation information obtained during these Olympic Games. It will most likely be analyzed and applied at future Games, both winter and summer, as well as in London itself.

The Future of the Games

These Olympic Games in London are Big Data's big break. In the immediate future, Big Data will play an increasingly greater and more important role in the sports industry. Information obtained from this summer’s Olympic Games will be useful for organizers of major sporting events, including the World Cup and the Super Bowl, who want to determine what worked and what didn’t and how to prepare. An unprecedented amount of this information will consist of the spectator observations at the Games and across the globe, a phenomenon which has not previously been available for such large events.

If the Olympic Games in London can go off without a major cybersecurity incident, Big Data will have proved its ability to manage events on a grand scale. Should a serious breach occur, however, Big Data scientists and Games organizers will have the chance to identify gaps in the system and adapt the technology. At the very least, this will be a chance to learn and strengthen Big Data.

Now for a challenging question: Where in our society does Big Data not have the potential to effect change for the better?

Let the Games begin! - The Captain