This Sunday is the 50th NFL championship, what has essentially become a national holiday here in the States. Usually, sports and tech writing don’t go hand in hand, but this year is special. Not only does this game mark half a century of championship games, but this year’s game will be held in the heart of Silicon Valley, i.e. tech central. Even though we are seeing a lot of technological advancement in the sports industry, we’re actually going to be going over the stadium.
Levi Stadium was built a few years ago for the San Francisco 49ers, moving them from just outside central San Francisco to the middle of Santa Clara, near the southern tip of Silicon Valley, where there is a decent collection of tech companies. Ever heard of Apple, Yahoo!, Juniper, or Google? Basically, the new stadium was built with technology in mind. As arguably the most tech-heavy stadium under the umbrella of the NFL, Levi Stadium boasts about 400 miles of fiber and copper wiring. Happen to be at the game but don’t want to use all of your precious data for the month in one day? Levi’s got you covered, with 1,200 Wi-Fi access points surrounding the stadium.
Lloyd Carney, CEO of Brocade Communications Systems, has said that he is very excited about the challenge that’s coming this weekend. There will be an incredible amount of data moving about. CBS, in particular, plans to use 5K ultra-high-definition cameras to shoot the game, and there will also be 360 degree recordings—you know, for those watching with some sort of crazy desire to feel like they are in the middle of the field.
What would happen if all the cameras went blank? There are so many things that could go wrong. If you remember the 47th game, there was a huge blackout, and that has become what most people remember. If something happened and the data networks failed, millions of people across the country would be at a loss as to which team is in the lead.
The NFL has some basic mandates on bandwidth that needs be provided at the stadiums hosting its teams, but Levi manages to claim 10 times that requirement. This incredible system went through the wringer once before in March, when the stadium hosted WrestleMania 31. Wrestling is huge, but is nowhere near as big as the big game. But that did not stop 76,000 fans using various forms of communication and social media to tap the wireless network of the stadium to the tune of 4.3 terabytes. If you don’t know much about data, imagine about 250 completely blank 16 GB iPhones. It’s expected that Sunday’s event will not only top that, but top the current NFL record of 6.4 terabytes of data from last year’s championship game.
What runs all of this? In the basement of the stadium sits a massive data control center, with rows and rows of routers and switches to handle all of the data. 49ers IT Director Jim Bartholomew says the system can handle 500 terabytes of data in about a five hour span. Also, it apparently sounds like a parking lot full of Harleys.
Now, the million-dollar question: Will it all work? Past evidence from their short time operating suggests they’re covered. But the true test will come game time on Sunday. Hopefully being at the heart of Silicon Valley has yielded positive results.