And then there were four. This week, Germany faces Brazil and Argentina takes on the Netherlands to decide who will play in the July 13th title match at Rio de Janeiro. For the Orange, a World Cup win means redemption — despite making it to the finals in 1974, 1978 and 2010, the Dutch squad has never been able to seal the deal. Host country and underdogs Brazil, meanwhile, hope to make history even without superstar Neymar.
But regardless of the victor, this 2014 World Cup has been a boon for American media with more fans than ever before tuning in to watch matches on TV — and more importantly, in the mobile cloud.
Soccer was never an American passion. Many sports fans consider the 'Beautiful Game' something children grow out of, an odd pastime featuring slow plays, confusing play clock mechanics and players willing to take dive on the most subtle offenses.
But thanks in part to Team USA's strong showing, viewership is up. It also helps that the average number of goals scored per match is up — 2.6 in 2014 compared to 2.3 in 2010, according to FIFA — while technologies like SportVU are digging deep to provide detailed statistics about game play. For example, U.S. Midfielder Michael Bradley ran a total of almost 34 miles over four matches, while Junior Diaz of Costa Rica reached a top running speed of 21 miles per hour.
It all adds up to interest: According to Forbes, ESPN saw record-breaking numbers while Team USA was playing. Against Ghana, the network drew 11.093 million viewers, 10.77 million views against Germany and a staggering 18.22 million against Portugal. And while Team USA's departure inevitably means lower ratings, EPSN still found almost 6.5 million viewers for the Brazil-Columbia quarter-final match.
And success doesn't stop there. An infographic from Vdopia, a mobile video advertising agency, reports that 1.7 million Americans watched the U.S.-Germany game using the ESPN smartphone app, 5.3 million downloaded the FIFA World Cup app, and 67 percent were willing to pay for World Cup video content on their mobile devices. What's more, mobile data traffic during the final match on Sunday is predicted to reach 12.6 terabytes, according to Zdnet, over four thousand times the amount of traffic generated for the 2006 World Cup final in Germany.
What's driving this interest? Part of the appeal is staying in the loop, since even ninety minute matches often end with scores of 2-1, 1-0, head to extra time, or penalty kicks. As a result, it's impossible to predict when crucial plays will happen or when critical mistakes will be made. The rise of social networking also plays a role in this mobile cloud experience. The true joy (or sorrow) of sport is found in camaraderie with other fans — making the game mobile heightens the experience.
It also means content providers are on the hook to deliver uninterrupted service no matter viewer numbers. In other words, it's not enough for ESPN to experience a service blackout and blame data center density or power requirements for the problem — if viewers pay, they expect to see the game, start to finish. It's also worth noting that industry leader Cisco predicts this kind mobile traffic will dominate IP traffic by 2018, but has consistently underestimated mobile growth.
Bottom line? The data center is changing. Informed by the mobile cloud and massive data sinks like the World Cup, companies must be like the world's best players: Agile, adaptable, and unrelenting. To meet the expectations of a smartphone-savvy public, data centers need to hit the net every single time.