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Runners, bikes and race cars are not the only fast-moving things in the world of sports. The expectations and preferences of fans can also change gear rapidly when new technologies or other innovations introduce a different kind of audience interaction.
The Tour de France has become an iconic global event since the first cyclists took to the road in 1903. It was at first only featured in newspapers, but the media coverage evolved along with the advent of radio; eventually, live television broadcasts were delivering stunning images of cyclists racing through the French countryside to the homes of fans.
Then, of course, the digital era arrived, bringing lightning-fast developments in technology and many new ways for sports fans to engage with their favorite teams and players. By the mid-2010s, much of the world’s cycling fandom was digitally connected and consuming sports content differently.
Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), organizers of the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift had to establish a bigger presence in the online world to keep this new, younger digital audience engaged. Gamification, social media and emerging technologies such as augmented reality and AI were just some of the opportunities.
That’s where the relationship between NTT DATA and A.S.O. started eight years ago, when we collaborated on a multiyear plan for building data-driven digital fan experiences using IoT, edge computing and real-time analytics.
Technology fires up the fans – and the Tour itself too
During the first years of working with A.S.O., we put in place key building blocks such as real-time tracking of the riders using IoT and advanced analytics. These foundations allowed A.S.O. to develop both their broadcast and digital capabilities over time.
Technologies such as IoT sensors, versatile connectivity solutions and edge computing can capture, process and analyze data in real time. This is of course ideal for a fast-moving event such as the Tour de France that travels hundreds of kilometers every day and operates in some of the world’s most beautiful but unpredictable environments.
New broadcast graphics, the Race Center website (which brings together data, social media and race commentary), the Tour de France mobile app, the Fantasy League, our @letourdata live race insights and even an AI-powered “digital human” (an interactive avatar) are just some of the examples of the new fan experiences this innovation has enabled.
In 2022, the successful launch of the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was a testament to the joint investment of all of the event partners and A.S.O. In a first for women’s cycling, it was great to offer the full digital experience across both the men’s and women’s events.
From fan experiences to event operations
Following the success of these solutions, it became clear that the digital transformation of the Tour de France didn’t benefit just the fans. A.S.O.’s new digital capabilities could be equally powerful when applied to operational management. It was this realization that led us to create a digital twin of the entire event.
The digital twin integrates data from a range of sources, including IoT sensors across event vehicles, equipment and locations, to provide a continual stream of actionable information to the race operations team. The locations of key assets, the publicity caravan, the race convoy, occupancy of VIP zones and current weather conditions are just some of the key types of data fed into the digital twin.
The ever-expanding streams of Tour de France data also fed into other experiences: for example, fans waiting next to the road can now get an estimated time of arrival for the peloton at their location, or track the progress of the publicity caravan to make sure they don’t miss the free souvenirs.
So, the technologies that NTT DATA put in place now power great fan experiences – for those watching and interacting online and those at the race itself – as well as race management.
Evaluating, planning and testing take us from conception to execution
The power of collaboration fuels the partnership between NTT DATA and A.S.O. as much as it does the teams of elite cyclists competing in the Tour de France.
From the start, we have worked hand in glove to build a multiyear innovation plan that we reevaluate together every year based on what we've learned from the latest Tour de France, the event’s changing business priorities, and the evolving technological environment.
This allows us to identify our priorities for the year ahead and structure new projects – more building blocks for future innovation.
By always experimenting with fresh ideas, often as small-scale pilots, we get to see whether they’re market-ready. This has resulted in a constant stream of projects progressing from ideas to fully realized solutions that we rolled out to millions of fans.
True partnerships go beyond business
The Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift are great examples of how NTT DATA’s role as a systems integrator and managed service provider depends on deep client relationships, in both the good times and the challenging times. Over the years, we've built strong relationships of trust with the A.S.O. team. They know they can rely on us to get the job done, and we know they are our strong and trusted partner.
Our partnership delivers results because our deep knowledge about technology and trends in the market complements A.S.O.’s expertise in running events and managing the challenging environment of the Tour de France.
Equally important are the close working relationships between the many third parties involved in the event: broadcasters, TV graphics teams, telecommunications teams, logistics teams and more.
That's really no different from how we work with most of our clients. There are always third parties involved in their IT ecosystems that we need to include. If there's a problem, it's everybody's problem and we're all accountable.
At the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, this means teams are helping each other out all the time. Whether that’s doing something small, like lending a cable to someone, or helping with a much larger equipment-related issue that needs a quick workaround. There's a real sense that we're all in it together to drive a great outcome for the race and for the fans.
We can’t wait to bring another year of innovation, partnership and perseverance both on and off the Tour de France courses.
Vive le Tour!
Following the announcement last year of the integration of NTT Ltd. and NTT DATA to create a USD 30 billion IT services powerhouse, our technology partnership with both the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift now falls under the NTT DATA brand. Our purpose is to transform businesses for success, disrupt industries for good and shape a better society for all.
Follow our @LeTourData channel on Twitter to get all the latest data and insights from this year’s Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.