Cable Gets Benched As Sports Go Social

Most of us are spending more time consuming television shows, music, and movies on our connected devices instead of our TV. Despite pricey subscription plans or OTT access, live sports have provided one of the last justifications to keep your big screen fastened to the wall. Very soon, however, you may be watching your favorite sporting event in the same place you see pictures from your cousin’s fishing trip. Right now social networks like Facebook aren’t just connecting the world — they are transforming into live video content juggernauts. Facebook is betting that you will watch your favorite leagues, teams and players live on their platform. So much so, they are now offering premium live sports video on Facebook at no cost.

Younger viewers, especially, are spending an increasing amount of time engaging with sports on social media. A Whistle Sports study on millennial viewership showed that 87% of millennials use social media to regularly consume sports-related content. Of 13 to 24-year-olds, 64% prefer watching sports on YouTube, 53% on Facebook, and 42% on ESPN. This consumer behavior is forcing live content rights to change hands, while viewing experiences are adapting to the younger, excited, mobile demographic.

This year Facebook broke new ground by forming a partnership with Univision Deportes and MLS, in which they exclusively streamed over 20 matches during the regular MLS season. In addition to the actual gameplay, they provided hours of live commentary, interacted with viewers via live video Q&A’s. Jonathan Bettin of MLS points out that Facebook Live streams are ‘a key component to bringing fans into the announcer’s booth’. Garnering 10X more engagement than their previous average, the video experience is a hit with MLS viewers.

Facebook also recently announced its partnership with upstart sports network, Stadium, to exclusively live-stream fifteen college football games this fall. Last Saturday a rivalry game between University of New Mexico and New Mexico State streamed 1.2 million viewers. The Stadium team made an effort to source fan questions from Facebook during pre-game and post-game interviews, and encouraged fans to participate by post comments and interact with their on-air talent in real time.

In addition to major league content deals, individual teams are using Facebook to offer live access in ways that television can’t. Over the past year, U.S. Soccer has hosted over 30 events on Facebook Live, leveraging Q&As with key players and coaches, and serving as a platform for major announcements. Any US soccer fan would be hard pressed to find more comprehensive coverage. NHL teams like the San Jose Sharks are following suit, tapping into Facebook live audiences with interactive Q&As and behind the scenes access. Sharks Digital Media Manager Patrick Hooper notes, ‘A major part of the Sharks digital media efforts are to find ways to engage our fans outside of the TV audience with emerging social media technologies like Facebook Live… It allows our players and other members of the team a chance to interact in quick and direct methods’.

While many of us still like the idea of watching sports on the big screen, social media is trying to change that. Facebook has continued to announce exclusive content deals with the likes of MLB and major esports and gaming franchises. In the not-so-distant future, our remote controls may be collecting dust on game day.

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