Three types of sports content I'd enjoy seeing on Facebook--and other observations

There's been a bit of buzz this week spurned by the UFC's decision to air a fight on Facebook and the ensuing coverage of this development in FastCompany. As someone who's a huge fan of airing live events online, and especially for free, I find it odd that I feel like some of the excitement on this is a bit unwarranted.

As background, here's the lede for that FastCompany article, written by Gregory Ferenstein.

In a move that may break television’s sleeper hold on sports events, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will exclusively live-stream an anticipated fight on Facebook, available to anyone who “likes” their fan page. This is the first time a major sporting event has offered exclusive content through the social networking king, and, if successful, could make Facebook center stage for the Super Bowls and World Cups of the future.

Following up on that, he later speaks with the much-respected sports and social media whiz Amy Martin of Digital Royalty; the excerpt:

Martin, who works with a broad sports portfolio of social media successes, from Shaq to the LA Kings, tells Fast Company that so-called "like-gating" is "absolutely" the future of live sporting events. "We don’t have a network today that reaches the same global audience that Facebook does ... We’re taking the content to where fans want to be and where they’re spending their day."

Honestly, I do think this is a great idea, just what they're doing here. However, here's why it rubs me the wrong way: no sports organization knows that Facebook streaming major events for the cost of a 'Like' is absolutely not the future of live events more than the UFC. Why? Try to imagine the UFC without the economics of pay-per-view events. I'd enjoy it—because the UFC wouldn't exist, and frankly, I'm much more of a boxing fan.

That said, the more I look at it, there's likely more off-point with some of the things written in the article than the idea itself.

Before going into the content I'd like to see, I want to explain why what they're doing here is a good idea and what you're looking for in other content to broadcast for free on Facebook.

  • It engages your most passionate fans without undercutting the bottom line.
    While the lede to the article mentioned above calls this fight an "anticipated" one, that's a stretch. This fight is the undercard to two other undercards to be shown on Spike TV, four more undercards to be shown on pay-per-view, and then there's finally the middleweight championship bout between Silva and Belfort. On top of that, the fight has the lowest payout of all the fights on the evening. So, yeah, if you're going to watch this fight you're obviously pretty passionate about seeing whatever UFC you possibly can. The important thing is that sometimes doing things that doesn't appeal to everyone is actually smart. Doing things that exclude passive fans while specifically targeting, rewarding and engaging passionate ones not only builds goodwill, but also drops them all in the same place at the same time. Hey, did we mention there's a live chat with Dana White?
  • It goes to where the people are and gets them talking.
    This is mentioned in the article and is obviously the incentive for the UFC here. Anyone who was a Facebook fan of UFC previously will see something in their stream reminding them of the fight to be aired online. They may pop into that to check it out, and the opportunity to spread the word to their friends that the big fight is tonight will be right there in front of them. Also, for those who are passively checking this out and weren't planning on watching the main event, I'm sure they'll be reminded continuously that there's plenty of time to order the pay-per-view.
  • It wouldn't have been seen elsewhere.
    I can't speak for this fight with a high level of certainty but do believe there's at least a modicum of chance that this fight wouldn't have been seen at all and/or existed if not for this experiment with Facebook. And that's a good thing. This is an opportunity for unique or transparent content to be broadcast to some of your more popular fans.

As I'm sometimes apt to do, I waited far too long to get to the point. So...

Sports content I would like to see broadcast on Facebook

  • Blogger broadcasts.
    This may be the goofiest idea, or it may be the best. I've used this anecdote at least six times before but the reason I became so enamored with Twitter a few years ago was because of its potential for it to serve as an alternative commentary to the live sports I was watching on TV. Now, take that rough idea—creative, knowledgeable, humorous and real-world voices—and broadcast it via audio on Facebook.

    As an example, I usually listen to the podcasts put out by Jeff Sullivan and Matthew Carruth at Lookout Landing, my favorite Mariners blog. They're funny, young and know a ton about baseball. Have these two provide audio commentary on a game once a week, once a month, and I'd certainly listen, so too would all the passionate Mariners fans found on Lookout Landing. Then, during the game broadcast, maybe the regular guys on TV kick it to them for a batter or two. Now you may have some good fans who were completely unaware guys like Jeff and Matthew existed wondering where they can go to get more. And what happens when you take good fans, the type to tune into Fox Sports Northwest to watch the games, but not make it out to Safeco Field, then add social media? Yeah, this. The technology probably isn't all that much more complicated than setting up a Skype call.
  • Batting practice, shoot-arounds, walk-throughs.
    The idea of getting to the ballpark and sitting in the outfield bleachers while some of your home team's favorite players mash dingers is a romantic one. Unfortunately, many teams are done with batting practice before any fans are allowed to enter. The fans that do make it in as the gates open will only see the visiting team. So how do you make these passionate fans still feel rewarded for loving the team they do, and showing them what they want to see? Broadcast it on Facebook. While it wouldn't be overly entertaining, I'd check in from time to time, especially if it was more than a webcam. 

    Teams could have any member of the PR staff walk around batting practice, an NBA shootaround and maybe an NFL walk-through with a standard smartphone streaming it to an embedded Justin.TV channel, shooting the BP or what-have-you and asking basic informal questions that could easily have nothing to do with sports. I wonder if Milton Bradley watches The Wire.
  • Alternate camera angles and going behind the scenes.
    Isn't it amazing that every Major Leage Baseball team, at least as far as I know, has a batting cage inside the dugout? And I've seen some that project the pitcher's video onto the screen, with the ball coming out at that pitchers exact point of release. How incredible is that? Wouldn't it be cool to watch your guy take some cuts before going up to the plate? What about a muted camera on an NFL or NHL bench? It could be pretty great. Obviously, you're not looking to piss your players off or give a social media savvy opponent a huge upper-hand, but if it doesn't do either of these things then why not?

    Also, Facebook video could be used to give fans at home an idea of what it's like to be at a game. A video perched atop the bleachers at a baseball or football stadium could give fans a look at what the atmosphere is like without giving too much away. Or a better idea, something I tried to do with Twitter updates and Flickr photos in college, why not give fans at home an idea of what it's like inside the student section at a college football or basketball game? A school's SID or marketing department could position a student intern with a capable smart phone next to an outlet and let him shoot the game and the atmosphere around him.

These are just a few ideas, and by no means a limit to what a sports team can do with broadcasts on Facebook. Realistically, teams can do whatever they want. The point here is to have fun with it and be creative. Teams shouldn't constantly worry about trying to please everyone and pulling in the casual fan when doing great things for your best fans can be much more impactful.

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