Sports Live Streaming on Social Media: Is It Headed for Mainstream Status?

by John Egan

Sports marketers should avoid getting dunked on because they don’t have a handle on live streaming via social media platforms. Social media powerhouses Facebook and Twitter have entered the live-streaming game in sports broadcasting, and this trend isn’t even close to heading into overtime.

Live streaming of sporting events, and the accompanying ads aimed at sports fans, promises to become “undeniably mainstream,” declared Bold Worldwide, a sports advertising agency. More and more viewers—particularly millennials—are gravitating toward all sorts of digital-first content, most notably on mobile devices. It’s a matter of appealing to demographic groups that are most attractive to sports leagues, advertisers and social media platforms.

“Since younger generations are the real future of sports viewers in the coming decades, it pays to create marketing content and ads on social media,” Bold Worldwide blogged. “It doesn’t necessarily take TV out of the picture completely, especially with the seeming tug of war between social and TV lately.”

On the minds of many attendees of the sports media and entertainment sessions at NAB Show in Las Vegas will be recent deals to live stream NFL and NBA programming on social media. During the NFL’s 2016 season, the league debuted free live streaming of 10 Thursday Night Football games on Twitter. Those games were available to more than 800 million Twitter users via mobile phones, tablets, PCs and connected TVs.

In a statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said: “There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games and tapping into that audience, in addition to our viewers on broadcast and cable, will ensure Thursday Night Football is seen on an unprecedented number of platforms…This agreement also provides additional reach for those brands advertising with our broadcast partners.”

Twitter reportedly was pleased with the 10-game NFL streaming venture last year, but it’s not certain whether the NFL will extend live streaming on Twitter into 2017. In 2016, the NFL-Twitter combo scored an average per-minute audience of about 250,000 per game.

“It’s really, really resonating with fans,” Laura Froelich, Twitter’s global head of sports partnerships, told GeekWire.

Also in 2016, the NBA unveiled a deal with Twitter to broadcast original live programming on two social media platforms, Twitter and Twitter-owned Periscope. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said: “We’ve seen technology bring fans closer to our game, teams and players in ways we could have only imagined a decade ago.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey added: “Twitter is the fastest way to find out what’s happening in the NBA and to have a discussion about it. Watching NBA basketball together with Twitter is a great experience, and the league has been at the forefront of embracing new ways to reach their fans.”

Twitter, of course, isn’t the only game in town when it comes to live streaming sports on social media. Facebook is a formidable competitor in this field.

In February 2017, Reuters reported that Facebook was in talks with Major League Baseball about live streaming one MLB game per week. Already, Facebook has snagged deals with cable TV network Univision to live stream Major League Soccer and Mexican soccer matches in 2017.

“Facebook is aggressively going after sports content, and they are now one of a number of competitors to traditional media outlets that are going after sports programming,” sports media consultant Lee Berke told Reuters. “It makes perfect sense that they would be going after name-brand properties like the MLB.”

No matter what the sport is, you can expect Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to step up their game in the pursuit of live-streamed sporting events. Social media platforms are interested in growing their user bases and advertising reach, and professional sports leagues are interested in growing their fan bases and marketing reach—a win-win situation.

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