Eleven months after its launch to a mass audience, Facebook Live is making its mark on the sports and entertainment landscape.

Rightsholders, broadcasters and sponsors are increasingly partnering with the live stream platform to reach new audiences, experiment with social and mobile-first broadcasts and monetize their content.

Among recent news, the World Surf League this month announced it will broadcast all 2017 Championship Tour men’s and women’s events and Big Wave Tour events via Facebook Live, Univision will live stream 46 Liga MX soccer matches, while Univision and Major League Soccer will stream at least 22 MLS regular season matches and 40 exclusive Facebook Live shows.

In addition, USA Basketball last year streamed nine exhibition games via Facebook Live, while in August more than 3.7 million people used the platform to watch Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match between Manchester United and Everton F.C.

Facebook Live can help rightsholders accomplish the following:

  • Extend reach
  • Drive fan engagement
  • Extend sponsor reach and engagement
  • Access new sponsorship inventory
  • Measure real-time consumer sentiment  

Extending fan reach is a key benefit of the platform. Case in point: Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match was only aired on television in select markets in Europe, so the Facebook Live broadcast allowed fans from around the world to view the game.

While Univision’s MLS and Liga MX games are broadcast in Spanish, the Facebook Live broadcasts will be in English, helping Univision and MLS connect with an expanded pool of soccer fans, some of whom may be more mobile or socially connected.

Facebook Live also gives rightsholders a platform to experiment with interactive broadcasts targeted at millennial audiences. Last fall, Bleacher Report broadcast three high school football games exclusively via Facebook Live that featured audience interaction with broadcasters, fan polling, unique camera angles, sports performance metrics and integration of Instagram Stories.

The live MLS matches will be produced specifically for the Facebook audience watching on a mobile device and will integrate fan questions and comments, polling and social media correspondents who will interact directly with the audience.

That interactivity represents a key benefit for stakeholders.

“Facebook reports that, on average, people comment ten times more on Facebook Live videos than on regular videos. This interactivity presents a giant opportunity for both brands and properties to engage fans in real-time via Q&A and live polling,” said Zack Sugarman, Wasserman Media Group senior vice president, properties.

That feedback can provide insight into what camera angles to work into a broadcast, performance infographics and other broadcast enhancements, he said.

Consumer feedback provides another major benefit: the ability for properties to track consumer sentiment in real-time. For example, consumers can use emoji symbols to let people know what they think of content when viewing live streams.

“They can like it, love it and cry in real time—It’s a tool for brands and sponsors to see at which precise moment they feel engaged with the content. We may be getting closer to answering the question if consumers really care if content is brought to you by a brand,” said Lesley Pinckney, GMR Marketing senior vice president of digital and social.

When strategizing a Facebook Live broadcast, Sugarman recommends that properties focus on one key element: the story.

“Facebook Live broadcasts that focus on the story over the video quality are generally my favorite. All stories have a beginning, middle and end and Facebook Live broadcasts that keep that top of mind will succeed.”

Sugarman points to the World Surf League and Tough Mudder as properties with engaging Facebook Live events. The WSL takes advantage of the platform to provide compelling, immersive and interactive broadcasts—including filling downtimes with athlete interviews, polling, etc.—while Tough Mudder shows its personality through its broadcast by taking viewers up close and personal with competitors.

“They show you why people are here to compete, what the competition looks like in real time and what it feels like to finish the race,” said Sugarman, noting that Wasserman does not work with either property.

How Rightsholders Can Monetize Content On FB Live
While the live sports streams do not currently feature ads, Facebook is testing the ability for publishers to place short ad breaks and earn a share of the revenue. For example, Facebook is exploring different options with Univision to use ad breaks to fill breaks in the on-field action.

Facebook also is helping partners drive revenue through branded content. That includes photos, videos, articles and other content that features a third-party sponsor. Based on partner feedback, Facebook in April 2016 updated its policy to enable Verified Pages (leagues, teams, etc.) to share branded content on the social media platform.

Last summer, nine USA Basketball men’s and women’s national team games were simulcast on NBA TV and Facebook. During the pregame, halftime and commercial breaks, the Facebook broadcasts featured analysis and highlights sponsored by Verizon.

Both the NBA and USAB leveraged Facebook’s branded content tools and policies to clearly indicate that the live streams were in partnership with Verizon. Once the NBA and USAB tagged the broadcasts “with Verizon” in posts, Verizon could then access high-level performance insights and share the stream with an additional spend to support distribution.

How Publishers Can Share Branded Content on Facebook Live
Publishers are required to tag the marketer’s page in any post the features a third-party brand, product or sponsor.
Publishers can use Facebook’s Branded Content tool to tag the marketer. Branded content posts will then appear in the news feed with the “with” tag.
When tagged, the marketer will be able to see high level performance insights, such as reach and engagement for the post.
Marketers can also collaborate with publishers to expand the reach of the content. For example, marketers can share the “Share & Boost” button to share the post to their page and boost it to a chosen audience. Marketers must share the post to their own page in order to boost the post.

When evaluating potential sponsor tie-ins, properties need to look for partners that are comfortable with the quality of content captured on a smart phone, said Pinckney.

“Some brands have a specific DNA, and they probably won’t go into that space. Luxury and premium brands probably won’t want to devalue their brand promise.”