Social media and sports are inextricably linked. Twitter, in particular, has become the go-to spot for fans looking to get information and share their opinions, and for teams looking to disseminate that info to their fans and the media.
Until now, though, the applications of social media in the sports world have been very basic. Many teams, regardless of the sport, follow a similar strategy: post general news and info across different platforms and live-tweet games, with very little deviation from the script.
But the social media landscape has changed drastically even just in the last few years – and the sports world, ever full of innovators – has had to adjust. One of those new-wave elements of social media that has slowly crept into the mainstream is the advent of live streaming.
A new way to watch
Live sports is just about the only kind of television programming that has been immune to the declining viewership that has reached almost every other corner of the TV industry. And yet, the sports world hasn’t gotten complacent, opting instead to branch out into social media to reach a market that has been largely untapped.
The National Football League (NFL) was the first of the major North American sports leagues to enter the live streaming business. It signed a deal with Twitter to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games in 2016 (for free, which I found surprising considering the NFL’s hammer-fist reputation), and received mixed results.
The first game attracted more than two million viewers to the platform (the rest hit between 2.6 million and 3.1 million viewers), but not all the news was positive. As noted in the previous TechCrunch article, many viewers were unhappy with the curated tweet list that appeared on their screen (but all things considered, that’s a small problem for the folks at Twitter to have to deal with).
One of the more interesting stats to emerge out of the NFL’s streaming deal, in my opinion, is the millennial factor: 70 percent of the audience for games was under the age of 35. That millennials are such a highly coveted demographic to reach and Twitter was able to achieve such great success reaching that market speaks to the kind of potential this type of programing has for advertisers.
In poking around the web for this blog I was surprised to see how many other leagues have agreements to live-stream games. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and Showtime Sports (boxing) all have streaming deals with Facebook.
Already entrenched in the live-streaming business because of its deal with the NFL, Twitter also signed a deal with the PGA tour to broadcast multiple events for the 2016-17 season.
While broadcasting games has been the most commonly utilized application of live-streaming on social media, it’s not the only application. Non-game content – television shows, exclusive Q&As, behind-the-scenes-content, etc. – has found a home on social media as well.
Twitter was once again at the forefront of this movement, signing separate deals with the NFL and National Basketball Association to broadcast non-game content. As part of each deal, the respective league would produce a digital show that Twitter would have the exclusive right to stream.
The NFL deal, in particular, is interesting because it also includes a partnership with Twitter-owned Periscope to provide other exclusive coverage, such as video of pre-game warmups. I’m interested to see if, as it was with game broadcasts, other leagues follow in the NFL’s footsteps in offering more than just TV-based non-game content.
Question and answer sessions are also commonplace on live-streams now, both from the leagues themselves and from sports networks. For leagues, it’s a strategic move to give face-time to high-ranking officials, such as with MLS commissioner Don Garber; and for sports networks, they can promote their personalities or conduct exclusive interviews (as TSN did with members of the New Orleans Saints).
The dark side
Of course, as with anything on the internet, there’s also a negative side to this exciting new function of social media. At its core, live streaming is unfiltered, which can cause some serious issues in terms of monitoring what is broadcast.
As it relates to the sports world, unfiltered streaming means users at a sporting event can turn on their phone and broadcast everything in front of them to all of their followers (and even the public at large). Though there aren’t many documented cases, there are a couple of notable examples of live-streaming in a negative fashion.
During the lucrative Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout in 2015, multiple users in the arena used Periscope or Meerkat to broadcast the fight to fans worldwide. The fight still made close to $400 million, but I wouldn’t find it any less concerning that fans were able to get a free feed of the fight.
In another case, one English soccer fan had just under 150,00 views on his live stream of a Premiere League soccer match. As with the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout, nothing came of this stream, but once again it makes me question how staff at the multiple sporting venues worldwide plan on addressing the issue of fans exploiting this technology.
So now I want to hear from you. Have you ever watched a live sporting event from a social media stream? Would ever consider it? Let me know in the comments!
Twitter: Did you know you could have watched live @NFL games on Twitter last season? Welcome to watching sports in the digital age #smsports *bit.ly link*
Facebook: “Live streaming of sporting events…promises to become ‘undeniably mainstream.’” Do you agree?