Recently, Facebook unveiled ‘Watch’, a product it describes as a ‘platform for shows on Facebook’. A simple statement carrying a powerful message – Facebook is here to compete in the world of on-demand video.

Is Facebook Watch a serious contender for dominance in this fiercely contested marketplace? The platform’s reach and impressive chat-facilitating features are enticing to sports properties both small and large, and with all signs currently pointing towards OTT, Facebook Watch presents an attractive way for sports to engage, grow and commercialise their audiences.

Is it right for sport?

Facebook isn’t shoving sport to one side in its bid for video supremacy, rather it is embracing it. The company has previously spent a significant amount of time partnering with sports properties to stream games and shows on Facebook Live. This season, Major League Baseball streamed a Friday night game each week via Facebook Live, and Univision Deportes struck a deal to stream MLS and Liga MX games on the platform. Both of these will now become part of Facebook Watch.

But Facebook isn’t only after live events. The lines between sports and entertainment continue to blur, complementing the platform’s core purpose. Facebook Watch aims to provide users with engaging long-form video content, and entertainment shows like the Golden State Warriors’ ‘Champions Rewind’ is a perfect fit for the platform. Other content arrives through Facebook’s partnership with World Surf League, through MLB’s 12:25 Live, and from other major sports rights holders such as MLS, WNBA and Whistle Sports.

Ultimately, the success of the platform will depend on the quality of its content. A driving factor in Netflix’s success was the overwhelming popularity of its exclusive show, House of Cards. This principle extends to Facebook Watch – and its sports tab too.

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There is huge demand for sport, and if sports properties can
harness it with an intelligent combination of live events and high-quality
entertainment shows, they will see a decent return on investment through
Facebook Watch.

Pay rent or build a home

Deciding whether to build a platform or invest in a
ready-made solution like Facebook Watch is an interesting dilemma for sports

For smaller sports properties, the question of where to
invest can be answered quickly. The reach and functionality Facebook offers are
a welcome relief for those happy managing a smaller online audience. But for
major properties, those like the NFL or the EFL, the question on how to use a
platform like Facebook Watch alongside other digital assets requires serious thought.

If the ultimate goal is to improve the bottom line, sports properties will need to learn the difference between the revenue made from advertising on a self-owned platform and advertising on Facebook Watch

If the ultimate goal is to improve the bottom line, sports
properties will need to learn the difference between the revenue made from
advertising on a self-owned platform and advertising on Facebook Watch, with
the potential revenue from subscription fees and other streams also factored in.

Facebook is making it easier for content producers to monetise their output with Ad Breaks, and is currently allowing them to keep 55 per cent of the revenue. Can a self-owned platform do better? As brand advertisers become more digitally savvy, questions like ‘how many people will you reach?’, ‘who is watching?’ and ‘how long will they watch for?’ will require increasingly detailed, demonstrable answers, answers that Facebook is already extremely adept at providing.

Setting the example

Major sports franchises are now thinking of themselves as digital media companies. The sports leagues in USA are leaders in this new culture, but other properties are starting to catch up. Real Madrid, the world’s third-most valuable football team with a global fan base of 450 million, is one of the first to release a show on Facebook Watch.

‘Hala Madrid’ is a video series documenting various aspects of the club’s culture. There is no burning innovation here – it’s a timeless idea executed rather well. With an average of 2.8 million views per episode, it seems to be working for the club. What we’re increasingly witnessing is sports clubs owning their own production and now, with Facebook Watch, control over the distribution.

Whereas previously most sports properties have been slow on
the draw, many are starting to realise they are sitting on a wealth of content and
a captive digital audience.

“Sports companies have always been associated with producing and distributing content,” said Rafael de los Santos, global head of digital at Real Madrid. “The difference is that now with digital we can customise content for different fans in different ways and on different channels.”

Find your balance

It’s not uncommon for average watch times on Watch videos to be double or triple that of Facebook News Feed videos. This could be because of initial excitement from early adopters of the platform, but having a dedicated section for long-form video will encourage a trend of high-value engagement.

If there’s one reason why sports should use Facebook Watch, it’s that the audience is already there. So long as video production is high-quality, and the narrative engaging, Facebook’s built-in tools for sharing and live commenting will ensure sports properties will quickly enjoy an actively engaged viewership.

Facebook Watch is still in its infancy, indeed it is currently only available to select users in USA, but I think this viable alternative to YouTube and other similar streaming platforms will become a global mainstay within the next few years. Now is a good time for sports properties to observe those already making use of the channel and decide how best to integrate it into their own digital strategy.

Ultimately in sport, business relies on attention, and media companies have been experts at both gaining attention and then monetising that attention for years. It’s time for all sports to really explore their potential outside of live events. Just like each person has a story to tell, so does each sports property. Facebook Watch might just become the platform on which to tell it.