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Heads Up, ESPN: Facebook Built Its Own Game Hub for Live Sports Stats

Facebook wants you using Facebook while watching the game.

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Facebook has long argued that it’s a great place to talk about live TV while watching live TV, including big-time sporting events.

Now the company is dangling a new carrot in front of sports fans: A game hub for following play-by-play updates, live stats and expert commentary for your favorite teams, all inside of Facebook.

The company announced Facebook Sports Stadium late Wednesday night, a section of Facebook where users can go and follow major sporting events with things like player stats and videos and Facebook content from other people following along.

The feature looks a lot like what you’d find inside of ESPN’s or CBS’s mobile app, although the Stadium feature relies almost entirely on Facebook content. One tab has things your Facebook friends are saying about the game; a separate tab is for things that “experts” (verified Facebook users) are saying.

The company doesn’t have a content partner for this launch, but it is licensing game data from a company called Sportradar.


The point of all this is to make Facebook more appealing to people watching the game on TV, a battle it’s currently fighting with Twitter.

In fact, the idea of creating social conversations around live TV has been one of Twitter’s key selling points, much less so with Facebook. That makes sense when you consider the real-time, public feed that Twitter offers compared to Facebook’s News Feed. That’s why, like Twitter, all the posts and updates in the new Stadium section will be in reverse chronological order so that you see what people are talking about as it corresponds to the game.

But Facebook clearly wants to make this more of a priority. The company announced a partnership with Nielsen on Tuesday to start incorporating user conversation data into Nielsen’s social TV ratings. The hope from Facebook is that it can convince advertisers that spending money where people are talking about live TV is just as valuable (if not more so) than advertising on TV.

And Facebook says that it already has a ton of people talking about live TV, especially sports. During the 2014 World Cup, for example, 350 million people talked about the games during the month-long tournament. Roughly 65 million people commented on Facebook during last year’s Super Bowl.

“[It’s a complement] to the television experience and even the in-game experience,” said Dan Reed, head of global sports partnerships at Facebook. “It provides information about the game, but it also provides you that vital conversation and interaction around the game which we think is really critical to consuming live sports.”

Steve Kafka*, product manager for Facebook Stadium, believes that content owners — both broadcasters and publishers — can benefit, too.

“We think it can really enhance awareness,” Kafka said. “Maybe you weren’t paying attention and then you see your friends are having this discussion and that can pull you into the game. We think that’s a win-win for everybody. It drives more eyeballs to what [our content partners] are already sharing.”

There’s another potential benefit to Facebook’s Stadium feature: It might attract more sports influencers and journalists currently using other platforms (like Twitter) to share their insights during big games. A dedicated sports hub could provide incentive for those influencers to share more on Facebook, which could then bring over more users from other platforms like Twitter or Snapchat. Facebook has a massive audience; now it’s trying to get that audience in one place on game day.

Twitter cares about these real-time sports conversations, too. It’s one of the core reasons it launched Moments late last year to let people follow specific events. Snapchat also offers what it calls Live Stories for most major sporting events, an effort to lure second-screeners who might want to supplement their TV experience with some other types of content.

It seems clear that Facebook Sports Stadium could compete with both of those services. And it does seem like a better idea than some of its old strategies to generate conversation around the Super Bowl.

Eventually, Facebook plans to utilize its Stadium feature for all professional sporting events, including popular sports outside the United States like cricket. For now, though, it’s launching for iPhone users in the United States ahead of this weekend’s NFL playoff games. It’ll be available on desktop for the Super Bowl and is coming to Android in a “matter of weeks,” according to a company spokesperson.

* Steve Kafka is the brother of Re/code Senior Editor Peter Kafka.

Re/code Decode’s interview with NFL Media’s Brian Rolapp

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