Facebook is Spending $25M to Show You Live Baseball. Here’s Why.

On April 11, I turned on the Milwaukee Brewers game. Not on broadcast TV, not on cable TV, and not even on the radio. On Facebook. Yep, “Facebook Watch,” the firm’s newest product, livestreamed my beloved Brewers against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Facebook is spending an estimated $25M-$30M broadcasting 25 Major League Baseball games this year. Here’s my hypothesis as to why.

In listening to the announcers while watching the game, one thing instantly struck me: They were prompting the Facebook Watch livestreaming crowd with questions such as:

  • “If the Brewers are competitive in July, who would you like to see them trade for?”
  • “Will the Cardinals have a better or worse record than last year?”
  • “With Corey Knebel still out as the Brewer closer for several more weeks, do you suggest the Brewers use a designated closing pitcher or use a closer-by-committee approach?”

Since a chat window is automatically open alongside the video broadcast of the game, users began responding with their comments (while signed in with their Facebook account).

The action in the chat window was both vast and varied. The announcers began mentioning (by name) some of the people commenting and said, “Interesting, Dan!” or “Great insight, Barbara!” Imagine the announcers of a sporting event actually responding to your specific questions and comments directly on the air! How cool is that!

Wait, though. They also said this: “If you’d like to just see the comments from the fans of the team you’re rooting for, go to that team’s page and click ‘Watch Live’ from there.”

Why would the announcers say that? Going a step further, why would Facebook spend the money to not just license the broadcast of these games, but also pay for their own announcers?

Now, I don’t have a direct line into Facebook HQ. However, it’s clear that Facebook has shown a distinct pattern of behavior when it comes to a cornerstone of their business: data collection. Facebook isn’t just dipping their toe in the live baseball broadcast business as a reason to spend their money. In this case, they’re not acting as a cash-rich tech company that is simply buying up complementary businesses, although they do participate in that market periodically (with acquisitions such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus Rift).

Like many strategic decisions Facebook makes, they’re buying eyeballs. They’re buying people’s attention. And with attention, they’re gathering data… lots of it. Broadcasting live baseball on Facebook is a data-collection play.

Since viewers who watch games on Facebook Watch need to both log in to Facebook and choose an entry “portal” (e.g., a team page), Facebook is actively gathering data on each decision you make as a viewer of that particular live event.

You know all that talk we hear about social media algorithms? This is how engineers build them. They use a bunch of Boolean logic such as IF, AND, and THEN statements. For example: “IF Spencer watches the Brewers game from the team Facebook page AND watches more than three innings of baseball AND does engage in conversation in the chat window, THEN add Spencer to group #32” (or however the algorithm designates those who exhibit that behavior).

Let’s say I become a member of group #32 as a result of my behavior. Am I more or less likely to respond favorably to an advertisement with the Brewers in it? Yep, you guessed it right… much more. Facebook is collecting data on each respective team’s biggest fans and selling access to those fans. Whether that access is offered to Major League Baseball, a team itself, or someone trying to reach that audience, Facebook will have more in-depth data than anyone else broadcasting live baseball, especially traditional media like Fox Sports or ESPN.

Do you agree with my assessment of Facebook’s $25M investment? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Add Your Comments

2 Comments

  1. url url'>Eric Deutsch
    Posted May 16, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Spencer-

    Quick question … how did FB get permission to do this with national, regional, local TV agreements?

    Thank you.

  2. url url'>Spencer X Smith
    Posted May 17, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your message, Eric! It looks like an exclusive arrangement for those games only, and was backed unanimously my MLB owners – https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-09/facebook-says-play-ball-in-exclusive-deal-to-stream-25-mlb-games

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